Failure to Get to Grips with Data Holding Back Workplace Diversity - Report

Failure to Get to Grips with Data Holding Back Workplace Diversity – Report

Dec 4, 2020

A new report into inclusion and diversity (I&D) in UK workplaces has found that large numbers of companies are still failing to back up talk with meaningful action – and that a failure to engage with workforce data could be a key contributory factor.

As reported in People Management magazine, the McKenzie-Delis Packer Review found significant gaps between what businesses say about diversity and what they actually do. Highlighting the fact that 89% of UK firms still do not collect or monitor data on the socioeconomic background of employees, the authors of the report concluded that progress on I&D would continue to be slow because businesses are not basing strategies on the full facts available.

The UK tech industry’s issues with workforce diversity are well documented. Overall, women make up just 19% of the UK tech sector workforce. This rises slightly to 22% of director positions, but even that is down on the 29% of directorships held by women in the wider economy.

BAME employment figures in the tech industry arguably provide a perfect illustration of what the McKenzie-Delis Packer report is claiming – there is not even a consensus as to how many people of black, Asian or ethnic minority (BAME) background work in UK tech. Tech Nation puts the figure at 15%, slightly higher than the 13% found across the economy as a whole.

But the website Diversity in Tech argues that no one really knows the true figure, pointing out that the British Computer Society has estimated it to be as low as 1-2%. One survey of boardrooms at top UK tech companies found just four out of 152 positions filled by people from a BAME background.

No measurement, no action

Leila McKenzie-Delis, chief executive of one of the organisations behind this latest report, DIAL Global, makes the point that one of the oldest maxims in business management is “what gets measured gets done”. The failure to adequately measure I&D data, in the tech and other sectors, therefore contributes directly to a lack of informed decision-making, resulting in slow progress.

Overall, the report found that most companies were happy to ‘talk the talk’ on diversity, with 87% agreeing that a diverse workforce that includes a wide range of religions or beliefs benefits business performance. 77% even said the same about collecting data on the background of their employees.

But the findings show a clear gap between talk and action. For example, 71% of respondents said they were taking steps to improve gender diversity at senior levels. But only 54% specified gender diversity in their succession planning. The figures for BAME inclusion were much lower – just 56% said they were actively pursuing initiatives to increase ethnic diversity in their senior teams, while less than half (49%) mentioned it in their succession planning.

As we wrote about previously in this article, the tech sector should be in a strong position to take the lead on driving a more intelligence-based approach to I&D, or even serving the wider market by developing appropriate solutions. With Big Data analytics and Machine Learning being increasingly deployed to provide robust data-based insight across all manner of business operations, there is no reason why the same techniques could not be used to provide the “informed decision-making” on I&D that McKenzie-Delis calls for.

However, technology alone will not provide the answer. Many firms will already point to the use of advanced analytics and AI in their HR systems. What is also required is a shift in thinking about what it is that companies measure. For example, at present it is commonplace for businesses to track diversity data in their recruitment processes, but not in careers progression or professional development (we’ve seen that the McKenzie-Delis Packer report found only around half of companies included I&D in their succession planning).

This is a huge blind spot, because although firms might be keen to trumpet their efforts to reflect social diversity in their recruitment, that is no guarantee that women, BAME employees, disabled people and other groups are finding equal opportunities to get ahead. When you consider the well-publicised gender pay gap, and then the less acknowledged but no less real BAME pay gap, it is apparent that much more needs to be done to address in-work inclusion and levelling up of opportunities.

That, as the McKenzie-Delis Packer report calls for, demands a much more holistic approach to I&D which takes seriously the need to establish the facts throughout the whole HR ecosystem, not just at the recruitment stage.