Nearly one in four UK employees (23 per cent) says they have experienced an incident in the past 12 months where they or a colleague were unfairly discriminated against in their workplace because of their gender, age, background, sexual orientation or preferences, culture or ethnicity.

The findings1, from global language and soft skills training provider Learnlight, reveal that 12 per cent of employees have been victims of discrimination themselves, and 14 per cent have experienced it happening to someone they know at work within the past year.

According to the study, only half of UK employees (51 per cent) are sure that their employer has a policy to promote Diversity & Inclusion (“D&I”) in the workplace. It reveals that even those businesses which have D&I policies are suffering from them not being adhered to.

One in three employees (30 per cent) said their organisation’s policy was ‘usually’ adhered to but that sometimes senior managers get around it and HR doesn’t prevent this from happening. Another 9 per cent thought their company’s policy was just a box-ticking exercise. In total, less than half (49 per cent) felt that the policy was strictly adhered to.

Learnlight, which is launching a new blended Diversity and Inclusion training course to help companies build more diverse and inclusive workplaces, says it designed the course in response to demand from the HR and Learning community it works with around the world, many of which are facing challenges in creating D&I policies that are truly effective.

Benjamin Joseph, CEO, Learnlight, explained:

“Diversity and inclusion is a huge issue for HR teams to tackle. Businesses increasingly understand that diverse and inclusive organisations are not only doing the right thing but are also reducing their reputational risks and building a work environment that is more likely to result in greater profitability.

“While the benefits of D&I are broadly accepted, certainly amongst HR teams, creating truly diverse and inclusive businesses requires a broad understanding of many factors including how to develop a D&I strategy, negotiate different legal frameworks, create an inclusive culture, overcome unconscious bias, develop a business case and measure progress effectively. We provide soft skills and language training to multinationals around the world and many of the HR teams we deal with say they have a long way to go before overcoming these challenges in practice.”

Overall, more than one in five UK employees (22 per cent) says they aren’t certain their workplace is truly diverse, with 19 per cent saying it definitely isn’t and 3 per cent being unsure. The issue is more pronounced at senior management level, with four in ten (40 per cent) respondents not convinced their workplace is diverse at this level. One in four (25 per cent) respondents aren’t certain that their workplace is inclusive, with 18 per cent saying it definitely isn’t and 7 per cent being unsure.

Employees in large multinational businesses were also more likely to have experienced this kind of incident in the past 12 months, with 27 per cent of employees in these businesses claiming to have done so, compared to 14 per cent in small businesses.

However, while awareness of D&I policies is greater amongst employees of larger businesses, the feeling that policies are not wholly effective is prevalent in businesses of all sizes, with 28 per cent of employees in multinationals claiming senior managers sometimes circumnavigated the policy and 8 per cent that it was a box-ticking exercise, compared to 32 per cent and 9 per cent respectively in small businesses.

A recent McKinsey report2 revealed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21 per cent more likely to experience above-average profitability. For ethnic and cultural diversity, the equivalent gap was 33 per cent.