Business in the Community Ireland is a movement for sustainable change in business.
In a dynamic and changing environment, sustainable businesses are successful businesses
One of the areas the Leaders’ Group is addressing is social inclusion. This is done through the ‘Social Inclusion Sub-Group’. The group is made up of representatives from BITCI member companies - CRH, Dawn Meats, Deloitte, eir, Gas Networks Ireland, Janssen, M&S, SSE Ireland, and Veolia as well as experts from Business in the Community Ireland. The group is co-chaired by Sinéad Patton, Chief Financial & Commercial Officer, Veolia Ireland, and Ken Scully, Director and Head of Trading and Commercial Operations – M&S Ireland.
What Do We Mean When We Talk About Inclusion?
Recognising that social equality is a fundamental driver for sustainable economic growth and recovery, the ‘Social Inclusion Sub-Group’ set about identifying a responsible business approach to reducing inequalities and achieving a fairer more inclusive society. As a result, in 2019, BITCI published the Inclusive Employer Blueprint providing a step-by-step approach for any employer interested in building an inclusive society starting with their organisation.
Progressing the work started with the Inclusive Employer publication, in 2021, BITCI launched Elevate – The Inclusive Workplace Pledge. The purpose of this Pledge is to practically demonstrate commitment by Irish businesses to building an inclusive workforce. It will also act as a catalyst for wider, complementary initiatives and actions, to assist companies in achieving diversity, equity & inclusion targets whilst tackling inequalities in society.
BITCI commissioned Deloitte to assist with the research for this report, which reveals some of the social inequalities that exist in Ireland today alongside an exploration of the barriers to inclusion as experienced by employers and job seekers
Why Does Inclusion Make Sense?
Today, investors, consumers, employees, and civil society all pay attention to how businesses respond to the diversity, equality, and inclusion challenges we face. Companies are expected to act beyond compliance and to take a real stand on inclusion. The global pandemic has radically disrupted the employment market. It has exposed the deeply rooted inequality in our society and has broadened the social divide.
While some thriving sectors of the economy will continue to engage in a war for talent that will exacerbate as our economy rebuilds, rising unemployment in challenged sectors, mostly low-paid, part-time, and informal, will further distance vulnerable job seekers.
BITCI believes that businesses can only be sustainable in a fair and equal society. For over 20 years, they have driven this agenda through our education and employment programmes where they support people from different backgrounds to enter employment in this country. For example, our award-winning EPIC program has placed
The Power and Marginalisation in Irish Society
We don’t often stop to think about it, but different characteristics of our identity have an impact on how easy and seamless our journey through life is. For some, the opportunity is so varied and plentiful that it can be difficult to recognise that opportunity is not distributed evenly.
The tendency is to think of diversity in singular terms. However, by doing so we fall into the trap of them and us. Gender is for women; Racism is just about #BlackLivesMatter and so on. Lack of opportunity or inequality is usually not the result of single, distinct factors. Often it is the outcome of intersections of different characteristics, power relations, and experiences.
The following diagram represents some of the characteristics that can impact our employability. It illustrates some of the characteristics of those who hold the most power in our society and as such typically benefit from greater opportunity. It also shows the characteristics of those individuals more likely to be marginalised and denied the opportunity.
How Inclusive is Irish Society?
Ireland made significant progress in recovering from the economic crash of 2008. At the start of
2020, pre-pandemic with unemployment rates at a little over 5% we were technically at full employment. Our economy was vibrant, and we experienced a trend for higher salaries and increased standard of living for many. However, despite positive indicators of economic growth, the country was also experiencing an unprecedented housing crisis. Rates of long-term unemployment and the number of jobless households were amongst the highest in Europe and one in eight of us were at risk of poverty.
Then the global pandemic hit and workforces across all sectors have been radically disrupted. The true levels of unemployment are currently disguised by the Pandemic Unemployment Payment. However, as
unemployment rises vulnerable job seekers will be further distanced from the labour market. Individuals who experience barriers to reaching their potential can get caught up in welfare systems and poverty traps. Individuals, their families, and whole communities can get stuck in a vicious cycle of disadvantage which can be difficult to break. Very often the path out of poverty is not clear and individuals don’t see options for themselves.
Unemployment rates (as presented on page 10) give one indication of disproportionate disadvantage. Under-employment is another indicator. However, it is difficult to accurately assess under-employment. A 2018 Labour Force Survey revealed over 5% of the workforce were visibly under-employed. That is, 5% of the workforce was actively looking for additional hours. To compile labour statistics, a person needs only to work one hour per week to be considered employed.
