Unlocking workplace inclusion

At the beginning of June 2021, we gathered leading experts in I&D from organisations including Openreach, SGN, Barclays and BT to discuss the pressing issues in inclusion and diversity today. With our fantastic range of speakers and in house consultants, we took a deep dive into the key topics that can help us all to unlock greater workplace inclusion and diversity.

“Inclusion isn’t putting money in the charity box, it’s a huge opportunity to improve organisational performance and profitability”

Here we highlight the key takeaways and insight from the conference for you to use as inspiration and motivation for your organisations inclusion and diversity agenda. Action, discomfort and resources have all been repeatedly highlighted as vital requirements to really unlock workplace inclusion, outcomes that we also saw in our recent 10 Years of Inclusion survey.

The themes of the conference were:

Please scroll down to read the takeaways from each session.


The conference included three sessions focused on race. The first reviewed the year since the murder of George Floyd, looking at what progress has been made and what steps we can take next. The second event was led by Hannah Awonuga, Global Head of Diversity Colleague Engagement, Financial Services and she discussed the importance of going beyond words – why commitment and action is vital. Finally, a panel event ‘Stopping racism: Voices for Change’, which was hosted by our Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, Aamani Rehman.

  • Don’t put the onus to fix racial inequity onto Black and Brown people. White people hold positions of power and privilege, and need to be a big part of the solution.
  • We need people to be actively anti-racist, to actively challenge racism. Silence condones unacceptable behaviours and stops progress.
  • Talking about race is uncomfortable for everyone, and can be exhausting for racial minorities, but its critical to have the conversations if you want to understand the opportunities to improve.
  • To make a difference, organisations need to do more than just have the conversations – they need to commit to taking action.
  • Plans and strategies are great – but how are you underpinning them with resources to ensure they can be successful?

During National Inclusion Week 2021 we will be launching our Inclusive Employers anti-racism toolkit. Our Special Project Consultant, Sandy Sohal, has been developing this toolkit over the last year and is in the final stages of writing it. Make sure you are following us on LinkedIn and Twitter and receiving our monthly newsletter, Inclusion Insights, to be the first to hear about the launch.

Inclusion and Diversity Strategy

These sessions explored the importance of going beyond just talking about inclusion and diversity and why developing a strategy is so important.

  • Move to an inclusion and diversity strategy or a plan quickly because:
    • The business benefits of getting inclusion right are significant,
    • A strategy ensures the resources and effort you do have to improve inclusion are focused and pulling in the same direction,
    • The activities which happen are well considered and the right ones for your organisation.
  • Listen to your people, identify what needs to improve.
  • People are experts in their own lived experience, but not necessarily on how to dismantle the systems which have caused exclusion.
  • Do your research or engage with an expert to choose initiatives which really deliver better outcomes.
  • Inclusion isn’t putting money in the charity box, it’s a huge opportunity to improve organisational performance and profitability.

The cost of ignoring inclusion 

This session examined recent case law, which highlighted the cost of exclusion and ignoring inclusion. Speakers included Kevin Poulter, Partner, Employment Law & Freeth’s Diversity Champion, Freeth’s LLP, who highlighted the responsibility of employers for the employee’s behaviour whilst at work:

“An employer will be liable for acts carried out by its employees, even if the employer did not know or approve of it, provided that the employee was acting in the course of employment”

Other key takeaways and reminders include:

  • Training to set expectations around inclusion is recommended annually as a minimum.
  • There is no upper limit on awards for discrimination cases.
  • There are many reasons to get inclusion right, and a real cost to getting it wrong.

Employment Tribunals

Mary Siddall, Employment Tribunal Judge & Workplace Mediator, at Workplace Solutions joined the conference to explore what has changed in Employment Tribunal cases in the last year:

  • Employment Tribunal cases are on the rise: in March 2021, claims by single claimants were up by 25% from March 2020, and claims by groups of employees went up by 82% in the same period.
  • In the last year, there have been a large number of claims from employees highlighting fraudulent use of the furlough scheme – with employees being put on furlough but also being told by their employer to work.
  • There are many Health and Safety related cases from employees where they have called out that the workplace isn’t Covid safe, but they have been forced back to work.
  • Tribunals are clear in response to protecting trans rights.

