According to a recent study, one in four Black employees don’t feel they can be themselves at work, despite an increase in workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives in the past year*.

Engagement experts, Inpulse, say that while D&I efforts increased last year, the ability to enact real change has been stifled, eclipsed in part by the move to remote and hybrid working.

As a result, the data shows that employees are less engaged and have less faith in D&I initiatives: those who feel they can’t be themselves at work are 43% less engaged than other employees. As well as this, over two-thirds of these employees (64%) do not feel that their organisation has an inclusive culture regardless of personal difference.

Meanwhile, nearly a third of all employees (31%) do not feel that their organisation encourages diversity and inclusion.

According to Matt Stephens, Founder and CEO of Inpulse:

“There are currently two main issues holding back the D&I agenda. Firstly, the return to work has taken over as the big problem for HR and is ultimately sucking the oxygen out of D&I initiatives – so much so that there’s little room to focus on this incredibly pressing matter.

“Worryingly too, depending on whether Covid restrictions are put back in place over winter, more of HR’s time could be spent implementing the constant change of remote or hybrid working. This potentially will lead to an unintentional but detrimental lack of drive behind D&I action for some time.

“We’re also seeing that even when HR can focus their efforts on D&I, there’s a lack of confidence in knowing the right actions to take. This tends to go two ways –  either inaction or playing it safe and turning D&I into a tick-box exercise – ultimately only completing performative activities that create no real or useful change at the structural level of an organisation.”

Inpulse stresses the importance of D&I initiatives to encourage structural change. Its data highlights that individuals aren’t necessarily to blame for widespread D&I issues: despite 25% of Black employees feeling that they can’t be themselves at work, 89% still agree that they are treated with respect by their managers.

Stephens summarises:

“Feelings of exclusion aren’t always brought on by day to day interactions or relationships with coworkers. Instead, they are often the result of broader processes and power structures – a lack of diversity and representation in leadership positions, pay disparities or unconscious bias hiring practices, for example.

“These are not structures that can change overnight, however, and require a constant, multifaceted approach to improve. It’s unsurprising that organisations have focused on hybrid working strategies, but ignoring long-term D&I initiatives isn’t sustainable either. Business leaders may bring the majority of their workforces together logistically and personally while focusing on hybrid work, but is it at the expense of continually alienating ethnic minorities. Key is to first understand underlying issues to be able to create the best strategy of support.”


*Data taken from employee emotion surveys conducted in 2021. For survey responses regarding whether employees feel they can be themselves at work, there were 7707 respondents.

For survey responses regarding whether employees feel that the culture in their organisation is inclusive to all regardless of differences, there were 4687 respondents.

For survey responses regarding whether employees feel that their organisation encourages diversity and inclusion, there were 2604 respondents.

Lisa Baker

Author Lisa Baker

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