Is Brexit Good Or Bad News For Workplace Diversity And Inclusion?

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Brexit is on the minds of business leaders, including Human Resources directors. It already has real implications on how companies recruit, and may affect workplace diversity and inclusion. A LinkedIn survey from April 2018found that 96% of respondents cite that Brexit has impacted their hiring strategies. At the same time, sourcing and hiring candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds is a major or big priority for 56% of recruiters. Will Brexit make it harder to recruit from a diverse range of backgrounds?

Some political commentators on Brexit have noted that the anti-immigration rhetoric was instrumental in tipping the U.K. towards a Leave vote. Accompanying with the rise in racist crimes after the referendum, it does appear that there is heightened xenophobia in the wider society, which naturally spills into everyday workplaces. Surveys of employers have shown that Brexit has made it harder to find staff, which may further limit employers’ ability to widen the pool of prospective candidates.

Last year, EU net migration slumped to a six-year low, a sign of ‘Brexodus’, a new word meaning departure of people or companies from the U.K. due to Brexit. ‘Brexodus’ will only accelerate as the immigration regime tightens for EU nationals after Brexit. Just this week the U.K. Home Office released strict immigration plans for EU nationals in the case of a “no-Deal” Brexit, which may come into effect in less than 2 months. This does not bode well for diversity and inclusion, considering that EU nationals represent so many different cultures.

Cordelia Osewa-Ediae, Senior Consultant at Green Park Executive Search, discusses the impact of Brexit thus far:

“One real casualty of the way Brexit has been managed so far is that a significant number of people from various backgrounds have been left feeling unsettled about their jobs and settlement status. Experience gained from working with employers from all sectors to boost workplace diversity and inclusion, has shown that inclusivity – the extent to which each employee feels included in the workplace – is even more important than merely employing diverse talent. Any situation that causes workers to feel excluded and marginalised in their workplaces, will undoubtedly affect productivity and workplace cohesion.”

Yet, is workplace diversity and inclusion post-Brexit, all doom and gloom? There are reasons to believe otherwise – or at least, to ensure that it does not become doom and gloom. First, more than two years since the referendum, anti-immigration stance has actually subsidized in the U.K.. A Washington Post article from three months ago reports that public mood on immigration has shifted dramatically since the vote. The percentage of people who named ‘immigration and asylum’ as the top issue facing the U.K. has halved – it dropped from 56% in June 2016, to 27% in October 2018. While the reasons for this are not entirely clear, Brexit may not have damaged the business case for diversity and inclusion as much as one might have feared.

Second, some Brexit advocates are pushing for the U.K. to reimagine itself as an outward-looking Global Britain post-Brexit, working more closely with its Commonwealth partners and others further beyond. It is a controversial stance, as some suspect “Global Britain” to be a mere smokescreen for an agenda of cutting down regulations and standards. Nonetheless, ‘Global Britain’ is still a possibility and other non-EU migrants may still be attracted to the U.K. We shall wait and see.

Finally, diversity is not only about lingo-cultural aspects, though it is an extremely important dimension. Diversity and inclusion is fundamentally about embracing differences – whether it be a protected or unprotected characteristic. At least Brexit is making business leaders think more about workforce composition, and that can only be a good thing.

Source: Bonnie Chiu, Forbes Magazine. 

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