Your quick guide to equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace

9 mins read


Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) is undoubtedly a hot topic for businesses, and rightly so.

With a 67 percent growth in diversity and inclusion roles over the last five years in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), organisations are clearly focusing their investments and efforts on ED&I.

But according to a survey of 2,000 employees, more than a third of UK adults report experiencing workplace discrimination (Ciphr, 2021). The same study found that tribunal disputes relating to disability discrimination increased year on year in England and Wales between 2014 and 2018.

So, why are incidences of workplace discrimination still worryingly high?

Part of the reason could be that employees are becoming more aware of their rights to an inclusive workplace, where they feel valued and have the same opportunities as their peers regardless of their background or personal characteristics.

But this is probably not the full picture. In fact, it’s useful to view the journey of ED&I in the workplace as a non-linear path; one which experiences advancement, stagnation, and even setbacks.

With this view, we can avoid the assumption that passive social progress over time will lead to improvements in ED&I.

We need active change.

We know that investments are being made in ED&I, but are company strategies taking into account all elements of diversity, such as cognitive differences and neurodiversity? The way we think and process information varies enormously and is often subject to unintentional biases or discrimination.

For organisations to be truly inclusive, we need to talk about neuro-inclusion in the workplace.

In this article, we explore what ED&I is, why it’s important in the workplace and most importantly, what you can do to recognise neurodiversity in your ED&I strategy. Feel free to browse the sections below and read them all, or skip ahead to the ones you’re interested in…

What is Equality, Diversity and Inclusion?

ED&I is relevant to all areas of economic, social and political life.

At work, it relates to “how people from different backgrounds, particularly those from minority or marginalised groups, experience their workplace, and how this affects their daily working lives.” (Workplace EDI)

Equality in the workplace refers to equal opportunities and fair treatment of current and prospective employees. Laws like the Equality Act 2010 mean that employers must not treat employees unfairly because of protected characteristics including age, race, gender and disability. We touch on this more later in this article.

Diversity means the representation of various identities and differences. In other words, it’s the range of people in your workforce. But diversity goes further than simply representing different groups, it means valuing those differences too (ACAS).

Inclusion is the active engagement of all people and the acknowledgment of their contributions. In an inclusive workplace, everyone feels valued and safe to express themselves. To achieve real inclusion, rather than just tolerance of differences, organisations need to take positive action to address past, present and potential future discrimination.

Although each term separately holds its own meaning, it’s important to recognise the link between equality, diversity and inclusion in ED&I strategies. Many organisations will struggle if they focus on increasing diversity and equal opportunities but fail to create an inclusive culture. It’s about understanding the common barriers to ED&I initiatives and how to overcome these traps.

Relationship between equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.


Why is Equality, Diversity and Inclusion important in the workplace?

Incorporating all three elements of ED&I is important in the workplace for the protection and empowerment of employees: 


  • Employee wellbeing, morale and empowerment 

Whether it’s obvious discrimination, unconscious bias or a more subtle process-based lack of inclusion, employee wellbeing and performance can be seriously affected if ED&I isn’t well understood or accounted for internally.  

Being the subject of unconscious bias – a type of cognitive bias that people exhibit but are not aware of – can have a real impact on someone’s wellbeing and ability to carry out their role. 

Assumptions made about their competency and ability to carry out their role could manifest in individuals being disproportionately subjected to scrutiny compared to their peers. This could result in the individual questioning their own ability, not putting themselves forward for opportunities or even leaving their role. 

If someone feels as though their contributions aren’t valued, they’re far less likely to stay with their employer.  

According to the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020, employees’ intentions to remain with their employer increase when businesses address employee needs, such as inclusion and diversity. 

In addition, employees are more likely to resign if they feel they are being treated unfairly, for instance in the distribution of rewards (CIPD, 2021).  

It’s time to rethink common wisdom like “everyone is replaceable” because it sets a dangerous precedent that ignores the rising costs of losing and replacing talent in a competitive market. 


  • Employee protection 

ED&I is also critical in the workplace for preventing legal disputes. Discrimination can result in significant legal costs, through either compensation pay-outs or settlements paid to avoid defending expensive discrimination claims. 

The Equality Act 2010 is the key piece of legislation protecting employees in the UK. Organisations are legally obligated to ensure that employees and job applicants with protected characteristics are not subjected to harassment, victimisation or discrimination. 

Additionally, if your organisation is within the public sector, there are further duties you need to be aware of under the public sector equality duty (PSED). The PSED is set out under section 149 of the Equality Act, and states that public authorities need to:  

  • eliminate discrimination  
  • advance equality of opportunity  
  • foster good relationships between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.

Advantages of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace 

A strong ED&I strategy also has numerous advantages for businesses and individuals. 

It’s hard to truly know who your employees are if they leave their authentic selves at the door, like many do if they don’t feel represented or valued. But organisations that focus on inclusion are in a better position to engage with their talent effectively. 

Together with an openness to diversity and equality, this leads to enhanced: 

  • Innovation 

Research by Deloitte Australia has shown that when employees think their organisation is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included, employees report an 83% uplift in their ability to innovate. 

  • Productivity 

Inclusive teams have been found to improve performance by up to 30% in high-diversity environments (Gartner, 2020).  

