Diversity is about having a wide range of people from different demographics, while inclusion is about enabling all those people to be themselves and become successful in a particular organisation. In other words, diversity is being invited to the party, while inclusion is being asked to dance. These days, however, we need to talk about equity; people being treated fairly.

We may only be in April, but this year we’ve already marked Blue Monday, LGBTQIA+ History Month and International Women’s Day. However, these awareness days can’t be just for virtue signalling social posts, and it’s important that we take learnings into the rest of the year.

In this article, we will explore the state of play for diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in UK workplaces and how we can collectively drive improvements for all employees.

FIE – The issues currently facing the workplace

Not wanting to kick off with a negative, but it’s important to set the scene. And according to recent research from Tech Nation, 77% of tech director roles are filled by men, while only a quarter (26%) of the tech workforce as a whole are women. Concerningly, this figure falls even lower into single figures for Black and Hispanic women (3%) and Asian women (5%). According to the Parker Review report for 2024, less than half (44%) of the UK’s 50 largest private companies have even one ethnic minority director on their board. Beyond the numbers, this shows just how few subcultures we’re allowing to thrive in the workplace.

The UK workplace is facing serious challenges right now, with regular reports of low employee engagement and high rates of imposter syndrome (disproportionately so for women). To turn this around, it needs to start embracing its employees with curiosity and ensuring they feel empowered and enabled. This isn’t about driving up the numbers, but helping people feel welcomed, represented and valued.

To achieve this, creating the right support environment around individuals should be considered an organisational necessity. Enterprise leaders must work hard to dismantle biases, raise awareness and promote access routes into the industry.

MERI – How to inspire inclusion

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was ‘inspire inclusion’. Real commitment to diversity and inclusion starts with recruitment and hiring. Companies therefore have a responsibility to train HR managers and recruiters in inclusive practices early on. But this is not a box-ticking exercise. It’s the responsibility to foster an environment where every voice is heard, valued, and empowered to thrive. Because, ultimately, the true measure of success lies not in numerical quotas but in the authentic embrace of diversity as a way for collective growth and innovation.

Beyond hiring, leaders should then look to create support structures for employees from underrepresented groups, such as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). This can ensure that your people are able to thrive and their whole selves to work. In CTO-speak, it helps their diversity become a feature, rather than a bug. For the benefit of the organisation, but most importantly for them.

On a personal note, as an openly queer and non-binary woman in a leadership position, I’ve been told that being visible has helped others realise they can be leaders too. As the saying goes, “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it”. I was lucky in my formative years to have a number of great role models who were inclusive, from multiple genders, who I grew to want to emulate. I fear this is becoming rare, but is an area that businesses can focus on to improve inclusivity now and well into the future.

FIE – Why workplace culture can’t be prescribed

Today, there’s a big spotlight on company culture and what business leaders are doing to improve it. If there was a big red ‘culture’ button then we would have pressed it by now. Instead, to create a culture where people thrive and perform, individuals must be treated as humans and not employees – and that means not trying to control things, and allowing subcultures to thrive. By catering closer to individuals’ needs, subcultures will develop with authenticity at their core, and each person can bring their whole self to work.

Understanding individual differences and how people like to work is key to making workplaces meaningful. At Pleo, we work with high level skill sets and talent and so we don’t want our people to wait for guidance on how to operate. We’d be doing them, and ourselves, a disservice if we did. Instead, we need to listen and empower. And that starts with curiosity – asking your people what matters to them and then acknowledging when you see it.

Culture constantly evolves and, while leaders should embrace this, they shouldn’t try to be too prescriptive. For instance, every business should have a good idea of ‘the why’ behind its culture strategy, but you want to build the best circumstances for people to navigate themselves. It’s a utopia to think we can steer behaviour from one day to the next, and businesses stand to gain more from remaining curious and allowing individuality to thrive.

MERI – Unlocking the potential of 2024

With two-thirds of the year still to go, we have a real opportunity to achieve genuine DE&I progress in 2024. Awareness days and months shouldn’t be reserved for activity, but instead should be about opportunity. We’ve already had several of these moments for business leaders and HR teams to address their existing support networks, and ensure they are accessible to all employees. Now it’s time to take that forward.

The best bit is, if business leaders can successfully create a framework for greater DE&I, everyone will reap the benefits. Inclusivity can bring greater creative thinking as the more diverse teams are, the more varied the members’ ways of thinking and the broader the range of solutions they develop. By implementing the correct policies and practices – from fair hiring to offering mentorship and support – businesses can create a culture of respect and inclusion to support the careers of everyone.

Fie Fisker
Fie Fisker & Meri Williams
VP People at Pleo | + posts

Fie has been with Pleo since August 2022, serving as VP People and leading the People & Culture teams, managing 40 employees across Europe and South Africa. Her experience includes roles at LEGO Group, Arla Foods, and Nestle. Meri joined Pleo in November 2022, transitioning from Healx where she was a technical advisor, and earlier served as Monzo's CTO. Her prior experience includes fintech leadership roles. Meri actively advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights and women's inclusion in technology.