opinion piece

Notes on the New Normal #7 – Why equality is a must if we want to drive trust

Taking a lead on equality and inclusion provides a real opportunity for accelerating progress on the overall reputation of business. Most employers are ready to play their part but the breadth and depth of the challenge make them unsure how to go about it. And that’s exactly where the HR services sector can step in to support them. In this new blog post, Tom Hadley explains how redesigning the work experience and investing in skilling can contribute to changing the culture.

Published on 18th January 2021

As we feel our way into a Corona-clad New Year, one of the priorities for the global business community will be to continue doing the right thing by putting people before profit. As well as managing a safe return to workplaces, 2021 will be a year for making tangible change happen on equality and inclusion. And progress in this area is one of the best ways of shifting the dial on a perennial challenge: improving the overall reputation of private sector employers and demonstrating the positive role of business in society.

A question of trust and reputation

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer provides some positive indicators; business is seen as the most trusted institution (above government, the media and NGOs), with a 61% trust level globally. However, there is still a long way to go, and taking a lead on equality and inclusion provides a real opportunity for accelerating progress on the overall reputation of business. It is absolutely on point that the Edelman study identifies ‘closing the economic and social divide’ and ‘addressing discrimination’ as increasingly important priorities for global respondents. In the words of CEO Richard Edelman: “The events of this past year reinforced business’ responsibility to lead on societal issues, such as upskilling workers and racial justice”.

In a similar vein, it was good to hear the incoming US Vice President Kamala Harris argue that “those who run America’s small businesses aren’t just business leaders, they’re civic leaders and community leaders”. Showcasing the positive role that businesses both large and small make on a local, national and global level is a priority for employer organisations in most countries. And one of the best ways of ‘dialling up the good’ is to create a fundamental step-change on inclusion and workplace diversity. The question is how.

Making change happen

A core message from recent webinars is that most employers want to make progress but are not sure how to go about this. Some of the business leaders I spoke to during an online workshop a few weeks back said they felt ‘overwhelmed’ – i.e. so much to do and not quite sure where to start. This is fairly typical. One specific challenge is how to make progress on all the different inclusion strands at the same time. A good starting point is to launch a review of current hiring procedures (including job descriptions, channels, selection criteria, interview procedures etc..). Using external experts is also a good step forward; this is just one of the opportunity areas for the global HR services sector in the so-called New Normal.

According to the Mercer Global Talent Trends Report, 57% of organisations are currently redesigning the whole ‘work experience’. Purpose and shared values are crucial building blocks; and a truly diverse and inclusive workplace is increasingly recognised as an increasingly crucial factor in attracting and retaining great people. One other positive take-away from recent on-line events is recognition that driving sustainable change on equality and inclusion cannot be a cosmetic and purely tactical exercise. Speaking on the BFI 2020 Race Equality Summit , Dr Sola Adesola from Oxford Brookes Business School underlined the point that “creating a truly inclusive and diverse workplace often involve deep-rooted culture change”. The hope is that 2021 will be a year of building momentum and of accelerating a virtuous cycle: Culture change leading to increased diversity and increased diversity reenforcing culture change in workplaces around the world.

Reskilling as a driver of equality?

 According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), 85 million jobs will be displaced by 2025. How can we make 2021 a year of tangible progress on facilitating transitions and reskilling? Driving real change in employer hiring procedures (with less focus on ‘past experience’ as a selection criteria) and tapping into the expertise of recruitment and HR professionals must be in the mix. Building on ground-breaking initiatives such as the ‘Career Causeways’ project led by the innovation foundation NESTA is also a way to go. The renewed focus on reskilling and transitions is also an opportunity to make a real impact on diversity in specific roles and sectors. Raising awareness amongst under-represented groups of future growth sectors and evolving skills needs and providing access to relevant training provisions provides a way of using current disruption as a platform for driving tangible change in the make-up of workplaces around the world.

One of the stand-out stats from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer is that over 8 in 10 people want business leaders to speak out on important social issues. And equality is top of the priority list for many. People also want to see tangible progress being made which is where the expertise and drive of employment experts within the HR services sector will come to the fore in 2021. Over 57 million people a year are placed into work by private sector employment agencies globally; harnessing this contribution must for part of the great jobs reset and of making change happen on equality, inclusion and workplace diversity. Let’s do this!

This post is part of a series where we explore the key themes that emerged from the conversations with national federations and corporate leaders within the Alliance Task Force. The series is signed by Tom Hadley, an external advocacy and campaigns consultant and former Director of Policy & Campaigns at the REC, the professional body for the UK’s recruitment and employment industry. He is currently leading the World Employment Confederation’s ‘Alliance Task-force’ project.

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