Another report highlighting serious issues with current EDI practices.

Hard and fast on the heels of the Department of Business and Trade’s report into EDI in the UK (March 2024) and the Free Speech Union’s Dynata Report (April 2024) The Policy Exchange has just published another report on the impact that EDI has had on the UK workplace, and like the previous reports, its conclusions are pretty damning. Steve Chilcott, Co Founder of Fair Job UK takes a closer look at the report and its implications:

More Analysis of EDI in the Workplace

Following years’ of increasing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives being undertaken across the workplace, 2024 appears to be the year in which this EDI march is being really scrutinised and evaluated. Over the last few months we have had an increasing trickle of reports and analyses into the impacts of EDI, and to date they are not providing a very positive picture. This week another report has come out showing the variable responses that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives can create within the workplace. The report shows that not all EDI initiatives are having positive impacts, and some are in fact creating quite negative reactions, including the use of some recruitment practices, the use of pronouns in the workplace and the taking up political positions by organisations. The report shows that people are actually most concerned themselves about discrimination against socioeconomic background and about accidentally causing offence at work.

The report which was published on 19 May 2024 was commissioned by the Policy Exchange, a London-based think tank which describes itself as “an independent, non-partisan educational charity whose mission is to develop and promote new policy ideas that will deliver better public services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy.” The survey was run by Deltapoll, an independent public opinion consultancy, and questioned approximately 2,000 UK adults between 3rd to 7th May 2024. 

The use of Pronouns

The report shows that a significant proportion of people do not respond well to an expectation to use pronouns at work. The survey asked “If you were asked to wear a badge with your personal pronouns displayed (i.e he/she/they), do you think having to wear a badge like this would make you more or less likely to want to continue working for a company?” A significant 43% said it would make them less likely to stay, with only 7% saying it would make them more likely to stay. A clear negative reaction to any enforcement of pronouns within the workplace.

The Recruitment Process

The report covered a number of different EDI aspects that are often used in the recruitment process. 75% of people felt that employers should appoint or promote the most qualified person for the job, without taking into account factors such as race or gender. Only 15% felt employers should appoint or promote people in a way that creates a diverse team which reflects the makeup of the UK. This clearly indicates that recruitment decisions based purely on merit are considered by the majority to be correct.

Employers frequently like to include grand statements on their values within their recruitment materials such as job adverts. When comparing a customer service delivery value against an ethical EDI statement, the majority preferred the customer service delivery statement.  61% preferred “We are passionately committed to delivering excellent customer service and always doing right by our customers. You will be joining a skilful and driven team united by a commitment to fostering innovation and strong partnerships”. Just 28% preferred “We are an ethical company who always prioritise creating a diverse and inclusive space for everyone. We encourage all employees to bring their whole self to work and provide regular empowerment training sessions, workshops and events. We are particularly seeking applications from women, people from an ethnic minority background and people from the LGBT+ community.”

A statement that many employers now make is that their organisation operates a ‘take your whole self to work’ policy. 51% did feel such a policy can create a more open working environment where everyone is free to express their views, though 24% felt that in practice, such a policy can create a less open working environment in which only some views are accepted.

The survey questioned perceptions around applicant success in recruitment processes.  59% believed that when a male and female with the same qualifications and experience apply for the same job, they both have the same likelihood of getting the job. Unfortunately 10% thought the female is more likely to get the job and 25% the man.

When considering recruitment of different ethnicities with the same qualifications and experience, 53% felt ethnic minority and white candidates will have the same likelihood of getting the job, 17% believe the ethnic minority candidate will have a higher likelihood of getting the job and 23% believe the white candidate will have a higher likelihood. When Asian and White individuals were asked this question their answers were reasonably the same. Black individuals however, felt the likelihood of White applicants being successful was much higher at 45%.

A concerning 34% felt that in their workplace, people are sometimes hired or promoted to meet diversity and inclusion objectives, rather than in the best interests of the company. That worryingly rose to 44% when Black individuals responded.

