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More than half (56%) of employers in the UK do not have a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination within the workplace e.g. disciplining or dismissing managers that discriminate, according to surprising new research1commissioned by Winckworth Sherwood, the leading full-service UK law firm.  In addition, two in five (39%) employers have no form of diversity and inclusion strategy and 20% are not taking any steps to improve equality, diversity and inclusion whatsoever, highlighting that despite recent high-profile efforts by many sectors, there remains much work to be done to help bolster employment equality, diversity and inclusion in the UK.  The findings are supported from an employee perspective too, with almost half (47%) of those surveyed believing their employer could do more to improve diversity and inclusion, and 1 in 4 employees believe their organisations are affected by some kind of bias.  

Flexible working is the top improvement demanded by employees according to the research. Remarkably, despite all the talk of the new normal and shift in working practices such as hybrid working and the four-day week, particularly in London’s financial centre, under half (47%) of businesses surveyed are presently offering flexible working.   

The findings form part of a larger report released today by Winckworth Sherwood focusing on equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, which incorporates a survey2 conducted by YouGov involving over 1,000 employees and 600 HR decision makers between March – April 2022 across a range of sectors, from the finance, legal and accounting professions, to real estate, healthcare and education. 

The benefits to be gained by employers from encouraging greater equality, diversity and inclusion have been discussed at great length during the past few years, from fostering innovation to attracting and retaining key talent, and ultimately protecting against any potential legal claims deriving from bullying, harassment or discrimination.  This is particularly true for publicly listed companies as a new wave of investors entering the market place a greater importance on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. 

The report sheds light on the steps UK employers could take to combat the apparent shortfalls in equality, diversity and inclusion within their respective organisations and address employees’ concerns. For example, over a third (38%) of HR professionals surveyed consider that those working from home all or most of the time are disadvantaged compared to those who work in the office all or most of the time. The risk of “invisibility bias” affecting those working from home more often threatens to disproportionately impact women and those with disabilities unless employers are alive to this issue and take pro-active steps to ensure parity of treatment between home-workers and office-workers.  

Every two in nine employees surveyed believed that their leaders were not equipped to lead a multi-generational workforce and the top bias that employees felt organisations have in the workplace is age (against those workers aged over 55).  Promoting an environment of harmonious working between five different generations in the workplace will be key in organisations’ future success.    

These are just some of the challenges employers face and the changing dynamics within the workplace mean employers need to respond and adapt accordingly. 

Report co-author Louise Lawrence, Partner in the Employment team at Winckworth Sherwood, said: “For all the encouraging advancements made by employers in recent years to combat discrimination and promote greater inclusion, diversity and equality in the workplace, there is clearly more that needs to be done. 

“Our research findings serve as important reminder that initiatives launched to address issues such as diversity and inclusion represent a continual process of improvement rather than short-term fixes and employers need to consider the post-pandemic challenges that lie ahead.” 

Report co-author, Harriet Calver, Senior Associate at Winckworth Sherwood, added: “We have seen employees’ attitudes to work, and the work-life balance, change dramatically during the past two years and our report clearly shows that there is a need for a large proportion of employers to adapt to this change.  Amidst the “great resignation”, employees are likely to remain more loyal to their employers if they feel they are valued and their voices heard.  We look forward to continuing our work with clients across multiple sectors to help them attract, retain and diversify their talent pool.” 

Winckworth Sherwood publishes annual research on the major topics affecting employers and employees in the UK. This year’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion report follows previous publications covering ethical leadership and flexible working. 

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