Two years ago, we set out to analyse the state of inclusion and diversity in the consumer goods and grocery sector. At that point, conversations were not advanced, and schemes to promote inclusion were few and far between. Most businesses understood the importance of I&D, but very few had implemented joined-up strategies backed up by solid data and sufficient budget.
This autumn, we began the second iteration of this research. Given the context of the previous two years – with Brexit, Covid-19 and ongoing supply chain disruption – we were unsure about what we’d find. With everything that the sector had been through since 2019, it would have been disappointing, but understandable, for I&D to have slipped down the corporate agenda.
“Through the conversations with Chairs, CEOs and HRDs held for this research, we sensed a palpable engagement in I&D – and this enthusiasm is borne out in the data, which shows improvement from 2019 across all metrics.”
Happily, however, this is not the case. The 2021 edition of Inclusion and Diversity in Consumer Goods and Grocery, produced in partnership with IGD, shows that broad-based progress has been made across the sector. Through the conversations with Chairs, CEOs and HRDs held for this research, we sensed a palpable engagement in I&D – and this enthusiasm is borne out in the data, which shows improvement from 2019 across all metrics.
The sector has experienced meaningful progress
In businesses of every size and scope, inclusion has become a commercial priority, and strategies have been put in place to drive up diversity. Today, more than three-quarters (77%) of businesses have a formalised strategy to increase representation and foster inclusion – a vast improvement from the 45% of businesses which had a strategy in 2019.
“Today, more than three-quarters (77%) of businesses have a formalised strategy to increase representation and foster inclusion – a vast improvement from the 45% of businesses which had a strategy in 2019.”
As a result, the number of people from underrepresented groups has increased. Across all three leadership levels, the proportion of women and those from ethnic minorities has increased, and our conversations revealed that businesses are more likely to have visibly disabled or LGBTQ+ leaders than two years ago.
Businesses are facing similar challenges and opportunities
In particular, it was eye-opening to hear recurring themes raised by leaders from different businesses, and the common challenges faced by companies across the sector. For example, many organisations are finding it challenging to embrace I&D in a warehouse setting, where the workforce is typically made up of older white men who have been in service for many years. Similarly, lots of businesses told us that location can be a barrier to progress: where head offices or warehouses are based in predominantly white areas of the country, leadership teams and workforces can be reflective of that region. In these instances where workforces feel homogenous, a focus on inclusion and data collection to analyse all facets of inclusion is more important than ever.
More positively, it was inspiring to hear how many organisations are thinking more holistically about I&D, and focusing on fostering a culture of inclusion as well as targeting specific areas of diversity. Our conversations showed that renewing focus on inclusion has allowed businesses to apply an intersectional lens to their strategies; to foster a culture of belonging across the entire company, and to avoid short-term thinking on meeting targets on specific areas of diversity. While only the most forward-thinking businesses were doing this in 2019, today it is the most popular approach to take.
Additionally, many of our discussions covered social mobility, and the opportunity that unlocking this area brings. There has long been a sense that the consumer goods and grocery sector is a good place for social mobility – and that it is possible to enter the industry on the shop floor or production line and progress to a senior leadership position.
For this reason, and because unlocking social mobility is often inextricably linked to progress on other areas of diversity like ethnic diversity, our interviews showed that companies in the sector are aware of the need to focus on advancing social mobility. However, most of the businesses we spoke to told us that they are unclear on how to make progress in this area. This is partly because of the difficulty with measuring progress, or defining if an individual is ‘socially mobile’.
“Our interviews showed that companies in the sector are aware of the need to focus on advancing social mobility. However, most of the businesses we spoke to told us that they are unclear on how to make progress in this area. This is partly because of the difficultly with measuring progress, or defining if one individual is ‘socially mobile’.”
Best practice can be found right across the sector
In 2019, we found that schemes to promote inclusion were almost exclusively found in the larger businesses. This year, it was encouraging to hear examples of best practice from companies of all sizes and scopes. Included in the report is a series of case studies, from organisations at different points in their journey and from different areas of the sector. It has been a privilege to catch up with leaders from Graze, Greencore, M&S, Molson Coors, Nestle and St Pierre Groupe and hear insights around building an I&D strategy from scratch, examples of best-in-class initiatives and effective ways to foster inclusive environments, to name a few.
Through Inclusion and Diversity in Consumer Goods and Grocery, I hope that we can continue to open up the conversation around I&D. Happily, all of the discussions undertaken for this research felt more honest and open than they did in 2019. The tone of the conversations has changed noticeably – today’s leaders are keen to learn, eager to tackle challenges, and determined to collaborate with organisations across the sector to drive wholesale change. While there is still a long way to go to reflect the 50/50 gender split in society, or to break down the systematic barriers which slow ethnic diversity, it is a real privilege to see and be a part of this evolution in the sector.