As PatrickCharlier, Director of UNIA, has recently mentioned in an interview for BX1,“the pandemic has brought to light social inequalities and difficulties as well as the vulnerabilities of our society”. Even though the topic of diversity and inclusion has been around for years, it seemed that it really took a turn in2020 with an increase in media coverage of appalling events and practices across the globe. It appeared essential to map the current situation in Belgium in order to present solutions adapted to the needs of organisations to best support them in the definition and deployment of their diversity &inclusion strategy.

 To do so, we launched a survey last month with questions centered around the actions undertaken, challenges and priorities. The survey was completed by a total of51 participants who revealed their organisation's agenda and the results are insightful.

70% affirms that diversity and inclusion is important to their organisation

Out of 51 participants, only 23% were employees dedicated to diversity and inclusion. This is a fairly low percentage, whereas 64% of the people surveyed work for companies with more than 100 employees. Nonetheless, 70% affirms that diversity and inclusion is important to their organisation and consider their organisation mature on the subject though a large number of respondents indicated that they had no clue about a dedicated annual budget for D&I initiatives, which can be tricky if you’re involved in the overall D&I strategy. It is also worth noting that consultants are giving organisations lower rates than internal employees.

The survey shows that 64% of organisations entrust the HR department to lead the D&I strategy. As HR is in charge of attracting, recruiting and retaining employees within your organisation, it seems obvious to count on them for the implementation of D&I programs and initiatives. However, it is interesting to note that it is also one of the least diversified departments in organisations. This finding could make us question the impact that it has on the effectiveness of the D&I strategy and how such reality is perceived by employees who already express a certain level of the skepticism and doubt towards their HR department.

Diversity data is mainly collected from anonymous surveys or HR systems.

In terms of data collected to measure diversity, age and gender score highly compared to the rest of discriminatory criteria such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, language, nationality or level of education. While some participants mentioned that they couldn’t legally ask about ethnicity or sexual orientation to employees, others seem to get their data from anonymous surveys or use the data found in HR systems or payrolls to have a view on their diversity landscape. Collecting information from HR systems can be dangerous, especially when it is done to measure the performance of such an important topic. What data is used to determine gender for instance? In many ATS and HRMS, a gender field is not provided by default. Hence, for those who have not created one, how is gender tracked? Ensuring the collection of the right data plays an essential role in an effective D&I strategy.

Organisations are mainly focused on reaching diversity numbers.

When it comes to challenges and priorities, organisations are mainly focused on reaching diversity numbers while they’re still working on the understanding of the scope and implications of D&I. A participant even mentioned “the leadership thinks that diversity in the workforce is hiring more women and seems to forget about all the other spectrums''. It tells how everyone, with its own experience, has a totally different definition and view of what diversity and inclusion means and who it concerns. As a result, the most attended training by top management is on inclusive leadership followed by unconscious bias, which is an important realisation to increase overall awareness on the way to a change of mindset.

However, what seems worrying is that not enough focus groups are organised to hear employees’ experiences. Indeed, 52,9% answered occasionally to the question and 5,9% said they have never organised any. Focus groups should be implemented as a recurring event within organisations to ensure a continuous dialogue between employees and management.

What can we learn from this survey?

Overall, this survey has shown that all organisations are giving more space and credit to the matter of diversity & inclusion but can be easily lost in the actual work that needs to be tackled to ensure equal opportunities and treatment in the workplace. Despite organisations having put a lot of effort on awareness, there is still some foundational work to be done on mindset and culture change. It's time we asked the right and hard questions. What message is your organisation sending to ? What are organisations ready to do when there is a lack of alignement between the Diversity & Inclusion strategy and people in charge? How far they are willing to go to fight discrimination? As an article from RTBF showed this morning, since January 1st 2021, 20% of the Belgian population is of foreign origin. This means that in 10 years, the proportion of Belgians of Belgian origin has decreased: it has fallen from 74.3% in 2011 to 67.9% in 2020. In the Brussels region, only 25,6% are Belgians of Belgian origin. Think about all the talents that an organisation might miss if they haven't worked on the fairness of their practices. It is crucial for companies to be aware of the demographics of the region in which they are located to make sure their communication appeals to all talents.