So even though a significant proportion of people feel recruitment processes are fair on the front of both sex and ethnicity, there are not insignificant proportions of people who believe that their can be favouritism to both the group who may be considered to be historically favoured but also to the group who may have been historically discriminated against, i.e. women and ethnic minorities.

Organisational Political Viewpoints

The survey asked if an organisation publicly shared specific political viewpoints, how this would impact people’s views of them, specifically whether it would impact their decision to buy the organisation’s products. On each of the examples given, the lowest level of response given was that the expressed view would have a positive impact, increasing the likelihood of people buying the organisation’s products. In most of the examples, the proportion of people stating the expression of the view would have a negative impact on their likelihood of buying the organisation’s products is slightly higher than the positive impact. For each example, by far the largest response was that it would have no impact. The overall impacts considering the negative and positive impacts collectively are all negative, with the exception of BLM which has a very small overall impact of +1%.

More likely(a)Less likely(b)No differenceOverall impact(a – b)
Support for racial targets or quotas in their workforce16%21%51%– 5%
Opposition to Govt policy of reducing immigration15%24%48%– 9%
Support for Black Lives Matter21%20%50%+ 1%
Support for a Palestinian State16%20%47%– 4%
Support for transgender rights17%22%52%– 5%

The above results therefore suggest that the expression of political views is unlikely overall to have any positive impact on commercial success. In fact when asked, 50% of those surveyed felt that businesses have become too concerned with taking political positions on contested issues. Only 14% disagreed and felt they have not.

EDI Training

When asked whether some of their working time is wasted by training or other activities related to EDI, 28% felt that it was, 35% felt it wasn’t a waste of time, though 37% expressed no view. Not an overwhelming endorsement of EDI training.

Other EDI initiatives

28% felt that in their workplace, managers are too sensitive to complaints by employees who are women or ethnic minorities, though 29% disagreed that they’re too sensitive. However, a much higher proportion, 51% of Black staff felt managers are too sensitive. 

Socioeconomic background is often discussed less than the legally defined protected characteristics. However, the survey tells us that a number of people feel that in the workplace you are more likely to be discriminated against for having a working class accent than because of your ethnicity. 30% agreed with this statement and 24% disagreed, though a higher proportion, 43% of Black staff agreed that a working class accent can be discriminated against more than ethnicity.

If an employer organises regular events to celebrate and champion causes like LGBT+ Pride and Black Lives Matter, 31 % think this is more likely to make everyone (or most) feel welcome at the company. However, 22% think this will make it clear to some employees that certain types of views are not allowed at the company.

A concerning 49% stated that they sometimes avoid saying professionally legitimate things at work for fear of not being sufficiently politically correct or of accidentally causing offence. This rose to an incredible 71% for Black staff.  46% said they rarely or never avoided saying things for fear of being politically correct or of accidentally causing offence, but only 28% Black staff.


Organisations need to thoroughly evaluate their own EDI initiatives, ensuring they understand exactly what their desired outcomes are and then carefully evaluate the initiatives against those desired outcomes. They must pay particular attention to other potential consequences to EDI initiatives, particularly unintended consequences. This latest report, and others, are showing that the actual impact of EDI initiatives can be the very opposite of what is intended. Employers must take care that initiatives are not just performative but actively achieve the desired outcomes.  

Might the enforced use of pronouns actually make many people less likely to stay with their employer? Are all recruitment decisions made purely on merit? Different staff will have different perceptions on the fairness of recruitment, often polar opposite perceptions. Making grand statements, for example that you are an ethical, diverse and inclusive organisation does not impress many. Organisations making political statements appear to result in no positive increase in customers, in fact can deter customers. Many people have concerns that socioeconomic background is actually more likely to be discriminated against in today’s workplace, rather than protected characteristics such as ethnicity, including amongst ethnic minority staff themselves.  And finally, we are again seeing that many people are generally worried about what they say at work, and even avoid saying professionally legitimate things at work for fear of not being politically correct or accidentally causing offence – a culture of anxiety and treading on eggshells. This is felt considerably more by Black staff.

