Inclusion and Diversity: Does Organisational Development have a role to play?

By Steven Berry as part of #NationalInclusionWeek2021

For organisations striving for a more diverse workforce and inclusive culture, Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) have risen high up the agenda. Back in 2015, CIPD research1 highlighted workforce diversity as one of eight common drivers of change and this was echoed in last year’s report: People Profession Survey 2020.

Notable findings around the influence of the COVID-19: Diversity and inclusion considerations are being addressed by the majority. Two thirds (66%) of practitioners say their organisation has considered the needs and concerns of different employee groups during this crisis

(CIPD 2020)

It comes as no surprise that this is truer today than ever before. The 2020 survey also found a rising demand for Organisational Development (OD) skills within the people profession. 

We wanted to explore the relationship between I&D and OD with our area membership and to hear their experiences. It was important for us to create a space where practitioners could to come together, hear from local experienced practitioners and consider their own needs and challenges.  

We invited two prominent Manchester-based culture leaders, Sharmila Kar and Christos Tsaprounis, to share how they had approached developing Inclusion and Diversity within their organisations. More than 140 CIPD members and non-members registered for our session.

The rising importance of I&D in the workplace

We began by asking participants three simple questions to gauge the rising importance of I&D in the workplace.

It was interesting to see that on a scale of 1-5, many organisations committed to I&D agendas through communicating their approach and taking specific actions to reduce inequality and support inclusion. Fewer organisations, however, appeared to have reached a point where they were embedding an inclusive approach to I&D through strategies, policies and practices. 

Actions that drive forward the I&D agenda

Next, we explored actions that have helped drive forward I&D agendas. From the small snapshot of responses above, it’s clear that both top-down and bottom-up approaches have proved helpful. Galvanising the support of senior leaders has been critical for some, allowing for the role-modelling of new behaviours. For others, engaging with employees through equality networks and champions groups has been essential to hear, and genuinely understand, different communities within the workforce.

Both Sharmila and Cristos agreed that, in their experience, engaging employees at all levels of the organisation and taking them along on the change journey has been what’s brought about meaningful change. 

Case studies

Sharmila shared her thoughts on the relationship between I&D and OD, and believes that OD practitioners are well-placed to help reduce structural and systemic inequality by taking a holistic approach. Promoting values such as psychological safety and collaborative working across the system can also help to facilitate sustainable change. Sharmila shared examples of practical systemic, collaborative work across Manchester’s health and social care system, reinforcing this point.

Christos spoke about his organisation’s starting point -defining what the organisation understood by ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ to create a shared understanding. He also spoke about valuing employee equality networks and providing employees with dedicated time to meet and support the I&D agenda. He advocated for adopting these meetings as part of the ‘day job’ rather than as add-ons. Christos further shared the importance and value of equality data gathered from various sources to measure success and inform practice.

Next Steps

We concluded our event by asking participants to reflect on the possible next steps for their organisation. From increased engagement with employees to smarter use of data to drive interventions, we sensed that the event had been beneficial both in terms of a space to share knowledge but also

Key takeaway

To advance the I&D agenda, change needs to happen in behaviours with a genuine shift in mindsets. The ways we’ve been ‘doing things’ isn’t enough anymore. In summary we need to re-frame the approach to I&D and OD by viewing them as complementary disciplines that work best together.

Steven Berry
CIPD Manchester Branch


Location Manchester, England E-mail Hours Our hours vary according to our programme.
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