The UK’s diversity landscape varies significantly, with cities like Brighton and London boasting a thriving diversity, hosting 10.73% and 10.32% of LGBTQ+ individuals (aged 16+), respectively. Conversely, rural areas like Brentwood (1.76%) and South Staffordshire (1.71%) witness a drop in diverse LGBTQ+ populations.  

Notably, Leicester, London, and Birmingham also exhibit the highest ethnic diversity, with Leicester being home to nearly 60% of ethnic groups (ONS census map). These statistics underline the limited opportunities for a diverse workforce in smaller regions, contributing to the concentration of economic power in specific cities.

However, we stand at a crossroads where businesses of all sizes, in all locations, must enhance inclusivity and accessibility for these diverse groups. We know that employees thrive when they have the support and resources they need, like inclusive workplace environments. So, I’ve delved deeper into the power of embracing EDI to attract and retain talent in businesses outside of cities.

Why is an inclusive culture vital for attracting talent in 2024?

In today’s global economy, the competition for talent is fiercer than ever. A recent report from CIPD found that 77% of organisations encountered difficulties attracting candidates. The disparity in the number of job roles that promote ethnic inclusivity between cities and towns is evident. For instance, in 2021, London boasted over 20,379 vacancies where job ads highlighted inclusivity, while Cardiff had only 478 (Adzuna).

This divide is also reflected when comparing multinational businesses with Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). In the accountancy sector, the same report from Adzuna highlighted Accounting and Finance as the third most ethnically inclusive industry in 2021, with global leaders like Citi, PwC, and Deloitte championing diversity, creating over 5,000 inclusive job roles.

Notably, research from The Bridge Group also shows that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds take 25% longer to progress and be promoted than those from higher socio-economic backgrounds – marking the poorest rates of social mobility in the UK.

Furthermore, according to the ICAEW’s Probate Diversity Report 2023, out of probate-accredited accountants, a demographic primarily comprising SMEs, only 4% identified as LGBTQ+. These figures suggest a substantial gap between large and small businesses in inclusive hiring practices while also highlighting the gap in opportunities for minoritised communities such as LGBTQ+, BAME and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Furthermore, it’s always important to consider an intersectional lens when looking at minoritised communities, as some employees will be facing overlaying barriers and hurdles.

Forbes Global Insight demonstrated that companies renowned for their inclusive cultures have a competitive edge in talent acquisition. When potential candidates see genuine EDI and inclusive environments, they are more inclined to apply to businesses that value their unique contributions.

However, ICAEW’s survey on diversity indicated that individuals in small towns and rural areas often lack access to diversity networks, predominantly associated with Big Four firms, larger corporations, and those in London.

So, how can businesses enhance EDI in these local areas? 

  1. The first step is to gather data. This keeps businesses accountable and narrows down which processes need improvement. Understandably, this can be challenging for smaller companies with limited time and resources; however, it is a vital step in the right direction.
  2. Once data is collected, strengthen Diversity and Inclusion Policies. Develop clear policies that outline the company’s commitment to creating an inclusive workplace. Set specific EDI goals and regularly measure and report on progress. Ensure that these policies are consistently enforced at all levels of the organisation.
  3. Implement diverse hiring practices. Actively promote job openings in diverse local communities through various channels. Blind recruitment processes also help to minimise any bias during candidate selection, while establishing partnerships with local community organisationsand schools or universities can help access a broader pool of talent.
  4. Business leaders should empower local voices. Creating a space for diversity-related discussions within industry sectors and regional communities will help showcase core business values. Inclusion starts with a commitment to fostering it, regardless of the business’ size or location. Consider creating broader networks that connect industries, regions and specialisms to foster a collaborative and supportive environment.
  5. Finally, be open to admitting there’s always room for improvement. Recognise that EDI efforts are ongoing and require continuous improvement. Be open to employee, customer, and local community feedback to adapt and refine your strategies.

Benefits for businesses to become more inclusive

An Accenture analysis from 2020 revealed that even a 10% improvement in workplace inclusivity could potentially increase the UK GDP by up to 1.5% annually – equivalent to a £393 billion boost by 2030. This analysis holds true for businesses of all sizes, emphasising that fostering diversity and inclusion isn’t just a moral imperative but a significant driver of economic growth.

Diverse teams consistently demonstrate superior problem-solving abilities. Differing backgrounds and perspectives provide a range of approaches to address challenges, resulting in more effective and comprehensive solutions.

Moreover, building and enhancing external views as an inclusive organisation across regions and departments can attract and retain younger demographics, like millennials and Gen Z, who actively seek employment in socially responsible companies.

Embracing EDI is a strategic and moral choice that benefits businesses across all regions. It fuels economic growth, sparks innovation, nurtures creativity, enhances employee satisfaction and reduces stress at work. By seamlessly integrating inclusivity into their operations, companies in cities and towns can attract and retain top talent while contributing to a more equitable society. I urge all leaders to champion EDI initiatives, especially in rural or underdeveloped areas, as a pathway to a more balanced and prosperous future for talent.

Laks Mann
Laks Mann
EDI Specalist at Caba

Laks Mann is an EDI specialist and trustee at caba, the occupational charity supporting ICAEW chartered accountants. With a 20-year plus career spanning the corporate, charitable and public sectors, he is an award-winning Diversity and Inclusion Champion and has previously been listed on the Diversity Power List 22/23. Some of Laks' most notable achievements are being appointed by the Mayor of London as an EDI Advisor and winning the LGBT+ Positive Role Model 2020 Award at the prestigious ITV National Diversity Awards.