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EDI: Great progress but more to do

The fact that businesses in the hospitality, travel, leisure and retail sectors are among the most diverse and forward looking is perhaps not surprising. These sectors are magnets for people who put people first, and where the concept of business ‘success’ is based on constant innovation and where different ideas and designs are fused together to create new and exciting products, seemingly on a daily basis. 

So when over 600 business leaders from across the hospitality, travel, leisure and retail sectors came together for the recent WiHTL & DiR Inclusion Summit, it was guaranteed to be a thought-provoking day. 

Attendees included retail leaders like River Island and John Lewis, hospitality brands such as The Dorchester Collection and Away Resorts as well as national pub group Greene King. All have made demonstrable commitments to diversity and inclusion and invested in initiatives which were delivering real results for their teams around the country. These included the creation of employee networks, inclusive recruitment practices and community engagement programmes – all backed by commitment from the senior leadership. 

Whilst there were many other examples of best practice, the Summit was also the opportunity for WiHTL to share its latest findings on the state of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), based on research carried out by The MBS Group. 

It was revealed that whilst the majority of businesses do have well developed strategies for inclusion, and there has been great progress made in many areas, there were still significant gaps when it comes to implementing practical procedures that make a difference on the ground. The sector has yet to meet the FTSE benchmark of 40% women on Boards and there is only a very gradual increase in ethnic minority leadership at board level. LGBTQ+ inclusion is high but there is a lack of disabled leaders. 

Tea Colaianni, Founder and Chair of WiHTL and DiR, said: “As our research shows, although change is underway and we can celebrate the advances that we have made, we need to accelerate the pace of change to ensure that EDI continues to be a core strategic priority and remain resolute in our determination to address areas where progress might be stalling.”

It was also noted that corporate ownership is often a differentiator with private equity backed or family-owned businesses being less inclined to invest resources in EDI, whereas listed firms or those with US ownership are likely to have more advanced strategies. Very small companies also didn’t feel the need for dedicated EDI programmes due to their size and limited resources. 

There was unambiguous agreement that EDI is not just important but critical for success. From adopting inclusive recruitment practices and providing equal opportunities for career progression through to unconscious bias training and flexible working, there are many proven ways of creating an inclusive working environment.

Some firms will focus on race, gender and sexual orientation but the WiHTL summit served as a reminder that other characteristics are just as deserving of attention, including age, disability, socio-economic background and neurodiversity. Interestingly, mentoring was held up as one way for senior leaders to engage with junior colleagues and provide that informal encouragement that is so often needed, particularly in large or strongly hierarchical organisations.  

The WiHTL Summit proved there is support for EDI and the solutions are out there. Given the difficulties so many businesses have faced in the recruitment and retention of people, now is the time for organisations to focus on clear and meaningful actions that deliver tangible results for the long term. 

How we can help

For businesses looking for advice on EDI issues, Irwin Mitchell’s diversity and inclusion assessment is a great place to start. It will assess where you are on your journey and set out clear and measurable aims and goals.