Advances in diversity and inclusion essential to rebuilding productive and resilient workplace

One-in-four people do not feel valued at work and those who do feel included are in more senior roles, according to a new report on diversity and inclusion by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

High levels of equality, diversity, and inclusion lead to greater innovation, productivity and performance, talent attraction and retention, and employee well-being. However, the report found that only half of the respondents said that diversity and inclusion were sufficiently identified and resourced in their workplace culture and strategy. Only a third of enterprises currently measure inclusion, although doing so is essential for progress.

Previous studies on diversity and inclusion have tended to focus on large, often multinational companies, in western, high-income countries. The new report, Transforming Enterprises through Diversity and Inclusion , focuses on enterprises of all sizes in lower-middle-income and upper-middle-income economies and gathers information from a diverse mix of staff, managers and senior executives. It reflects variety in age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic/racial/religious groups, persons with disabilities and those with HIV.

The study found that the feeling of workplace inclusion was more likely to be associated with seniority than personal background or characteristics such as age, gender, or ethnicity/race/religion. Ninety-two percent of managers said they felt included, respected and valued diversity at work, compared to 76% of respondents at lower levels. The workforce in medium-sized, large and multinational enterprises were also more likely to feel positive than those in small and national enterprises.

The report notes that diversity and inclusion play a “critical role… in the high performance of work forces, businesses, economies, and societies globally”. ”If inclusion remains a privilege for senior managers, companies risk missing out on the considerable benefits”.

Only a quarter of respondents reported that women made up a critical mass (40-60 per cent) of top management, and a third said there were no people with disabilities at senior level. Some minority groups also report constantly fewer positive experiences with inclusion, and these groups also tend to be clustered in more junior staffing levels.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities in our economies and societies. An equal, diverse and inclusive workplace is a key driver of resilience and recovery”, said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department.

The study’s information was gathered between July and September 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, from more than 12,000 employees in 75 countries in five regions. Two-thirds of respondents reported that since the start of the crisis, the level of focus and action on diversity and inclusion in their workplaces had increased. A similar proportion said the pandemic had increased their expectations on employers to promote diversity and inclusion.

The report says that the most likely way to influence more enterprises to create sustainable and transformational change is by combining the business case for diversity and inclusion with policies and legislative frameworks and supportive enterprise values.

It outlines four key principles for achieving transformational and sustainable change which are applicable globally and to all workforce groups and levels: diversity and inclusion should be a priority and part of strategy and culture; there must be diversity in top management; senior leaders, managers, and staff must be accountable as role models; and actions must apply throughout employment – covering recruitment, retention, and development.

“The ILO is working with constituents to improve levels of diversity and inclusion in the workplace”, said Deborah France-Massin, Director of the ILO’s Bureau for Employers’ Activities.

“Employees need to feel that they are valued, respected, treated fairly and empowered through inclusive business practices, an inclusive organizational culture and inclusive leadership”, added France-Massin.

It is this transformational approach to diversity and inclusion that makes significant contributions to overall business performance”.

The new ILO report defines “inclusion” as the experience people have in the workplace and the extent to which they feel valued for who they are, the skills and experience they bring. By the extent to which they have a strong sense of belonging with others at work.

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