Only one in five of the world’s biggest listed companies disclosed data about the composition of their workforce, despite growing societal, political and investor pressure to improve diversity and inclusion in businesses globally, according to a survey by the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI).

The WDI aims to improve corporate transparency and accountability on workforce issues, provide companies and investors with comprehensive and comparable data and help increase the provision of jobs worldwide. It is partly funded by the government and supported by more than 50 investment firms.

Of the 750 companies asked by WDI signatories to provide information to the survey, only 114 did so, according to Reuters. While this figure is low, it was a 20% increase on 2019’s number of respondents (118).

Of those that answered, 75% shared a breakdown of their gender data, while only 36% reported on the ethnicity of their workforces. What’s more, 57% shared data on their gender pay, while only 4% reported on their pay gap by ethnicity.

Baroness McGregor-Smith pointed out in the Race in the Workplace review, “no employer can honestly say they are improving the ethnic diversity of their workforce unless they know their starting point and can monitor their success over time”. According to The Equality and Human Rights Commission, ethnic minority people’s careers are at risk because employers are failing to collect meaningful data on representation in the workforce.

The lack of data across the initiative prevents efforts to measure progress effectively. “For plans and initiatives to work, a company needs to understand the composition of its workforce,” said WDI Research Manager Charlotte Lush. “Without this data, companies are effectively taking a shot in the dark, implementing practices without knowing who is in their workforce, and what it is that they need.”

However, with the anticipation of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting, and an increased focus on race prompted by the Black Lives Matter movement, many businesses will have been reviewing and expanding their data collection and reporting practices – but those good intentions are being hampered by a lack of availability of data. There is no legal obligation for individuals to disclose which ethnic group they identify with. So those employers currently committed to collecting personal data, be it internally or upon application externally, will have, undoubtedly, done so with varying levels of employee participation. For more information on this, see here Diversity data: you can't act if you don't measure.

Although the 2020 WDI reporting figures were an improvement and a step in the right direction, progress is far too slow. While collecting meaningful data is difficult, we should not be deterred. We cannot solve these challenges overnight but actively engaging with employees and building trust is vital. Businesses must start carefully planning how they will collect and assess data on ethnicity within their organisations. For more information on this, see Ethnicity Pay Gap Reporting: A Catalyst to Change. That way, we can continue to move this conversation forwards.

Head to the D&I page on our website to read more about how we are supporting our clients and candidates and our own D&I journey.

Written by

Catherine Osaigbovo

Catherine has 25 years’ recruitment experience of which the past 14 have been spent specialising in HR. Her remit covers the entire permanent HR lifecycle, with her passion lying in building HR leadership teams and their direct reports with an inclusive focus. A Diversity & Inclusion focus and strategy is at the heart of creating a culturally intelligent leadership team to enable businesses to become even more successful.

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