  • Reputation 

Companies with employees who are bought in to ED&I efforts are more likely to be perceived as an “inclusive workplace for people of diverse backgrounds”. The same survey found that, globally, companies with a Diversity and Inclusion team were 22% more likely to be seen as “an industry-leading company with high-calibre talent.” (LinkedIn) 

How to improve Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace

As with any culture change, instilling a successful ED&I strategy in your organisation will not happen overnight. And as we’ve seen, all three elements of the ED&I triangle need to be present and reinforce each other.  

Simply hiring a diverse workforce isn’t enough.  

Even giving each employee equal opportunities isn’t enough. 

People need to feel a sense of belonging.  

Building this workplace community and encouraging openness are two integral parts of driving real inclusion.  

Here are our top three tips for improving ED&I in the workplace: 


#1 Create a leader-led culture 

As you might expect, any organisation trying to create a more inclusive culture will need to embody these values from the top-down. But, surprisingly, a lot of leaders feel that they can leave matters to the Human Resources (HR) department or managers to deal with. Of course, these people have a role to play too. But leaders are the link between ED&I and the organisation’s goals and values.  

And it’s not just about allocating resources to ED&I initiatives. Leaders that are open and honest with their employees – not only about the company’s plans and achievements, but their own personal experiences – will stand a much greater chance of employees at all other levels aligning with the culture. 


#2 Measure, measure, measure 

Measuring inclusion is not easy. It takes more than one-off employee engagement surveys. It helps to encourage managers and team leads to practise continuous listening and obtain real-time insights into employee thoughts and feelings. This approach, together with diversity metrics, can give you a wider picture of where your organisation is and help you map out where you want it to go. 

And, importantly, leaders must be held accountable for the results. 


#3 Don’t forget about neurodiversity 

“Neurodiversity may be one of the most challenging areas within diversity and inclusion –  complex, nuanced, and often invisible” (CIPD, 2018).  

Many organisations still overlook neurodiversity when they’re looking to diversify their workforce. This lack of awareness means that even hiring practices can often screen out people who think differently. 

A 2020 report showed that only 7% of companies around the world have a neurodiversity plan in place (Universum). 

By not acknowledging neurodiversity as a part of ED&I, businesses will not be able to achieve the inclusive workplace they are striving for.  

Keep reading to find out how to integrate neuro-inclusive practices into your business. 

Including neurodiversity as a key function of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The importance of diversity of thought in the workplace is clear to see and the neurodiversity movement is not an entirely new one. Several of the largest, most innovative organisations are re-thinking their hiring practices and workplace adjustments to accommodate neuro-different individuals.

For example, Microsoft, JPMorgan, EY, Google, SAP, DXC Technology, Ford and Amazon are all running neurodiversity-at-work initiatives or are developing one.

But given the complexity of human cognition, the invisibility of neurodiversity and the associated challenges with diagnosis, how can organisations ensure they’re delivering the right support to the right people?

Here are three steps we recommend:


  • Encourage neurodiversity awareness and training 

By fostering a neuro-inclusive culture, employees will feel more able to talk openly about their neuro-differences and how they work best.  

You can encourage this openness through appropriate training. Training should be available for all employees, regardless of their role. We’re all cognitively unique, and you can use this raise wider awareness and address some of the existing stigma around neurodiversity. 

A leader-led effort towards internal ED&I training can really make a difference towards employee awareness and feed into your workplace culture.  

For instance, our CEO talks openly about his dyslexia and what he has achieved because of, not in spite of, his diagnosis. He has also shared strategies that he’s developed over the years that help him in his day-to-day life. His story not only inspires others to come forward and share their experiences, but lets people know that they will never be viewed as ‘less than’ for being neuro-different.


  • Create a neurodiversity equal opportunities policy 

“An equal opportunities policy is a formal manifesto that sets out an organisation’s commitment to fairness. It also lays down guidelines on how it will deal with issues that contravene these guidelines.” (Equal Opportunities Commission) 

Your equal opportunities policy is therefore the perfect place to outline your organisation’s commitment to neuro-inclusion. This will let employees know how you intend to protect the rights of neuro-different individuals.  

Given that a lot of workplace discrimination is unintentional, many people may not realise that their behaviour constitutes discrimination or victimisation, but this is obviously no excuse. A neuro-inclusive equal opportunities policy can go a long way to increase awareness in your workplace, reduce discrimination and prevent formal complaints and tribunals. 


  • Utilise our cognitive assessment and neurodiversity tools 

Those who don’t have a neurodiverse diagnosis or may not even be aware of their cognitive differences could be missing out on much needed support.  

Cognassist is a neurodiversity and cognitive assessment platform. We provide data around cognitive differences and neurodiversity, giving employees an understanding of their own unique cognition and leaders better visibility of neurodiversity.  

We also provide ongoing neurodiversity training and content in our Knowledge Hub, with interactive modules, self-reflection exercises and videos on topics ranging from reasonable adjustments, managing uncertainty and of course, supporting your neurodiverse workforce.   

We believe in empowering individuals with the information, language and compassion needed to nurture an inclusive workplace and successful ED&I strategy. 

Our platform is designed to help you drive, measure and demonstrate progressive neuro-inclusion. 

Why not register for our Neurodiversity in the workplace masterclass? You’ll learn valuable insights about cognition and neurodiversity, and what your organisation can do to create a neuro-inclusive workplace. 

Schedule a call with an expert

Let Cognassist help you create a neuro-inclusive workplace