Breaking barriers and engaging with future planners

A recent survey by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) in July 2021 aimed to gauge UK public awareness of the planning profession. The results suggested a significant disconnect between the public perception of planning, the scope of professions in the industry and the impact that planning has on society.

While 73% of respondents claimed to understand the job description of planners, only 32% recognised that planning can support future recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and only 37% believed that planning can influence the wider issues of climate change and the environment.

Victoria Hills, chief executive of the RTPI called the results ‘shocking’. However, they are perhaps the consequence of inclusivity challenges that the planning sector has failed to address for a number of decades.

Equality in the planning sector

Historically, the profession has been notorious for being dominated by middle-aged and older men. While an increasing number of younger women joined the profession in the 1990s and 2000s, recent years have seen a reversing trend away from the progress made towards gender equality in the sector.

Likewise, the number of overall students choosing to embark on planning-related degrees has remained low, despite there being a high demand for planning professionals. A town planning degree is in the top four postgraduate subjects for employability within six months of graduation and poses a respectable average starting salary, suggesting young people are being deterred for reasons beyond career motivations.

Overcoming the obstacles

So why are young people so seemingly disengaged with planning and how can barriers be broken?

Helen Hayes, a former town planner and the current Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, believes one glaring issue is the urgent need for a more diverse workforce in the profession. It is not just about needing an influx of numbers; people entering the profession need to be from all sections of society.

Only an estimated 2% of UK town planning officers are under 25 and just 19% are aged 25-34. As for ethnicity, 97% of planning officers are white.

Moreover, the 2020 RTPI Women and Planning research paper found that the majority of female respondents had faced gender related barriers to professional advancement in planning, and that workplaces overwhelmingly reflect ‘masculine’ cultures and norms of behaviour.

In recent years, the RTPI has committed to a long-term strategy to address diversity issues and entered a partnership with the BAME Planners Network. Initiatives such as these are welcomed but it is argued that they need to be supported by educational measures in diverse schools and universities.

In a 2015 issue of The Planner magazine, young professionals working in the industry were asked for their views of how to successfully engage young people with the planning profession. An obvious theme was to improve young people’s understanding of planning as a known career –  teaching them to associate it with places, shaping the everyday and solving commonplace issues.

Raising awareness: not just home extensions

Those within the industry believe that there is a concerning lack of awareness of how planning as a discipline is related to a wide remit of shared issues in society, from building valued places to solving the housing crisis and tackling climate change. “Planning needs to be properly championed. Ask a young person about what planning means and they think about home extensions and dormer windows”, says Rupy Sandhu, one of the young planners featured in the issue.

Helen Hayes further emphasises the issue, saying: The young people I speak to have an excellent grasp of local issues, and a passion to make a difference. But for the most part they have no idea that their knowledge and interest could, with training, translate into a rewarding career as a planner”.

It is perhaps evident that young people are passionate about such issues, but they need to be empowered.

Routes into planning

In The Planner’s Career Survey 2018/19, an overwhelming majority of respondents suggested offering more work experience placements and attending colleges and schools to be the most effective vehicles for engaging young people.

There is increasing attention to offering alternative routes into the planning profession outside of going to university. The RTPI currently offers a chartered town planning apprenticeship and a town planning assistant apprenticeship. Local councils are increasing the number of town planning apprenticeships at their organisations and private planning firms are also known for offering apprenticeships and work experience.

For instance, private firm Barton Willmore engaged with University of West of England Bristol students looking for new ideas through live planning challenges, leading to students later joining the firm on placements and work experience. The notion of ‘inviting in by reaching out’ is certainly a viable and rewarding route for both students and planning organisations, creating long-standing professional relationships.

The RTPI facilitates an ambassadors scheme which offers RTPI members the chance to speak at schools and universities about the planning profession, and the RTPI Trust also offers bursaries such as £2,000 of support to BAME and disabled undergraduate planning students.

Final thoughts

Taking a step back from the low-level engagement of young people with the profession, there is an argument that true representation will not be achieved unless there is an agenda for the reform of the top-down nature of the planning system and its practices.

Helen Hayes suggests that there should be a removal of the red tape and needless bureaucracy” in moving towards transparent and well-informed decision making, in which the views of diverse communities and groups should be reflected.

Perhaps genuine engagement and consultation with under-represented groups, such as young people, will help to inspire a new generation of planners to enter a progressive and equitable profession.

Image: Photo by Brandon Nelson on Unsplash


Further reading: more about the planning profession on The Knowledge Exchange Blog

“Talent without Limits”: the impact of apprenticeships in Scotland

by Scott Faulds

Over the past six years, Skills Development Scotland has been working to increase the number of people starting apprenticeships across Scotland. Recent statistics have revealed that they are on track to meet their target of 30,000 new apprenticeship starts by the end of the financial year 2020. The provision of apprenticeships has been a key element of the Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy , which highlights the government’s belief that apprenticeships are an excellent opportunity for young people to gains skills, experience and a qualification while in employment.

