Flexible working and less alcohol at work events key to workplace equality – report

Flexible working is key to creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce, according to a new report by the University of Nottingham in association with Browne Jacobson. The research into equality, diversity and inclusion in the UK insurance industry also found that excessive alcohol consumption at team building and client events fuels inequality, discrimination and harassment.

The authors of the report – Transforming EDI practices in UK insurance – say it is the first independent study of its kind into people’s lived experiences of equality, diversity & inclusion in UK insurance firms, and it is intended to be used as an industry-wide benchmark for assessing and improving workplace culture.

The study found that 75% of respondents consider flexible working to be advantageous to EDI. Some respondents said that working from home felt “safer” when they felt excluded or minoritised in the workplace. However, participants also identified the risk that people working from home were potentially less “visible” and could miss out on career progression opportunities.

Excessive alcohol consumption during work socials and client events caused exclusion and harassment. It is a contributing factor in multiple incidents of sexism, racism and unwanted sexualised behaviour. 37% of participants have seen/heard discriminatory language and behaviour. This includes language that is misogynistic, sexualised, racist, homophobic, ableist and ageist. Some participants also reported being disadvantaged at work for having a “non-British accent”.

Although the study focused on the UK insurance firms, the authors say that the findings are also directly relevant to wider financial services as well as a range of other workplaces in the UK and overseas. The research was led by Louise Mullany, professor of sociolinguistics and Dr Victoria Howard, diversity and inclusion specialist, at the University of Nottingham. Mullany said: “In order for any workplaces to achieve their ambitious aims for EDI in the workplace, it’s incredibly important that industries wholeheartedly benchmark their progress.”

Jeremy Irving, partner and head of financial regulatory at Browne Jacobson, added: “Bringing about inclusive cultures is a long-term process requiring careful analysis and monitoring of – and, where applicable, changes to – all aspects of an organisation, such as senior leadership appointments and customer-facing operations.”

Among the recommendations of the report, the authors suggest organisations should challenging negative attitudes towards part-time working and flexible working. Leaders should be open to the benefits of flexible working arrangements and ensure that people who routinely work from home do not miss out on the advantages of being visible in the workplace.
It also adds that eEmployers should find ways to socialise and build client relationships which do not require excessive drinking. The research indicates a strong link between alcohol and sexism, racism and harassment.

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