Another area of under-employment is invisible. This relates to individuals who are working in jobs where their skills are not adequately utilised. Women and people with disabilities or caring responsibilities account for a disproportionate amount of part-time positions to enable them to balance work and home responsibilities. As a result, they often have to choose between a job they are qualified for or a lower-skilled/lower-paid job that affords them the flexibility they require. Invisible under-employment also relates to non-Irish nationals.
Often foreign qualifications or work experience will not be considered for roles here, meaning that highly qualified individuals are working in low-skilled roles. In a 2021 BITCI survey of 800 migrant jobseekers who engaged with our EPIC programme, 69% were unemployed and 31% were underemployed.
Progression to Third Level
The HEA Graduate Outcomes Survey Report indicates that graduates are less likely to experience unemployment, suggesting that a third-level qualification is a key requirement in getting your foot on the career ladder. This has significant implications in terms of ensuring workplaces are diverse. From the Annual Irish Times Feeder School Tables, we can see that third-level progression from disadvantaged (DEIS) schools has increased over the last number of years. However, at an average rate of 63.5% compared to over 80% from non-DEIS schools and as high as 98% from fee-paying schools there is still a considerable differential in the opportunities available to students based on the affluence of the area they grow up in.
Impact of the Pandemic
A global Deloitte report on the impact on women suggests the pandemic could threaten the progress made on gender equality over the last number of years. Nearly 82 percent of women surveyed said their lives have been negatively disrupted by the pandemic. Nearly 70 percent of women who have experienced these disruptions are concerned their career growth may be limited as a result, believing these shifts have prevented—or will prevent—them from progressing. Extra demands across work and
home (caregiving and schooling responsibilities) come at a heavy price – with forty percent of working women who experienced negative shifts in their daily routine saying they are unable to balance their work and life commitments, and nearly 40 percent cite significant consequences to their physical and mental well-being.
In March 2021, the standard measure of Monthly Unemployment was 5.8%. The COVID-19 Adjusted Measure of Unemployment could indicate a rate as high as 24.2% if all claimants of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) were classified as unemployed. A 2020 ESRI report found that Non-Irish nationals have suffered more job losses due to Covid-19 closures than Irish nationals mainly because many of them work in the hospitality sector. If job losses were distributed evenly across society, we would expect to see Irish nationals account for 83% of the PUP. This figure is 72% with non-Irish nationals accounting for 28% of the payments.
Low Paid Workers
Low-paid, often low-skilled, workers were particularly affected during the initial phase of the crisis. Many “frontline workers”, who put their health at risk, exposing themselves to the virus to ensure the continuation of essential services during lockdowns, work in sectors characterised by relatively low wages. This includes health and care workers (apart from doctors), but also cashiers, production and food processing workers, maintenance workers, agricultural workers, delivery workers, and truck drivers.
According to a 2020 OECD report, outside the essential services, low earners are more likely to be working in sectors affected by shutdowns and are more likely to have suffered job or earnings loss.
Barriers to Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion have come into sharp focus for business. There are a variety of reasons for this.
The global pandemic and high-profile campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter have shone a spotlight
on social inequalities. Investors, consumers, employees, and civil society have increased their attention on how businesses respond to the diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges we face. From a moral sense, we know it is the right thing to do. We also know there is a strong business case for inclusion. Businesses talk about their commitment to diversity & inclusion. Common assertions made include “everyone is welcome to apply for a job and develop a career regardless of background or personal circumstances” or “we’re open to anyone who has the right qualifications.” However genuine these statements are, the reality is, as we have seen earlier in this report certain groups within our society face significant barriers to employment.
To gain an understanding of these barriers and how they can be overcome, BITCI commissioned a series of focus groups in early 2021. Two sessions involved participants from employment support NGOs and two sessions involved participants from business. The following pages present key insights from this focus group research. The barriers to inclusion were explored from both the employer and the jobseeker’s perspective. Not surprisingly similar themes came out from both groups. It is interesting though to consider the themes from two different sides, as this offers insights into how such barriers can be addressed and overcome. The barriers presented on the following pages relate to four key themes.
Barriers to Inclusion
“I came to Ireland 20 years ago as an immigrant. There were a lot of opportunities, I fell into a job easily at the start as I was a recent graduate. Which is a real 360 from my situation now. I took time out of my career to raise my family, so I now have a gap in my CV. I want to get back to work but I have a mental block about putting myself forward for rejection because job searching is very daunting. As a stay-at-home Mum, I don’t value my contribution. It is as if you are not ambitious. These things stacked on top make me feel overwhelmed. I feel isolated from people who are working because I am not contributing to the economy, I don’t feel I have as much value.”
“When I turned 16, I looked for a part-time job without success for 2 years. I watched all my classmates get jobs. When a settled person vouched for my sister, she got a job in our local shop. That paved the way for me. That same employer ended up hiring all four girls from my family because we were great employees.”