This week (2nd March to 6th March) Skills Development Scotland has launched Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2020, with the theme “Talent without limits”, designed to celebrate the benefits apprenticeships bring to businesses, individuals and the economy. This blog will explore the impact of apprenticeships on business, education providers and young people in Scotland. It will also consider the benefits of work-based learning, graduate apprenticeships and workplace diversity.

Work-based learning

The availability of good-quality apprenticeships allows those who may not be interested in pursuing further education an alternative route in which to gain a formal qualification whilst gaining experience in the world of work. This is known as work-based learning, which is widely considered to be beneficial to the apprentice, education provider, employer and the wider economy.

According to research conducted by the European Training Foundation, workplaces where employees are constantly learning new skills tend to be more productive, more profitable and have lower staff turnover. A recent survey conducted by Skills Development Scotland found that 83% of modern apprentice employers agree that apprenticeships have improved productivity, whilst 79% said that employing apprentices improved staff morale.

Additionally, work-based learning has been found to improve the job prospects of learners, allowing them to build relationships with employers who may offer them full-time positions on completion of their apprenticeship.

The development of apprenticeship programmes allows employers and education providers to develop a close working relationship, which enables a better understanding of the skills required by the labour market. This allows for the creation of educational programmes that are more relevant to the demands of all employers, not just those who operate apprenticeship schemes. As a result, the skills developed by apprentices will be directly relevant to the skills required by the labour market. This could potentially improve the likelihood of securing a job following the completion of an apprenticeship. Thus, it can be said that work-based learning features benefits for apprentices, education providers, business and the wider economy.

Skills, growth sectors and graduate apprenticeships

Apprenticeship schemes provide the government with an opportunity to improve the collective skill base of Scotland by encouraging the development of apprenticeship opportunities in key sectors and areas which have the potential to generate economic growth. For example, analysis conducted by Oxford Economics has found that there will be a 4% growth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related roles in Scotland from 2015 to 2027. This equates to the creation of approximately 42,600 skilled jobs.

Therefore, it is of no surprise that the Scottish Government has been focused on trying to increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities available in STEM roles. In the past year alone, four out of ten modern apprenticeship starts, and the vast majority of all graduate apprenticeship starts, have been in STEM occupations.

Traditionally, securing a STEM role would require a formal qualification secured via an academic route, which can often be costly and take up to four years. Research conducted by Ekosgen has revealed that there has been a decline in the number of pupils studying and passing STEM-related subjects at schools and a decline in STEM enrolments in Scottish colleges. As a result, the traditional academic route in which to secure a STEM role may not be able to produce enough STEM-qualified individuals to meet the demands of industry.

In order to meet the demand for skilled workers, Skills Development Scotland has worked with industry and education partners to develop graduate apprenticeship schemes. These apprenticeships offer people the opportunity to gain up to a Master’s degree qualification in subjects such as civil engineering, data science and software development. The development of this model of apprenticeship has been praised by organisations such as PwC, Aegon and Universities Scotland, as a vital way in which to develop a highly-skilled workforce that will meet the demands of the growing STEM sector.

Diversity and equality

A key theme identified by the Scottish Government within their youth employment strategy is the need to develop clearer routes into apprenticeships for those from previously under-represented groups. The strategy explicitly discusses the need to increase the number of apprenticeship starts from minority ethnic communities, young disabled people, looked after children and a desire to improve the gender balance of apprenticeships (particularly those in male-dominated sectors).

According to Skills Development Scotland’s recent Apprenticeship Equality Action Plan, efforts to improve under-represented groups’ access to apprenticeships have had mixed results. Over the past four years, the number of disabled and BME (Black and minority ethnic) individuals starting modern apprenticeships has risen year on year. However, 72% of modern apprenticeship frameworks continue to have a gender imbalance of 75:25 or worse. This is particularly prevalent within the construction sector where only 2% of participants are female. Additionally, there has been a slight decrease in the number of care experienced people starting modern apprenticeships. Therefore, it is evident that whilst some progress has been made at improving the diversity of individuals starting an apprenticeship, there is still work to be done, particularly when it comes to improving gender balance.

Recent research has highlighted that diversity is essential for organisations who are looking to foster a culture of sustainable innovation. As previously discussed, future jobs are likely to be created in innovative STEM-related sectors, and therefore the need to improve under-represented groups’ access to apprenticeships will be vital to ensure that the quality of the Scottish workforce is able to meet the demand of growing innovative industry.

Final thoughts

In summary, the provision of apprenticeships has had a great deal of impact across Scotland. From developing the skill base of Scotland’s workforce to helping to improve the relationship between industry and education providers, the impact of apprenticeships goes far beyond providing young people with access to work-based learning and a formal qualification.

