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Inclusion at Work Panel publishes recommendations for improving diversity and inclusion (D&I) practice in the workplace

On 20 March 2024, the independent Inclusion at Work Panel published its report, aimed at enhancing diversity and inclusion (D&I) workplace practices through evidence-based approaches. Established as part of the Inclusive Britain plan, the Panel’s aim was to develop and disseminate effective resources to help employers drive fairness across organisations. The report concludes that while employers aspire to “do the right thing”, they face barriers which hinder effective D&I practices, including a lack of accessible, robust data on D&I interventions, and the limited evaluation of D&I strategies and their effectiveness. The report also notes the challenges faced by businesses in interpreting equalities legislation and the complications raised by politically charged D&I debates, especially regarding gender and race. Indeed, the report found that D&I action is often driven by a desire to avoid negative PR rather than focusing on effectiveness.

Suggested Proposals 

To address the challenges faced by employers, the Panel has recommended three key proposals:

1. A new framework to help employers conceptualise, implement and evaluate successful D&I policies 

The government should endorse a new framework which sets out five criteria employers can apply to their D&I practice, focusing on two themes: embedding evidence-informed practice, and recruiting and retaining staff inclusively. 

  • Gathering evidence systematically and comprehensively: The CIPD’s Inclusion at Work 2022 report, which surveyed over 2,000 UK senior decision-makers in organisations across many sectors, found that only 38% of employers collect some form of equal opportunities monitoring data from employees and/or job applicants. This criterion underscores the importance of collecting robust data and insights on D&I metrics. By gathering such data, employers can identify context-specific challenges within their own workforce, enabling them to allocate resources effectively and address pertinent issues.
  • Putting evidence into practice: The Panel found that many organisations’ D&I approaches are driven by “pre-existing notions, assumptions, and pressures rather than empirical evidence”. The framework recommends that organisations base their D&I approaches on empirical evidence of effectiveness rather than assumptions or reactive responses to societal events. The report highlights evidence which suggests that D&I training is not effective, and sometimes counterproductive, and that many D&I initiatives have mixed or inconclusive results.
  • Reviewing interventions and processes regularly: The evidence also highlights a lack of evaluation of D&I policies and procedures within organisations. The CIPD noted “a concerning but recurring theme” of a “significant gap between the data that is collected and that which is reviewed by the HR director or senior leaders”, with data collected “without a clear aim or outcome”. The report suggests employers conduct regular evaluations of their D&I policies and practices, both by looking at the impact on the diversity of their workforce and seeking to assess the value of money of their D&I interventions, and recommends that new D&I schemes should have clear guidelines about what sort of D&I data to collect to aid meaningful targets and evaluation. 
  • Widening diversity of thought and experience: The criterion stresses the importance of going beyond ‘visible’ diversity and other traditional measures of diversity, such as gender and race, to help employers foster diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds within their organisation, including by working to improve diversity in socio-economic and educational backgrounds. The report notes the strong evidence that cognitive diversity (as opposed to social homogeneity) is essential for fostering creativity and innovation.
  • Restoring the importance of clear performance standards, vocational training and excellent management: The report encourages organisations to prioritise clear performance standards and high-quality vocational training, which it views as the most effective means to improve equality of opportunity, inclusion and belonging. Transparent progression and vocational training are seen as more impactful strategies for promoting D&I compared to standalone awareness initiatives or employee networks.

The report also notes that, for D&I initiatives to be successful, these cannot be ‘siloed’ in HR, and senior management visibility is crucial. Senior leaders need to actively demonstrate their commitment to D&I practices to drive meaningful change within their organisations – a ‘show not tell’ approach is fundamental.

2. A new tool to assess D&I practices

The report recommends that the government funds and works with a research partner to create a tool enabling leaders and managers across all workplaces and sectors to assess the efficacy and value for money of various D&I practices, based on the Education Endowment Foundation tool for teaching and learning practices. The tool would summarise the strength of evidence, cost of implementation and impact for different kinds of D&I interventions based on previous research, which would empower employers to make informed decisions.

3. EHRC guidance on D&I interventions

Finally, the report stresses the need for guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission to help elucidate organisations’ legal duties and responsibilities and the risks and implications of failure to carry out these duties. The report notes that employers struggle to navigate conflict of belief situations and can inadvertently breach their obligations under equalities legislation in attempts to promote D&I within their organisations. 


A feature of the report which may surprise some is its open criticism of D&I training, and its suggestion that “there are compelling reasons why [employers] should stop investing heavily in diversity training” and employers should be given efficacy evidence to help them “stop the use of ineffective practices”. The Panel, which is critical of inefficient spending in both the public and private sectors, repeats the Telegraph’s report that an estimated £13 million is spent a year on D&I roles in the NHS, a revelation which was criticised at the time by the then Health Secretary.

In light of the increasing social and political scrutiny which D&I efforts are under, it is more important than ever for employers to have the tools to make an effective case for D&I and justify the resources dedicated to improving diversity in the workplace. The report does not shy away from advocating for the benefits of meaningful diversity and provides a useful roadmap for employers. By leveraging evidence-based strategies, clarifying legal responsibilities and prioritising leadership visibility, employers can attract top talent and foster a culture of innovation and inclusivity, driving both social impact and business success. As argued by the Panel's report, D&I initiatives rooted in empirical data are more likely to be effective and well-received by employees, avoiding unintended consequences.

While progress has been made in advancing D&I, there is still much work to be done.

Looking at gender diversity specifically, the latest report from the FTSE Women Leaders Review highlights progress in women's representation on FTSE 350 boards but also underscores areas where improvement is still needed. While the 2025 target of 40% representation has been exceeded, there are still a notable lack of women in key leadership roles such as CEO, CFO, Chair or Senior Independent Director. Indeed, 112 FTSE 350 companies have no women in any one of their four key roles (CEO, CFO, Chair and SID) and under one in six Chair roles on FTSE 350 boards are occupied by women. Factors identified by the review as contributing to this imbalance include reliance on traditional career paths, bias in selection processes and shorter tenures served by women. 

On a similar theme, the Treasury Committee’s recent report into “Sexism in the City” found that progress in addressing barriers faced by women in financial services remained “frustratingly slow”,  including a disappointing lack of progress on sexual harassment and bullying. However, the report stopped short of endorsing the PRA and FCA’s proposals to implement D&I strategies and to collect, report and track D&I data against set targets. The Committee is concerned that this may lead to ‘tick-box’ compliance, without affecting the smaller firms where cultural change is most needed.