The Ban on ‘Some’ Civil Service EDI Jobs

By Steve Chilcott

It was announced over the weekend that ‘Minister for Common Sense’, Esther McVey, will today (Monday 13 May 2024) say in a speech that public money is being wasted on “woke hobby horses” across Whitehall. She is therefore set to announce a banning of any new roles across the Civil Service which are solely devoted to EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) and which are outside of human resources.  

McVey, who is a Cabinet Office minister without portfolio, also stated over the weekend in an article published in the Sunday Telegraph, that “all EDI roles within the Civil Service will be consolidated into their department’s HR teams, and Ministers and their Permanent Secretaries will ensure that these teams are focused on their statutory obligations around EDI – the things we are legally required to do which have a proven benefit, not unproven diversity work which has no basis in law.”

New guidance is also being developed that will stop all external EDI spending across the Civil Service unless it is signed off and pre authorised by Government Ministers.

Arms-length bodies that spend the most on external EDI will be called in for meetings with the Minister to account for how their EDI work benefits taxpayers. McVey, stated in the Sunday Telegraph article that the public sector must not become a “pointless job creation scheme for the politically correct”.

The MP for Tatton in Cheshire also stated that the amount of staff time taken up by diversity programmes was “a major concern”. “Time and money which should be spent on the core purpose of the public sector – delivering for the public – is being wasted on woke hobby horses of activist employees.

“Most of these kinds of EDI programmes – especially when delivered by private companies or campaigning organisations – are not transparent, and their benefits unproven. If we can’t prove their worth, then they don’t pass the public interest test. So I’m determined to stop it.”

McVey also highlighted that diversity should be more about differences in opinion than other characteristics, and that the service should be about ‘merit’ first and foremost. 

Fair Job UK welcomes these steps to de-politicise the Civil Service, something at the very heart of our mission to help all employers take politics out of the workplace and focus on their core aims. Clearly, the Civil Service is a good example, where there has been significant back-door politicisation’ of the service which now requires a significant shake up. We also welcome the statements regarding the importance of both diversity of opinion and of meritocracy. 

Multiple reports, including the report produced by the Government’s own ‘Inclusion at Work’ panel, have shown that so many EDI initiatives are being run without any evidence base for their content, without evaluation of their impact and which are frequently having negative impact on the workforce. It showed EDI interventions are frequently proving to be polarising, counterproductive and even unlawful, misapplying equalities legislation. 

Fair Job UK particularly welcomes the greater scrutiny of the provision of EDI initiatives and training by external providers, which we believe has had little scrutiny and can cause the most damage. EDI interventions can be incredibly polarising and present unlawful perspectives and ideological dogma as unchallenged fact. We know that both critical race theory and gender ideology have both become ever present core aspects of much EDI training and initiatives in recent years. The application of these theories has been challenged in a number of employment tribunals. These tribunals have found that the detrimental treatment that those who have been brave enough to challenge the theories have been exposed to, has been unlawful

We don’t believe that all EDI is bad. It is hugely important that workplaces are completely free of discrimination, harassment and victimisation. Every possible step should be taken to eradicate these and prevent them from happening in the workplace. People should be confident that they are able to work within their roles free from being bullied, harassed or treated with anything other than trust and respect.

We note that even though the Cabinet Office has declined to reveal the number of non-HR staff in the Civil Service who currently work solely on EDI, the Inclusion at Work report stated that based on Freedom of Information requests to 6,000 public authorities, there are an incredible estimated 10,000 EDI jobs in total across the entire public sector, at a cost of £557 million a year to the UK taxpayer.

It is not currently clear why the Minister’s ban on new EDI roles is only in relation to those which sit outside of HR departments, or why the huge number of existing filled roles is not being tackled. We believe that the majority of existing roles already sit within and report to HR teams. This announcement may therefore have little actual impact on the current status quo.

