Equality, diversity & inclusion lessons from the 2021 IES annual conference

HR magazine attended the Institute for Employment Studies’ annual conference this week (Thurs 10 June), which this year focussed on equality, diversity and inclusion.

We’ve rounded up four key lessons from this year’s event.  


Mandatory pay gap reporting should go beyond gender 

Following the progress gender pay gap reporting has made for holding businesses accountable on diversity, support for ethnicity and disability pay gap reporting has grown in popularity. 

Duncan Brown, an independent adviser and principal associate of the IES, said that disability and ethnicity pay gaps should be similarly mandated by government.  

He said: “It is difficult, particularly on ethnicity, but the evidence is huge that it makes a difference and does drive action, and they [employers] just need to get on with it frankly.” 

Aligning other forms of pay gap reporting with gender is one of the ways Brown said employers can get started. This includes an element of proportional representation.  

“How far does this the black and ethnic minority population in your organisation match the local community population?” he said. 

Brown added that pay gap reporting is progressive and so the phased introduction government has done so far makes sense.  

“I think the government was right to put the 250 [employees or more] limit in. Now I think we can extend that because the evidence is there's quite a few smaller organisations doing it voluntarily,” he added. 

Though more legislative encouragement would be welcome, Brown said it’s people professionals that he’d really like to see leading the charge on further pay gap accountability.  

“I'd like to see the HR community, pushing harder in their employers as well, and saying - this is a train, why don't we get on early? And then we can shape the standards, rather than being right at the back of the queue and having them imposed on us,” he added. 


Obesity is the last “acceptable” form of discrimination  

In the UK, 65% of the population have pre-obesity or obesity, yet employees rarely feel comfortable enough to bring it up in the workplace, said Jacqueline Bowman, EU policy lead for the Study of Obesity, EASO. 

She argued the vast majority of workers have at least one medical condition and on average five medical conditions they deal with, but don’t feel like they can broach the subject with their employer.  

She said: “There has been a lack of anyone either understanding or aware of a correct definition of obesity.” 

Bowman argued that obesity needed to be viewed by employers as a disease like any other, and said HR could be doing more to question assumptions.  

She added: “HR should form a change-making task force to include people with obesity of all shapes and sizes, it’s so important to understand it’s not one vision of this particular disease 

“But there’s no point in having a policy when people don’t understand what the ramifications are. 

“Any change management programme [regarding how we talk about obesity] needs to have an outcome at the end.” 

Bowman reinforced the fact that words matter, and making sure HR gets its language correct around obesity would be welcome. 

She said: “I have obesity, I am not an obese person- it does not define me. 

“[Workplaces should] work on language and dialogue as accuracy is much more respectful than empathy.”    


There is still a long way to go to until a successful flexible working revolution 

Flexible working has been found to improve businesses inclusivity, as it allows people to work around any needs they may have, for example a chronic illness or a disability. 

Liz Sayce, visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics and CEO of Disability Rights UK, said employees with energy impairments seek greater autonomy over when and where they work.

She reinforced the idea that the pandemic has showed employers that this model can work for them too.  

She said: “The ability to work reduced hours, or work from home to eliminate the energy demands of commuting, gave employees who need it flexibility over their working times and style. 

“Employers should not take this away from them just because the pandemic restrictions are easing.”  The pandemic has made global companies more aware of the need for inclusivity, explained Sayce.  

“For 89% their key goal is to now create inclusive culture, combining gender, race, disability, and to not just focus on one. 

“Employers must now bring wider and simpler inclusive policies, practices and culture, so that individuals feel they can work in a way that best suits them post-pandemic,” she said.  


Uniformity needs to be challenged  

There is a person behind a police officer’s uniform who needs to be able to bring their authentic selves to work, according to Barry Boffy, head of inclusion and diversity at British Transport Police.  

Across policing, uniformity is no longer wanted or needed, as Boffy said diversity of thought must prevail in order for serving officers to be able to work to their full potential.  

He explained: “Diversity of thought refers to two separate notions, the first is accommodating those with neurodivergent conditions so that their different perspectives are valued, and they know their insights are welcomed.  

“The second is the creation of a culture where an expected conformity to ‘group think’ and uniformity can be challenged.” 

Boffy said both aspects of diversity of thought are needed for officers to maintain and deliver the objectives and purposes of the police force.