A recent survey commissioned by 12 professional membership and regulatory bodies sheds light on the prevalent scepticism among professionals regarding the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

The research, conducted across various sectors including accountancy, engineering, law, and human resources, warns that the perceived lack of genuine commitment to change may undermine recent progress in achieving equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) goals.

The study, titled ‘Beyond Buzzwords,’ draws insights from over 7,000 professionals and unveils that 73% of respondents encountered obstacles to career progression, while 72% experienced some form of ‘discriminatory or exclusionary’ behaviour since the beginning of 2019. Additionally, the research highlights a growing belief among professionals that ambitious EDI goals often translate into mere rhetoric and box-ticking exercises, lacking tangible impact.

Systemic Barriers and Exclusionary Practices

Concerns raised by the research encompass the challenging access and entry routes for individuals from minority backgrounds into various professions. Affordability of qualifications, accessibility issues, and a lack of role models contribute to systemic barriers contradicting the merit-based notion of professional success. Additionally, more than half of professionals (53%) have contemplated leaving their employer or profession due to EDI concerns, feeling undervalued or facing limited progression opportunities.

While the research points out existing challenges, it also identifies impactful initiatives when properly executed. Solutions include normalising flexible working, providing accessible learning resources, implementing targeted development programmes, and addressing biases in hiring processes.

Proposed Strategies for Change

The report also suggests that professional and regulatory bodies play a pivotal role in raising the standard for accountable and ethical professions concerning EDI. It advocates for tailored solutions and offers recommendations for various stakeholders, including organisations involved in the research, policymakers, employers, and individual professionals. Achieving systemic change, the report asserts, requires collective commitments from multiple stakeholders.

Helen Goulden OBE, Chief Executive of The Young Foundation, also emphasised the need for a ‘race to the top’ on standards to drive sustained, systems-wide change. Ann Francke OBE, Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute, highlighted the persistence of barriers to progress and discrimination, calling for proactive steps to bridge the ‘say-do’ gap. The report underscores the essential role of inclusion in the workplace for the thriving of organisations in today’s diverse and interconnected world.