Though the Government’s message of greater scrutiny on EDI in the Civil Services is certainly welcome, we await to see the actual impact.

The End of Workplace Groupthink?

Groupthink in the workplace has been studied at length, indeed, we have known about it for at least fifty years, have studied it, categorised it and even given it a name: The Abilene Paradox. Management training used to warn CEOs and managers about it and how to identify it and prevent it. So why on earth is it rife in just about every employer in the country?

“Can you help us with our HR team, they are out of control?”

This incident was related to us by a senior HR Consultant. The question was from a CEO of a large public sector employer. The scenario was that the CEO and board in question, was getting increasingly concerned about their HR Department which appeared to be neglecting its primary duties and rather pushing radical ideological agendas on the employees and enforcing compliance by creating a false consensus around those agendas. The situation was causing huge unrest and resentment among the staff, engagement and productivity were at rock bottom and multiple grievances had been raised by Employees holding religious faiths. The brief was to find out what was going on and fix it.

Since the Cass Report was published there has been a slow dawning among senior leaders that the policies and training that exists in their organisations may be contributing to the fractures in employer/employee relations and relations between colleagues, causing serious issues for workplace harmony and productivity. Increasingly. leaders are worried and are looking for solutions to what appears to have been an over reach by their HR Departments. Such concerns are now in the mainstream press with almost daily articles highlighting the problem as in today’s FT

None of us are any stranger to cancellation culture and it’s only the most disingenuous or ignorant who deny it is a problem. We’re very aware of the public figures who have been on the end of various campaigns. Break with the New Orthodoxies, be they Gender Self ID or Public Health Mandates, even if you are already an expert in these fields, and expect to be cancelled as a heretic and beyond contempt. When Nobel Prizewinners are treated in such a way, what chance does a delivery driver for a supermarket have? Or a nurse? Or a teacher? Or a plumber or joiner for that matter?

The thing is, it is one thing to go after a public figure, it is quite another to go after someone without a public platform through which they can defend themselves. There is a general air of disquiet in the corporate world at the moment as Directors, business leaders and CEOs across the private and public sector, are waking up to the fact that their organisation has and is essentially persecuting employees for personal opinions and beliefs.

With the CIPD, the organisation which ostensibly manages HR Professional Qualifications, appearing to be obsessed with every social justice cause to the extent that it has woven them into the fabric of everything it does, it is hardly surprising that HR Departments are enthusiastically inflicting Unconscious Bias training and other highly controversial and divisive ideas onto their workers. Often HR Managers themselves are too afraid to speak out, too afraid to challenge the consensus and to point out that it is not the role of HR to socially engineer their employees. An atmosphere of fear permeates the world of employment, say the wrong thing and you will also be condemned. This even affects the most powerful and is why our CEO clients typically only want to engage in the strictest confidence.

Cancel culture, be it imposed on a public figure or a normal person, requires confirmation bias bubbles to exist. When it happens there is no cool head saying ‘now wait a minute, folks’, just a headlong rush to stone the heretic. Such bubbles develop their own manufactured consensus and then project that onto society, ‘just because we all agree it must be true.’ It’s made worse as when cool heads interject, they find themselves accused of the same heresies. We’re interested in how this impacts the workplace so how does this happen?

A reasonable issue arises – let’s say gay rights and the anti bullying policies of the organisation are initially written to reflect this, legally you cannot discriminate against someone based on sexuality so it is perfectly in order to ensure that employees don’t abuse or discriminate against gay colleagues. Such was the case for a good few years after the Equality Act 2010 went live. Parliament has ruled and as a society we no longer allow such discrimination in law. Settled. But then, around 2015, the idea of ‘allyship’ started to enter the discourse, driven by activists working for (often publicly funded charities) it was no longer sufficient to be merely accepting of gay colleagues, no, you now had to be an active ally, often to the embarrassment of those same colleagues. Allyship, believed by many to be the ‘right thing to do’ gets added to the consensus, confirmed by the bubble of peers, cooler heads are terrified into nodding along.