“Last year I got a summer internship. I loved the experience and did very well. I was encouraged to apply for a permanent role. For the selection process, I had to go through the standard online assessment. I didn’t pass the test. Maybe I should have disclosed I had dyspraxia. I didn’t think I’d need to as it had never been an issue during my internship. I could do the job, but I couldn’t pass the test.”
“I recently gave a contract to someone who had come out of prison. We gave him loads of support and he was doing very well. Then he just stopped turning up. I was so frustrated that it didn’t work out. It felt like a kick in the teeth.”
“I was thrilled to get a job offer after I got out of prison. I loved going to work. Then I had to sort out some family stuff and I missed a few days. I was so caught up in it I didn’t let anyone know. Then I felt like I had let everyone down. I couldn’t go back.”
Job descriptions often include unnecessary requirements and jargon or overly complex language. Pressure to fill open roles doesn’t allow the opportunity to challenge or push back on long lists of requirements. The tendency is to default to full-time roles and standard hours.
What profile of candidate might be encouraged to apply if the job was described simply in terms of core skills or expertise and if part-time hours or flexible conditions were built into the job design?
Traditional Recruitment Process
Traditional recruitment screens out. It selects the top candidates based on a standardised set of prerequisites.
What would happen if the process was designed to screen in?
All candidates that meet the minimum requirements necessary for the role are reviewed and any applicants from underrepresented groups are included in the first round of the selection process. Think about the selection process and how best to assess your ability to do the job. Not everyone demonstrates their potential through an interview. Are there options to assess candidates on the job?
Development and Progression
Often employers place emphasis on recruitment to address diversity and inclusion and they make significant investments in pre-employment initiatives. However, post-entry support is also needed.
What initiatives are in place to ensure you retain diverse employees?
Every new employee needs support and some will need more than others. It is necessary to consider onboarding and continuous development for all employees. Establishing a support network across the business for all employees helps with onboarding and paves the way for ongoing development. Facilitate buddying and mentoring initiatives along with employee resource groups to build skills as well as confidence and resilience. Build inclusion into manager’s KPIs supporting them to proactively conduct appraisals for inclusion to assess employee experiences, understand challenges, and discuss progression ambitions, then create development plans accordingly.
Education and Training
Education and Training are key to overcoming the fear that can exist around inclusion, and to tackle bias and challenging stereotypes. A manager who hasn’t worked with a colleague with a disability or whose first language isn’t English may fear saying the wrong thing that could offend.
What training do you offer to promote inclusion? Train managers to manage diverse teams, to have challenging conversations, and to get comfortable discussing the uncomfortable. If a new employee is starting and requires certain accommodations, brief immediate colleagues on what to expect and encourage open conversations to allay fears and create support.
Role models are important in paving the way for others to follow. Role modeling & ambassadors that are relatable can be very influential. They have the power to inspire people that opportunities exist. However, it can take huge bravery and resilience to step away from your community and do something different and not everyone is comfortable being a role model or the face of diversity for their employer.
Share stories from both employee and employer perspectives but avoid having a ‘poster’ person when it comes to showcasing success. How do you demonstrate that you have an inclusive culture? Can you see your city, town, and customers in your workplace?
It is easy to hide behind generic equal opportunity statements. Demonstrate authentic commitment
by defining how you are an inclusive employer. Articulate practical examples of how your culture supports Inclusion. For example, in an invitation to interview, include a menu of accommodations available. Aim to create a situation where candidates feel safe to disclose information and avail of appropriate support.
Sometimes it won’t work out
As with any hire, sometimes it just won’t work out. A new employee might start well and seem to be settling in but they may experience one setback either at work or in their personal life and everything falls apart. Depending on their circumstance the job is often first to go either because they don’t have the necessary support to continue or they feel they can’t reveal the problem. Other times even if the employer does everything right it might just not be the right fit. It is understandable to be disappointed if this happens but important to recognise that there is always a chance that a new employee won’t make probation regardless of their pathway into the business. The general experience is that if an employee gets the right support they thrive and retention follows.
Working with partner organisations to support inclusive recruitment and retention can significantly contribute to the success of your efforts. Employment support organisations on the ground have the experience and first-hand knowledge of the barriers faced by individuals they work with. This experience will guide the direction of support or interventions you can provide. The right partner can advise on your
approach to widening your recruitment channels. They can refer candidates they know would be suitable. Very often they can provide ongoing support to successful candidates supporting the onboarding process.
Many organisations can facilitate pre-employment training and/or work placements. Both of these allow potential employers to get to know candidates before hiring, providing a buffer of reassurance regarding
their ability to do the job. They are also hugely beneficial to job seekers as they get to experience a world of work they may not be familiar with. At their core, employment support organisations are about linking people with people, providing the opportunity to see every individual’s potential.
Actions that Make a Distance