Women in business

Taking action: How businesses can build a diverse, engaged workforce

insight featured image
Grant Thornton’s 2022 Women in Business research shows that 95% of mid-market businesses are actively promoting employee diversity and inclusion, up from 92% in 2021. Organisations are putting unprecedented emphasis on structured efforts to engage their workforces.

Based on the views of 5,000 mid-market business leaders, drawn from our global research programme the International Business Report (IBR), we have established a clear roadmap of actions to help organisations access diverse talent.

In response to the changes in working environments post-pandemic, businesses targeting employee engagement in 2022 have a greater focus on long-term virtual and flexible working.

Hilary Haynes.pngThis is creating a more purpose-driven workforce, says Hilary Haynes, global head of leadership development at Grant Thornton International Ltd. “Many people now have first-hand experience of flexibility – and many report being happier and more motivated as a result.

“By contrast, when individuals don’t feel a sense of belonging, there is a good chance that they may hide what makes them unique in order to fit in,” she points out. To combat this, businesses are adapting learning programmes to the changing environment and prioritising the creation of psychologically safe environments where colleagues can speak up without fear. “Creating an inclusive environment means addressing language and bias, ensuring access to resources and development for everyone and having senior leaders sponsor diverse talent,” outlines Haynes.Actions-taken-by-businesses-to-ensure-employee-engagement-and-inclusion-in-2022

The baseline business case for an engaged, involved workforce is well established. “An inclusive environment supporting diverse talent gives you access to more knowledge, wider perspectives, and a deeper understanding of a diverse client base,” says Haynes. In a culture where everyone is valued and heard, more robust ideas are generated, people feel they are working towards a shared purpose, diverse thought processes are employed, and final outcomes are stronger. “There is significant research demonstrating the link between retaining and nurturing diverse talent and greater commercial success,” adds Haynes.

Each organisation has its own operational needs, and varying motivations fuelling its inclusion and diversity policies. Respondents to our research reported that, with the talent shortage showing no signs of abating, retaining existing talent and attracting prospective talent are high on the list of business priorities.

This is followed closely by addressing current and future skills shortages. Employers are also responding to candidates’ desire to work in diverse teams and for inclusive companies, and acknowledging that to get the best talent, it needs to be drawn from as broad a pool as possible. “By celebrating diversity we attract more diverse talent,” states Haynes.


Impacts and outcomes: Shaping inclusion policies

By mapping these motivations against the engagement and inclusion actions businesses say they are taking, we can reveal broad indications of how diversity and inclusion strategies are being formulated. When overlaid with the actions taken, it appears that respondents citing certain motivations are more likely to leverage particular inclusion policies.[i]


Illustrating the relationship between motivators and actions gives us a holistic view of what businesses are doing both to drive engagement and performance internally, and also to boost their brand and reputation externally.

Business leaders report a heavy emphasis on retaining existing talent, with a secondary focus on assembling the best team across borders and locations. It is more probable that companies which are led by these intentions will try to achieve them through more ‘collective’ actions within the organisation. These include encouraging employees to work together to create a psychologically safe environment, promoting work-life balance across the organisation, and adapting learning and development programmes to new working models.

Externally, attracting prospective talent and better reflecting key stakeholders – including customers and the wider community – inspires businesses to use inclusion policies to hone their image as a diverse employer. Respondents who saw this as a core motivator were inclined towards ‘individual’ actions to promote inclusion.

Opening the door to diverse talent
Opening the door to diverse talent
Read this article

These actions encompass paying attention to employees’ unique requirements, putting new working practices in place to engage workers, and empowering senior leaders to act as role models. Such efforts have additional positive effects, points out Haynes: “Role models can make diversity more visible, which in turn generates broader societal impacts, such as pay equity and changes to workplace policies that benefit team members regardless of gender or background.”

No single action can be siloed off from the rest, as a far-reaching diversity and inclusion strategy permeating all levels of the business is crucial for success. But some D&I strategies are more targeted at addressing talent shortages and improving overall business outcomes. Our research suggests that to meet this key objective, businesses are focused on creating psychologically safe environments.

Open-door policies among senior management are a powerful way to achieve this. “Leaders with an open door policy are more likely to understand the ‘pulse’ of the business and have prior warning if there are issues or problems,” says Haynes. “Incidental connection points offer a fast track to gaining ongoing information, as well as providing coaching and support to the team every day.”

The Blueprint for Action: A roadmap for diverse talent

The D&I actions highlighted in our research have been accelerated by changes in working practices during the pandemic. We know that, as a result of shifts during the pandemic, businesses are exploring new working practices – including long-term flexible options, allowing individuals to perform their roles in the most effective ways for them, and allowing greater access to leadership.

These actions are all elements of three key pillars of purpose of Grant Thornton’s Blueprint for Action – retaining diverse employees, creating an inclusive culture, championing the business case and opening up development and advancement. Matching motivation to action is the first step in building an impactful D&I strategy. For organisations looking to open the door to diverse talent amid a skills shortage that continues to intensify, the Blueprint outlines a comprehensive and practical way forward.


To find out more about how businesses are opening the door to diverse talent and driving gender parity at senior levels, read our Women in Business 2022 report and associated insights


i. Technical footnote: The relationships and insights in this section were derived from a correspondence analysis of two questions:

  • As a result of COVID-19, what actions has your organisation taken to ensure employee engagement and inclusion?
  • Which factors are driving your employee engagement and inclusion policies?