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Is D&I the solution to business’s greatest challenges?

Apr 27, 2019
It may be difficult to know where to start when it comes to diversity and inclusion but for those prepared to take a leap of faith, the reward can be substantial.


Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is an increasingly significant issue for Irish business. It’s about more than the gender pay gap or public interest entities’ reporting – D&I provides a solution to two of the greatest challenges currently facing organisations: innovation and sourcing new talent.

A diverse workforce improves innovation; it makes sense that the people who design and market products should be reflective of a diverse customer base. Bringing different experiences and perspectives together allows teams to challenge one another and generate new ideas.

Competitive advantage

Current levels of underemployment are now close to those of the pre-crisis period. In a recent survey of CEOs by PwC Ireland, 63% planned to expand their workforce while 75% said hiring is difficult.

However, employers that are prepared to focus on attracting and maintaining a diverse workforce will gain a competitive advantage. In addition to finding new sources of talent, a diverse organisation will become a more attractive proposition for all candidates.

Yet, many organisations focus their D&I initiatives solely on women when one of the main challenges for women is advancement rather than access. When other groups are considered, it is all too often in the context of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, rather than valuing the person's contribution.

Barriers to entry

Many groups of people face barriers to entering the workforce: 71% of people with disabilities in Ireland are not currently employed, for example. An ESRI report also found that despite wanting to work, people with a disability are less likely to get a job and more likely to leave employment – even when their impairment does not create difficulties with everyday activities.

A report published by the CSO, based on data from the last census, highlights higher unemployment rates in the Traveller population. The majority (80%) of Travellers in the labour force are unemployed.

Meanwhile, the Ethnicity and Nationality in the Irish Labour Market study shows that black non-Irish people are five times more likely to experience discrimination when seeking employment in Ireland compared to white Irish people. People from the black Irish group are also twice as likely to experience discrimination when seeking work. Both black non-Irish and black Irish groups are much less likely to hold a managerial or professional role.

And for women, and increasingly men, who have taken time out of the workplace to care for family, their readiness in their 40s and 50s to reignite their careers is all-too-often met with resistance from potential employers.

There are many other categories too – socioeconomic status, neurodiversity, and religion or ethnicity. And, of course, people aren’t only one thing – we can all identify with multiple groupings.

Driving employee engagement

So, why do employers overlook the benefits of greater diversity when hiring? Many are unsure how to make the transition from intention to action while others focus on potential difficulties — are they more at risk of litigation if the recruitment is unsuccessful? How will they manage and integrate people who are different?

Yet, there is no evidence that more diverse organisations are subject to a greater degree of litigation from disgruntled employees. In fact, diverse workplaces experience a higher degree of employee engagement. And as for questions about the practicalities involved, there is ample support available from State agencies and voluntary organisations. Or better still, ask the candidate.

Dawn Leane is Founder of Leane Leaders, specialists in diversity and inclusion and leadership development.