I can recall working in an HR department in an NHS Trust in 2017. Pride Newcastle was coming up and the Trust was giving staff time off to prepare for it and encouraging employees to attend Pride to show solidarity. I had been out of the corporate HR world for a few years and was quite shocked that it was implied that whilst you were entitled not to attend, if you did not attend then it would be seen as a black mark against you. That such a position by the employer was in direct conflict with their own Bullying and Harassment Policy and also opened them up to religious discrimination claims from Employees, didn’t seem to have crossed the minds of those driving ‘allyship’, including the HR Director herself and the threat was allowed to stand, unchallenged.

Some employers even knit ‘allyship’ with ‘minority groups’ as a ‘corporate behaviour’ that needs to be adopted and demonstrated to gain promotion within an organisation. Again, if any employee can make a link between their not demonstrating ‘allyship’ because it is against their faith and that failure to do this cost them a promotion, the employer has a bit of a problem.

This has been going on for years: MeToo, Corporate Environmentalism, Brexit, BLM, even public health policies surrounding Covid. Employers are increasingly taking the position that it is their role to ensure that their employees are ideologically aligned. Confirmation bias bubbles are also driving false consensus over political issues, like Trump or the Tory government. 

Brexit was a good one. After Brexit, a family member of mine was attending a Global Town Hall via Zoom. Her employer at the time was a large global American corporation with operations around the world. During the Town Hall the CEO expressed hostility towards the Brexit vote, implying that those who voted for Brexit were frightful racists and how fortunate they were that none of them worked for the company. This prompted a bit of a backlash from a disappointingly small number of employees who pointed out to the UK HR Team that as a majority of British voters had voted for Brexit it was not beyond the grounds of imagination to consider that some British employees also voted for Brexit and that the big boss, an American who knew little about the nuances of the arguments around Brexit, effectively accused them all of racism. An embarrassed UK HR Director raised this to the American CEO who was ‘genuinely shocked’ that he may have upset employees and apologised. (There were some who thought that he was actually shocked that he had such people working for his business, but we will leave that for conjecture). My point is that here was an American CEO, so fixed in his confirmation bias thinking that he thought it was appropriate to opine on the Brexit result, not in the legitimate: “how will this impact our business moving forward and what do we need to do to manage any risk or take any opportunities” but to personally attack those who voted for Brexit? This would never have happened even 10 years ago.

The answer is complex but it has a lot to do with groupthink confirmation bias bubbles. “It must be right because 99% of people who agree with me think it is right” is the logic. Those of us in the world of management theory call this The Abilene Paradox, more on that below. So that CEO he was so convinced by his confirmation bias bubble that 1/ Brexit voters were racists and 2/ his business, of course, would never employ anyone like that! That he felt confident enough to consciously add it into his annual speech to his global employees and, here’s the thing: nobody called him out on it before he spoke! And this was because his entire UK management team, who unironically have been inflicting Unconscious Bias training on their staff, either agreed with him. “Oh yes, Your Imperial Highness, those clothes have such a wonderful cut!”. Or were too intimidated to challenge him. 

The thing is that none of this is new. The dangers of ‘groupthink’ have been known to the management world for at least fifty years and were outlined and defined by Jerry B. Hartley in his article: The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement (1974 Organizational Dynamics). The Abilene Paradox is a collective fallacy, in which a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of most or all individuals in the group, while each individual believes it to be aligned with the preferences of most of the others. It is becoming increasingly obvious that manufactured consensus, driven by what I’ve described above, is creating the conditions for the Abilene Paradox.