It is also recommended that employers use Equality Impact Assessments to understand if changes proposed are likely to affect underrepresented groups and result in indirect discrimination. 

The impact of Covid

Stella Sutcliffe Founder of GoTitleFree, joined us to explore the impact of Covid on working families, women at work and where we need to go from here:

  • Don’t leave too much to line manager discretion. You need to give real clarity and lay out a process. Failing to do that can mean different people get significantly different outcomes to requests.
  • 69% of people surveyed believe the future of work looks bleaker than pre-pandemic, and 23% believe it looks more positive.
  • While the flexible working revolution will support some working families, it will only support those with roles which lend themselves to that flex. Almost 60% of respondents say the main factor affecting the post pandemic outlook for working mothers is sector of work. Those who work in retail, beauty, hospitality and healthcare often have location specific roles which don’t lend themselves to typical types of flex. These are sectors which have a large proportion of women.
  • Many in those industries are more likely to have lost their job and face insecurity for future work by the downstream impacts of Covid and changing of peoples shopping and leisure behaviours.
  • For those who do take up flexibility, we need to be careful not to create a new level of exclusion where people who are present in the office have more opportunities, than those who work from home.

Getting positive action right

Carol Buchanan, Senior Inclusion and Diversity Consultant at Inclusive Employers led the session on positive action vs positive discrimination, and how to get it right in your organisation. The key takeaways were:

  • It’s more straightforward that many people think.
  • There are three key elements of positive action which relate to groups who are underrepresented in your organisation:
    • Organisations can make efforts to attract underrepresented groups to roles. For example, through targeted adverts or open days.
    • Organisations can provide training to support underrepresented groups to start or progress their careers.
    • Organisations can use the tie-breaker rule to choose the underrepresented candidate when two candidates are at the end of a recruitment process and are found to be of equal merit.
  • It’s always the best person for the job. But because of privilege, bias and deeply ingrained societal programming we often don’t get diverse candidates for roles which have a typical stereotype. For example, like roles within engineering or nursing that may have a gender stereotype.  
  • Positive action can help can attract more diverse candidates, provide support and training to ensure diverse talent can perform well at selection, and to tie break between two candidates of equal merit.
  • Those who identify as disabled are covered by an additional provision. Because they are a particularly marginalised group, employers can offer a level of preferential treatment, such as guaranteeing an interview for disabled people who meet a minimum criteria. While those who identify as disabled can be given preferential treatment, employers cannot give more preferential treatment to one disabled person over another, i.e. someone who uses a wheelchair can’t be given preferential treatment over someone who is Autistic.


The allyship and inclusive culture sessions, which included a panel event, were led by our Senior Consultant, Addison Barnett. The key takeaways were:

  • Our experience shows that when organisations launch allies programmes the uptake is great.
  • Many organisations don’t have lots of resources to drive inclusion, allies can really help move the agenda forward.
  • One of the ways allies help is to help prevent silo’ing which often happens in inclusion and diversity work – working in separate strands.
  • Allies are connectors between different groups and parts of the organisation.
  • 58% of allies where not confident in challenging exclusion before their allyship programme. After the programme 80% said they were now confident to challenge exclusion.
  • Our Allyship programmes doesn’t teach allies to tell others off, it gives them tools to ‘call in’ when they see exclusion and have a really positive, constructive conversation.
  • Ally is a verb. It’s not about saying you’re an Ally, it’s not a passive label. It’s about taking action and stepping up when you see exclusion.

Inclusive Employers has a range of services and support to enable you to unlock greater inclusion in your workplace. Our approach is based on listening – we know that all organisations face unique challenges and our goal is to understand those and offer support that will help you to understand, address and progress them. Do get in touch if you would like to know more. Whether it is training, consultancy, membership, resources or webinars we can help you take the right steps to make inclusion an everyday reality in your organisation.