5 minute read 22 Feb 2022

Diversity and inclusion is not a challenge to overcome, but an opportunity for organisations to seize. This whitepaper sets out how. 

colleagues sitting around a computer watching a presentation

How to harness the power of a diverse workforce

By Amy Walters

Manager, EY Lane4, EY Professional Services Limited

Specialises in human performance with a focus on applied psychology. Translates academic thinking and research into practical solutions for business. Visiting lecturer at Bath University.

5 minute read 22 Feb 2022
Related topics Workforce Corporate culture

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Diversity and inclusion is not a challenge to overcome, but an opportunity for organisations to seize. This whitepaper sets out how. 

In brief 

  • The importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives has been widely recognised.
  • Organisations must avoid the common mistakes often made when approaching diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace.
  • To succeed in creating workplace diversity, DE&I initiatives must be implemented organisation-wide, engaging employees at every level. 

Organisations worldwide have acknowledged the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workforce, contributing to a substantial increase in resources allocated to improve workplace diversity. However, despite diversity and inclusion initiatives being a saturated market, few programmes are effective and successful1. Research shows that ethnic minorities’ unemployment rates are 12% higher than their white counterparts and only one in five neurodiverse individuals are in employment2. This suggests that traditional programmes are not only failing organisations, but also continuing to marginalise the individuals that they are designed to serve. However, a diverse workforce is becoming increasingly important to employees, customers and stakeholders: failing to address it is no longer an option. According to a Glassdoor Survey 67% of individuals consider a diverse workplace as highly important in their application stage3.

For an in-depth analysis of how to integrate an effective diversity and inclusion initiative within your organisation, download the whitepaper below.


Whitepaper: Harnessing the power of diversity (PDF, 787 KB)



When implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives, organisations need to avoid just going through the motions. Below are two common pitfalls that organisations often fall into when approaching workplace diversity. 

  • Treating diversity and inclusion as one and the same

    Improving workplace diversity will not mean organisations will achieve inclusiveness. Rather than addressing diversity or inclusion, both should be addressed in tandem, as a part of a cohesive strategy. Organisations must simultaneously diversify their talent pool whilst also transforming cultural norms at an individual, team and organisational level. 

  • Addressing diversity and inclusion superficially rather than at the roots

    Diversity and inclusion is often thought of as an add-on to business objectives, ignoring the systemic organisational issues that often fuel non-inclusive behaviours. However, research shows that organisations which acknowledge and rectify the systemic roots of diversity and inclusion challenges are able to execute the most successful initiatives4,5. Ultimately, creating a diverse and inclusive workforce will also often allow for other transformational initiatives to succeed.

Organisations trying to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives often go for a temporary solution, failing to embed the core qualities that make an equitable workforce. Establishing workplace diversity requires three factors: promoting equity, placing increased value on difference and creating a sense of belonging.

Firstly, creating a fair and impartial environment is key to ensuring that everyone can excel in a diverse workforce. Secondly, initiatives need to satisfy basic human needs, such as uniqueness and belonging. Organisations need to appreciate the value that people bring to an organisation because of their individual differences. Finally, creating an environment that allows people to feel comfortable and that they belong will be crucial to creating a high-performing diverse workforce. Valuing the strength that comes from workplace diversity is the first step to implementing a successful diversity and inclusion initiative. 

How can organisations transform the workplace and harness the power of a diverse workforce?

In our whitepaper, we outline multiple tools that organisations can use to reinvent diversity and inclusion programmes. Below, we present four initiatives that can be implemented today. 

At an organisation level

1. Understand an organisations’ diversity and inclusion blind spots

Just because some may not be aware or have been subject to inequality in the workplace does not mean that non-inclusive behaviours are not present. Organisations should complete a culture audit to engage with individuals in the workplace through small group discussions and feedback forums. These techniques allow the evaluation of processes, practices and deeply embedded aspects of an organisation’s culture which may be overlooked, and could be negatively impacting people’s working lives. Providing employees with an anonymous way to express their honest feelings is an efficient way to highlight organisational culture gaps. Without gaining this insight, leaders will not have the sufficient evidence to know where to start with improving their organisations’ diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

2. Revitalise recruitment and talent management strategy

Organisations need to rethink their recruitment process and consider whether they are creating job adverts that would attract a diverse workforce. Proactively sourcing talent from underrepresented groups encourages a wider range of ideas and values within the workforce. To achieve this, organisations can recruit from more diverse universities and broaden companies’ networks by connecting with groups that support underrepresented people. In job advertisements, organisations should display their equity statement as this encourages candidates from a range of backgrounds to apply. These techniques can aid an organisation in harnessing workplace diversity.

At an individual level 

3. Develop the capabilities of team leaders 

Whilst change at an organisational level has huge benefits, leaders also play a critical role in enhancing and embedding workplace diversity. If a diversity and inclusion initiative is implemented but leaders fail to engage with the programme, this could have detrimental effects in creating a diverse workforce. Managers need to make a conscious effort to incorporate specific leadership capabilities to successfully embed diversity and inclusion. This involves upskilling team leaders on four key capabilities: being an active ally to underrepresented groups, staying openly curious about the experiences of others, making equitable decisions and enabling people to feel free to be themselves.

4. Nurture existing diverse talent

A common oversight in implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives is the power of existing diverse talent. To achieve workplace diversity, organisations must recognise and support existing talent to unlock their potential. For instance, research has shown clerical tasks are more likely to be assigned to minority groups and women as opposed to developmental tasks6. To combat this, organisations must develop underrepresented individuals’ capabilities and implement sponsorship programmes to provide support. This will also allow organisations to evaluate the systems and practices in place which may have overshadowed diverse talent previously.


Too often, organisations try to treat the symptoms rather than the cause, when it comes to workplace diversity. Successful diversity and inclusion initiatives are not a ‘quick fix.’ They require systemic change throughout the entire organisation. To create a diverse workplace, organisations need to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout their workforce, and integrate DE&I into their core business strategy.

About this article

By Amy Walters

Manager, EY Lane4, EY Professional Services Limited

Specialises in human performance with a focus on applied psychology. Translates academic thinking and research into practical solutions for business. Visiting lecturer at Bath University.

Related topics Workforce Corporate culture