In 2008 this was further explored in “The Abilene Paradox After Thirty Years: A Global Perspective” published in IEEE Engineering Management Review; and the conclusions  warned organisational leaders of the dangers of the paradox and how to spot it and identified five components:

  1.  The first component refers to mutual agreement of a group that the current situation is not acceptable. However, on the individual level, the members may be satisfied with the existing setting after they have compared it with proposed alternatives.
  2. The second component stands for ineffective communication within the group when several members express considerable support for a decision because they assume that is the desire of others. This process of communication reinforces assumptions that individual thoughts are a minority in the group.
  3. The third component of the Abilene Paradox is the vocalisation of group sentiment which arose from inaccurate assumptions or incorrect interpretation of the “signals” given by other members.
  4. The fourth component refers to the decision-maker’s reflections on the actions taken, usually in the form of questions as follows: “Why did we do this?”, “How can we justify our decision to others?”.
  5. The fifth component refers to the defeat of the group leader to poor decision making in order to avoid making similar decisions in the future. 

There are several factors that may indicate the presence of the Abilene Paradox in the decision-making process:[4]

  • Leaders who publicly do not fear the unknown. Such arrogance leads them to go along as they do not possess sufficient understanding of complex problems. Rather, they stick to the “that sounds good to me” attitude.
  • A group with no-conflict or no-debate type of decision-making. When such views are supported in the cohort, the lack of diverse opinions becomes the foundation for mismanagement of agreement. This can be visible by the emergence of the “I will go along with that” attitude.
  • Overriding leaders and a strong organisation culture. A strong leader and solid organisation may become a powerful asset, it may also intimidate other members of subordinates to the point of submission. This results in the inclination of supporting more dominant ideas.
  • Lack of diversity and pluralistic perspective in a group. Homogeneous groups tend to be conformal. Such groups tend to achieve consensus rather than searching for the “right” decision.
  • Recognition of a dysfunctional decision-making environment. Management in this environment has lost control, as the directional prerogative of management has succumbed to wanting to be liked by avoiding conflict.
  • The feeling of a “messiah” in the organisation and action anxiety on the part of management. When the group handles complex tasks, there is usually one person or a small cohort within the group who has required expertise to manage in this situation. As a result, there is a tendency to acquiesce to them.
  • The development of a “spiral of silence” in the organisation. The spiral of silence occurs when one’s perception of the majority opinion in the organisation suppresses one’s willingness to express any challenging opinion against the most visible point of view.[4]

There are ample examples of where the Abilene Paradox has played havoc from the Watergate Scandal to the Hillsborough Tragedy and subsequent cover up. Yet there are countless examples playing out in the workplace today. So why, given we know the Abilene Paradox is a real issue, have organisations been ignoring it? Well, firstly it isn’t taught to HR people unless they have been to an excellent business school, therefore, they may be disquieted and have concerns but lack the knowledge to elevate the issue to risk, concerns are easily dismissed, risks – not so much. Secondly, the idea of the Abilene Paradox has been somewhat replaced by the Orwellian idea of ‘Groupthink’ this is because the majority of people pointing out that we have the Paradox in our society are not trained in management theories, they are cultural commentators writing for the general public and therefore apply Orwell’s ‘newspeak’ word to define it. And ‘Groupthink’ is an excellent definition. However, it doesn’t do us any favours in the workplace because all too often those referring to “Groupthink’ as a concept are dismissed as conspiracy theorists. Orwell is possibly both the most over quoted and erroneously appropriated writer and as a result quoting him can be dismissed as hyperbolic, even though his conclusion is valid.

The Abilene Paradox is a far more valuable and powerful definition of the phenomenon as it manifests in organisations because it specifically breaks down how it happens and most importantly, what to watch out for.

This is why CEOs and Directors are asking for direct support, outside their own HR Teams. How do you know your policies and training, implemented by management enthralled to the Abilene Paradox. don’t inadvertently directly or indirectly discriminate against employees? 

This is why FairJob UK has set up its Corporate Services, a confidential support service for boards of large employers, to ensure that their HR Policies and Training courses are both lawful and do not discriminate or isolate any employees. In an era where we all sit in confirmation bias bubbles it has never been more important for business leaders and employers to constantly check that the Abilene Paradox does not exist in their organisational decision making and if it does, remove it. How does the Emperor know he is actually wearing any clothes if there is no one there to tell him, especially if the tailors gaslight him?

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