The decade leading up to the pandemic brought significant progress for workplace diversity, but not all groups have benefited equally.
Virtually all nations in the OECD group of countries have reduced gender and age gaps in employment. At the same time, acceptance of LGBT+ people has increased. And corporate policies are increasingly focusing on migrants and ethnic minorities.
Women have been by far the biggest targets of diversity policies. In a recent OECD-wide survey of HR professionals, one in 10 companies said they had set targets to interview a minimum number of applicants from an under-represented group – their main targets being women (76 per cent), disabled people (39), ethnic minorities (30) and migrants (19).
Evidence from the US shows that the positive effect of such affirmative action has been strongest for white women, while there was much less impact on black men, black women or Hispanics.
But, despite progress for many groups, the decade has brought no visible advancement for those at a socio-economic disadvantage.
Policies that focused on ethnic minorities, without paying attention to socio-economic disadvantage, tend to favour better-off individuals.
Initial evidence suggests income inequalities have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. However, even when looking at pre-pandemic levels, the data showed it could take five generations before a child from a poor family would reach the average income. And yet socio-economic background is rarely considered in corporate diversity efforts.
It is useful to acknowledge that while there are societal gains from greater inclusion of diverse groups, the diversity business case for individual companies is less evident.
While the impact of diversity on company performance has often been studied – notably with respect to migrant and ethnic diversity – solid empirical evidence is mixed as to what degree it actually enhances the corporate bottom line.
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