The British Approach to D&I – a pan-European comparison

18 British blue chip corporations form the second largest National subsample of 75 of Europe’s largest companies. The country also has a long tradition in non-discrimination. Does that mean that UK firms are D&I leaders, compared to other Europeans?

This is not the first time that the UK subsample reaches high scores in a pan-European comparison of D&I communication Annual Reports. Already back in 2010 the British constituted one of only two regional subsamples that boasted a full 100% coverage of D&I in Annual Reports and the only cluster that also mentioned D&I in all their CSR reports. But does the default integration of D&I in corporate reporting equal full commitment and successful implementation?

Checking the box while not saying a lot?

Taking a closer look at the breadth and depth of the D&I communication, the analysis shows that British write a bit less text on their D&I approach (1.3 pages on average) than the average European Annual reports do (1.4). There are fewer British companies that include long D&I features (of more than two pages), but they are more inclined to write more than one page (61%) than the European average (50%). In their CSR reports (N=15), British companies present, on average, only half the content than the European average, and they are half as likely to include longer D&I features (of 2+ pages).

Role models for a comprehensive Diversity approach

On the other hand, British D&I communication in Annual Reports is a little more comprehensive than the average European content (one third of British Annual Reports mention all six core dimensions or more, compared to 22% of all Europeans). In line with the European standard, gender is the most frequently mentioned diversity factor, with disability on rank two and ethnicity as well as nationality on three and four. Age is another priority for more than half of European and British firms alike but the latter mention LGBT more often in their Annual Reports.

In the British Annual report subsample, the headline “Diversity & Inclusion” is the most common terminology and twice as prevalent as in Europe at large. In CSR reports, they show a similar mix of terminologies as the European average.

(Only) Numbers count (too much?)

Against the backdrop of increasing political and other external expectations, an increasing number of European companies publish facts about the composition of their workforce or management populations. The latter is generally more prevalent, especially with regard to women on Boards. British Annual reports are slightly above the European average in each of these metrics, especially with regard to women in the workforce data. However, they are less likely to publish workforce diversity data other than gender. In their CSR reports, the focus on gender data is even stronger, also in comparison to the European average.

Few programme descriptions in Annual Reports – strong gender focus in CSR

While British companies are as active as their European peers in stating their commitment about D&I, they are a little less active in mentioning concrete activities, or describing specific outcomes or results they have achieved. 8 of the 18 British Annual reports include a total of 26 programme descriptions (3.25 on average compared to 4.75 for the whole of Europe). 9 of the 15 British CSR reports mention a total of 38 programmes (2.5 on average compared to 4.5 European average). Many of the latter programmes focus on support for and development of women (only). Experts argue that these type of programmes should be replaced by more comprehensive gender programmes as the various quota initiatives have already created a perception of reverse discrimination and an atmosphere of cynicism among male managers – who could be great supporters.

Special British Mentioning: BT and BAT – Innovative and business-focused

At British Telecom, they do not only support an LGBT employee network – like many companies do. BT also wanted to provide an inclusive experience for their LGBT customers. In 2015, they trained a specialist team of customer service representatives on how to sensitively communicate with transgender customers. This initiative combines a very high level of awareness with a business purpose and hence is highlighted here.

British American Tobacco is one of the few companies that presented two headlines that consistently connect D&I with their business priorities and their employer brand: Diversity for Growth summarises BAT’s business case for D&I as it relates to different perspectives and global markets. Bring your Difference is the company’s employer brand which is both powerful for graduates as well as aligned with their general D&I messaging.

Across the 75 leading multinationals, development programmes form the largest category, followed by topic-specific programmes. Events have grown in numbers and education (training, workshops, eLearning) has even become a new category.

The D&I Journey in Europe

Like no other topic, D&I in Europe has gone through an impressive development over the past 20 years. Starting as an innovative niche concept, it has become an indispensable element for large corporations that face numerous organisational, business and HR complexities. Along with the growth of the D&I landscape, the array of frameworks, approaches and practices has become vast. The sheer amount of good practices has also led to more an increase in me-too activities – and even to some routine and hence fatigue. In some regions, a strong CSR linkage caused more charitable, social or volunteering programmes that are often seen as diluting the clear – and admittedly hard – strategic business case based approach. Also, the differences across industries are still remarkable. ITC and Pharma tend to be more actively communicating D&I, the traditional Industrial Corporations are mostly found towards the lower ends of the spectra. For Energy and Finance, findings were mixed while for Consumer/Retail/Food – a large sector with a very strong business rationale for D&I – few above-average results were found.

Overall, it has become apparent that companies do their best – and sometimes struggle – to integrate external expectations (e.g. from politics or candidates) and internal needs (e.g. for a strong D&I contribution to the business agenda or improving the employee experience) in a context where personal preferences and beliefs of key stakeholders keep on influencing the D&I strategy. In addition, the continuing journey creates more complex needs to work with quite different audiences internally. All of this may not be an easy task when D&I is considered a part of employer branding or talent development…

Relevance: A systematic analysis – since 2008

Corporate Reporting forms a key element in corporate communication as it relates to business topics that are considered strategic priorities. In 2008, when the first systematic analysis was carried out (analysing reports for the year 2007), including Diversity in investor communication (i.e. Annual Reports) or Public Relations (i.e. CSR or similar reports) was an important indicator for how seriously the topic was tackled. In the following years, the research became a way to identify trends in D&I, mainly through the breadth, nature and depth of the information communicated. None of these data, however, provide a full picture of what companies are doing in the D&I area as some, many or most activities will not be included in the reports analysed.

The 75 Annual Reports for 2015, analysed in 2016/17 represent a combination of the Stoxx®50Europe and the EuroStoxx®50, 25 of which overlap.

The 18 British companies included in the sample are AstraZeneca, Barclays, BP, British American Tobacco, BT, Diageo, GlaxoSmithkline, Glencore, HSBC, Imperial Brands, Lloyds, National Grid, Prudential, Reckitt Benckiser, Rio Tinto, Royal Dutch Shell, Unilever, and Vodafone.


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