Our series of articles on race equality has considered key terminology and race equality reviews. In this article, we focus on creating an effective equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy. An organisation that wishes to embed an EDI strategy will need to be prepared to understand their current position, and consider making a long-term, sustainable commitment to change. A strategy will have most impact where it is informed by the voices of all staff, particularly those with protected characteristics.
Importantly, the strategy must be tailored to the organisation in question in order to be credible and get buy-in from staff. As we noted in our previous article, “organisations should also be mindful of how vital authenticity is around the diversity and inclusion agenda. Performative allyship is disingenuous and can have the effect of losing trust in employees, who will look to the actions of an organisation, not just its words. Addressing race inequality in a genuine, transparent way will instil a sense of confidence that not only are these important issues being taken seriously, but that the organisation is committed to effecting change”. Although this statement was focused specifically on race equality, these principles also apply to EDI more broadly.
Practical steps for developing an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy
When developing an EDI strategy, the following steps may be relevant, depending on where the organisation is starting from on EDI issues:
1. Take stock of the organisation’s starting position in relation to EDI. For obvious reasons, this exercise relies on sufficient diversity data being available. If not, data collection and monitoring systems may need to be reviewed and updated. Reviewing diversity data across all aspects of the organisation (recruitment, governance, staff progression / appraisals, disciplinary / performance procedures etc) will identify areas for improvement. This can also be achieved by conducting an equality review (see here for our article on equality reviews). At this stage it is also helpful to pull together any EDI initiatives that are already underway to identify gaps and coordinate activities.
2. Identify the strategy’s objectives. Consider culture and values. Having taken stock, leaders will be able to consider the objectives of their EDI strategy. These will need to be clear and realistic. It can be helpful to set a short, medium, and long-term vision for EDI in the organisation. The organisation’s values and culture are also extremely relevant to this exercise. An organisation’s values set its expectations for itself and those who come into contact with it. If values are not consistent with the goals of the EDI strategy, they may need to be revisited to avoid causing confusion or undermining the strategy further down the line. To ensure that your strategy reflects the needs and voices of all those within your organisation, it can be helpful to consult with staff on the objectives of the strategy, which would likely involve questions about the existing culture, including:
a. Do staff understand their legal duties in relation to discrimination and the impact of discrimination on those subject to it?
b. Has anti-discrimination training been impactful? How is the impact measured?
c. Which experts and specialist organisations could be helpful in supporting the organisation to achieve its EDI aims?
d. Are there spaces and opportunities for staff to discuss issues such as racism, transphobia and sexual harassment? Do staff feel confident in their ability to discuss these issues? Is this encouraged by senior leaders? For our article on the importance of language in conversations about race, see here.
e. Do staff feel empowered to speak out about transgressions and boundary breaches, including low level issues, “banter” and behaviour that takes place online or outside of work? Are there procedures in place to facilitate this? Are allegations addressed promptly and fairly?
f. Do attitudes exist within the organisation which could be a barrier to progress? If so, how should they be addressed?
3. Self-education for senior managers. Issues such as race inequality, transgender issues, sexual harassment and religious intolerance are complex and senior managers may want to consider investing time in self-education and/or high-quality training before formulating a strategy.
4. Written strategy. The written EDI strategy should have clear aims and objectives. These should be informed by the stock taking exercise at 1 above and ideally by consultation with staff (at 2) and self-education (at 3), all of which will help leaders formulate realistic goals and timeframes for delivery. A policy review may well be necessary before finalising the strategy to ensure it is consistent with other relevant policies (e.g. disciplinary and grievance procedures, policies on whistleblowing, bullying and harassment, equal opportunities policy etc). An organisation may want to consider making the strategy public, or publishing a statement of intent, which can be a useful way of letting staff and customers know that you are committed to an equal, diverse, and inclusive culture. It can also be a mechanism for accountability, in that it opens the door for the organisation to be challenged on transgressions or culture “slippage”.
5. Training. An ongoing programme of anti-discrimination training will be a critical component of any EDI strategy. Training should cover each of the protected characteristics, including how each type of discrimination can manifest. Importantly, it should be delivered by a trainer that understands the organisation’s context and can provide practical, tailored guidance. Training is also an opportunity to reinforce the organisation’s values and should equip staff to speak confidently and sensitively about EDI issues and safely challenge unacceptable behaviour. To assist, many organisations also include “bystander training” in their training programmes. The McGregor-Smith review on race in the workplace recommended mandatory unconscious bias training to address attitudes that act as a barrier to a more inclusive workplace. Note that unconscious bias training must not be seen as a ‘tick box’ exercise. Those participating should be reminded to guard against complacency; training does not mean they are free of discriminatory attitudes, or that there is no need to focus on anti-discrimination efforts on an ongoing basis. A recent case confirmed that the reasonable steps defence for discrimination will not be available where an employer’s EDI training is stale (see here for our case update). It is therefore important for training to be ongoing and engaging, and that the impact of training is measured (see 7 below).
6. Challenging discrimination. An EDI strategy’s credibility will rely heavily on an organisation challenging discrimination and unacceptable behaviour, including low level behaviour and “banter”. Staff must feel able to raise concerns with confidence that they will be taken seriously and acted upon promptly, fairly and proportionately, without fear of reprisals. Relevant policies must be applied consistently, following statutory guidance, where applicable (e.g. Acas Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures).
7. Ongoing monitoring. An organisation should monitor and assess the impact of the EDI strategy over time (e.g. via surveys, diversity data, impact assessments and equality reviews). It may be helpful to have a critical friend / expert who can support the analysis of the strategy’s impact. If a particular element of the EDI strategy has not met its objectives, leaders should not be discouraged. Instead, go back to the drawing board and consider how else the objectives might be achieved.
With special thanks to Beth Critchley, a trainee in the Employment team, for co-authoring this blog.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, June 2021