Five D&I priorities for 2022
By Jo Faragher on 17 December 2021
After an exhausting start to the pandemic in 2020, D&I professionals’ workload showed absolutely no let-up in 2021. Thrust into the spotlight by new ways of working and demands from leaders to build inclusion and belonging in their organisations, many put in long hours to deliver new initiatives or ensure that existing processes didn’t discriminate.
But what will 2022 have in store? There are a number of potential legal developments that could finally move beyond the consultation stage and into statute, but also shifts happening in the background, accelerated by the move to hybrid working and the ever-changing pandemic landscape.
We round up five things to watch out for in the coming year.
1. Flexible and hybrid working becomes the norm
Even the most recalcitrant of managers recognised in 2020 that most office-based jobs could be performed remotely, with the technology available. This trend will continue into 2022, with companies embracing flexibility about where and how employees work. From a policy perspective, the UK government announced plans to make the right to request flexible working a day-one right for all employees in September, although this is still to become law.
“From a diversity and inclusion perspective the ability to work remotely is a powerful tool. Recruitment is not as limited by location, enabling candidates to be drawn from a much wider geographical area,” says Keely Rushmore, employment law partner at Keystone Law. “Working remotely can also help certain groups that may be disadvantaged by the requirement to be present full-time in the office – working parents and disabled employees being two examples.”
However, as behaviours evolve and hybrid working becomes more embedded, that does not mean it will be without challenges. Rushmore adds: “This new way of working is in its infancy, and there are still many questions with which employers are grappling. How do you ensure homeworkers are as engaged, collaborative and supported as office workers and how can you have a policy that takes into account all of the workforce, not just a section of it? Only time will tell how the future of working will continue to adapt.”
2. Ethnicity pay gap reporting to become UK legal requirement?
A UK government consultation into making ethnicity pay gap reporting a mandatory requirement for companies of a certain size was published more than three years ago, in 2018, and there is still no indication as to when this might come to fruition. Over the past 18 months, however, there has been a groundswell of support from employers to do this on a voluntary basis, prompted by their response to inequalities brought to light by the Black Lives Matter movement. Bodies including the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) have called for ethnicity pay gap reporting to be made a legal requirement by 2023, and urge employers not to wait until legislation comes into force to report.
Paul Scully, UK minister for small business, has claimed that creating a framework for mandatory reporting is complicated as the data is not binary, and many organisations struggle with data disclosure and classification. The CIPD recommends that – until guidance appears from the government – organisations collect data on the same six data points they use for gender pay gap reporting, but with additional data on what proportion of the UK workforce comes from an ethnic minority background, and what proportion of the workforce disclosed.
Publishing the gaps can really shine a light on pay inequality: one law firm recently revealed that minority ethnic partners and employees earned 22.5% less than white colleagues. Bringing these disparities to light may be uncomfortable, but expect to see more companies publish ethnicity pay gap data in the coming months.
3. The impact of artificial intelligence and automation
Businesses face a double whammy in terms of tightened budgets on the one hand and difficulty in recruiting top talent on the other. Artificial intelligence and automation arguably offer a solution to both of these challenges, by taking away mundane processes from humans so headcount costs can be reduced, and helping to speed up the hiring process by scouring CV databases and handling recruitment admin.
But while many have argued that algorithms can reduce bias in business processes because they remove the human element, unions have called for new legal protections to be introduced to ensure that workers are not “hired and fired by algorithm”. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has warned that AI is being used to make life-changing decisions about people’s jobs, calling for a legal right to have a human review any decisions to protect against discrimination.
Some countries already have protections in place. New employee rights for gig economy workers in Spain and Portugal, for example, give unions or government the right to access algorithms used by employers to manage their workforce so they can guard against exploitation. In the UK, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Work recently published a report recommending increased regulation of AI in the UK. It’s early days on this one, but further regulation could well be in the pipeline.
4. New family-friendly rights become law
Alongside plans to extend the right to request flexible working to workers from their first day of employment, there are a number of other family-related legal developments on the horizon in the UK. These include the introduction of a statutory right to carers’ leave, which will also be available from the first day of employment. Employees will be able to use the paid leave to provide care or make arrangements for care to be provided to a dependant with a long-term need or terminal illness.
A further development is the introduction of paid leave for parents of premature babies or those who need neonatal care. This was announced in the 2020 budget but is unlikely to reach the statute book until 2023. Parents whose babies are in neonatal care for over a week will be entitled to paid leave for every further week their baby is there up to a maximum of 12 weeks, in addition to other parental leave.
2022 could also see progress on a bill designed to give pregnant women and new mothers enhanced legal protections against redundancy. During the pandemic, the House of Commons petitions committee has looked into the impact of Covid-19 on maternity and parental leave, highlighting concerns over the increased risk of redundancy for women on maternity leave or who are pregnant, and urged the government to prioritise pushing this bill through when parliamentary time allows.
5. Social mobility continues to grow in importance
Discussions around ESG (environmental, social and governmental) issues have dominated the boardroom in many organisations in 2021 as shareholders, customers and employees alike demand more from corporates. The ‘S’ in that acronym is one area where D&I professionals will continue to focus in 2022, with more and more companies realising the importance of having a broad spread of socio-economic diversity in their workforce.
The Social Mobility Commission has called on the UK government to make socio-economic background a protected characteristic in law after its research revealed that only 18% of senior civil servants come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and showed similar proportions in leading professions in the private sector. Organisations are addressing this through schemes such as apprenticeships focused on attracting candidates from certain ‘cold spot’ areas for social mobility, or in some cases taking positive action to recruit employees from less affluent backgrounds.
Next year we’ll see an increasing number of examples of this: we’ve already heard announcements from the likes of Goldman Sachs, which will run a trading floor apprenticeship to improve racial and socio-economic diversity, and news of a national fund – the Social Welfare Solicitors Qualification Fund – which will provide financial assistance to aspiring solicitors working in social welfare law and legal aid.
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