Comprehensive Zellis research explores impact of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts across a range of sectors, seniorities and backgrounds.

In new research from leading HR and payroll company Zellis, 86% of senior leaders (C-level or just below) say their employer’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) impacts their plans to stay in a role.

While senior leaders surveyed report progress has been made, the study of 2,005 people across the UK and Ireland reveals a growing sense of frustration that organisations may not be achieving change at the speed and scale they want. A widening gap between ambition and action may be leading to an increasing risk to businesses of losing some of their most critical team members.

80% agree that organisations cannot make positive change on diversity and inclusion without employee input. However, 70% of employees who identify as a member at least one minority group agree with the statement, ‘Employers are talking about DEI more than they are taking action.’

The research reveals the significance of DEI programmes on members of underrepresented groups, half (46%) of whom report having felt alienated or unwelcome in the workplace as a result of who they are.

“This research shows that failure to make meaningful progress on diversity, equity and inclusion creates a serious risk of losing talent at all levels. The emerging gap between words and action reinforces the need for companies to have a rigorous, evidence-based approach to DEI. The starting point for this is collecting diversity data systematically and at scale, which requires employees to feel confident enough to disclose their characteristics including gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disabilities. By understanding their workforce, organisations can begin to take real steps toward becoming more inclusive and fairer.”

John Petter, CEO, Zellis

The new research also includes the insight of two leading experts on organisational efforts to promote better DEI: Dr Zaheer Ahmad, Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Haleon; and Aggie Mutuma, CEO and Lead Consulting Director at Mahogany Inclusion Partners.

“You can sense a growing feeling of frustration on the frontline. Employees aren’t seeing the level of tangible action that they expect. Employers should be able to demonstrate year-on-year growth on their workforce diversity numbers but, in many cases, this just isn’t happening. Diversity is important at every level of an organisation and employers should be transparent about where there are the biggest gaps. Diversity at a mid-management level is crucial because that creates a more diverse future leadership pipeline – it enables organisations to get more people from minority groups into senior positions.”

Dr Zaheer Ahmad, Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Haleon
DEI 2 Dr Zaheer Ahmad, Haleon
Dr Zaheer Ahmad, Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Haleon

“New generations of workers are expecting and demanding far more of their employers, and increasing numbers of leadership teams are taking a proactive approach to DEI, motivated by both business and personal drivers. But the time for only talking is now over. Employers need to demonstrate a strong and ongoing commitment to improving diversity, equity and inclusion – not through their words but through their actions. Otherwise, we’ll see increasing levels of scepticism amongst employees, particularly those from under-represented groups. We will also start to see people moving on to work for more progressive employers.”

Aggie Mutuma, CEO and Lead Consulting Director at Mahogany Inclusion Partners
DEI 2022 Zellis Report Aggie Mutuma
Aggie Mutuma, CEO and Lead Consulting Director, Mahogany Inclusion Partners

There are some grounds for cautious optimism: 68% of those who identify as a minority believe that their own organisation has made at least some level of progress in improving diversity and inclusion over the last three years, while 75% are optimistic for the future.

The research commissioned by Zellis surveyed 2,005 employees in the UK and Ireland over the course of September 2022. Respondents came from a range of sectors and included all levels of seniority, from junior workers through to C-level directors.


The full report can be downloaded here.

A version of the report which focuses on responses from the Republic of Ireland can be found here.