However, work still needs to be done to improve under-represented groups’ access to apprenticeships. Diversity has repeatedly been shown to increase workplace creativity and performance. Both of these traits will be critical in ensuring that Scotland is able to develop a workforce that can meet the needs of the innovative industries set to experience growth in the future.  


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Diversity and inclusion in the workplace: more than just demographics

 

The experts are in agreement: having a diverse workforce can drive innovation, improve performance and attract top talent.  As such, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a ‘hot topic’, with many top organisations identifying it as a key element of their corporate strategy.

But what does effective D&I look like in practice?  In this blog, we will look at how to implement effective D&I initiatives in the workplace.

 

Progress still needed

While organisational diversity has improved in recent years, there is still a long way to go.

Action has been most visible in regards to gender.  However, although female employment rates have increased, male and female experiences of progression within the workplace are still vastly different.  For example, in 2018, FTSE 100 CEOs were still more likely to be called Dave or Steve than to be female.

Progress has been less tangible in regards to race and ethnicity.  A recent study by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that while 75% of FTSE 100 companies set progression targets for gender, only 21% did the same for BAME. Indeed, only 6% of top management jobs are held by Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) leaders, whereas BAME groups make up 12% of the working population.

There is a similar lack of representation among disabled and LGBT employees.  This only increases when considering intersectionality – that is, employees who identify with more than one protected status.

 

Diversity and inclusion are separate concepts

Many organisational diversity initiatives have proved unsuccessful.  Where have they gone wrong?

Firstly, being a truly inclusive organisation is about more than just hiring a diverse workforce.  Diversity alone does not guarantee that every employee will have the same experience within the organisation.

A first step towards implementing an effective D&I strategy is to understand that diversity and inclusion are related, but distinct, concepts.

As the recent CIPD report on ‘Building inclusive workplaces’ explains:

  • Diversity refers to the demographic differences of a group. It usually references protected characteristics in UK law: age, disability, gender, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
  • Inclusion, on the other hand, is often defined as the extent to which everyone at work, regardless of their background, identity or circumstance, feels valued, accepted and supported to succeed at work.

Thus, effective organisational D&I is more than just demographics.  Put simplyDiversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work’.

 

Copy and paste mistakes

Another key mistake that many organisations make is ‘copying and pasting’ initiatives from another organisation into their own situation.

Just because a D&I initiative has been successful elsewhere does not mean that it will be effective in a different organisational context.  It is essential that D&I initiatives are tailored to suit individual organisational contexts.  Much will depend on the unique structural and individual barriers to inclusion that are faced in an organisation.

 

Addressing the barriers

Thus, it is crucial that organisations identify and tackle these specific barriers to inclusion.

Structural barriers may include a lack of flexible working opportunities, or a lack of BAME representation on recruitment selection panels or within senior management and HR.

Individual barriers may include prejudice and bias (both conscious and unconscious).  For example, the TUC Racism at Work survey found that 65% of BAME workers have suffered harassment at work within the last five years, while 49% had been treated unfairly.  Similarly, an NIESR study found that 23% of LGBT employees had experienced a negative or mixed reaction from others in the workplace due to being LGBT or being thought to be LGBT.

 

Tackling prejudice and bias

Addressing employees’ unconscious bias is one way to help tackle this.  Unconscious bias training involves teaching people about the psychological processes behind prejudice and techniques that can be used to reduce it. Research has found that unconscious bias training can be effective in increasing people’s awareness and knowledge of diversity issues.

However, evidence of its impact on attitudes and behaviours is less conclusive, so it is not a panacea.

 

Making the mix work

So what else can organisations do to help foster inclusion?

Research has found that there are several key aspects that contribute to individual feelings of inclusion.  In particular, individuals must feel valued for their uniqueness, and they must feel able to  be their authentic selves at work, regardless of any differences between them and other team members. This, in turn, leads to a sense of belonging, without the need to conform to ‘group norms’.

Individual feelings of inclusion are influenced both by the behaviours of others at work, as well as informal and formal organisational practices.

Some good practice examples of organisational inclusion include:

  • Fair policies and practices
  • Ensuring the availability of specific practices, such as flexible working, that can support inclusion
  • Involving employees in decision making processes and networks
  • Actively taking feedback on board
  • Ensuring that leaders are role models for inclusion
  • Genuinely valuing individual difference, not just hiring for representation

Other practices that may help promote inclusive working environments include mentorship, sponsorship and the creation of inclusive employee networks.

 

Learning from good practice

The good news is that an increasing number of organisations are working towards becoming truly diverse and inclusive.  Awards and certifications such as Business in the Community’s Race Equality Award, EDGE certification for gender equality, and Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index for LGBT inclusion, all highlight the positive work that is being done.

For example, Pinsent Masons – currently the number 1 employer in the Workplace Equality Index – have worked to remove barriers to employment for trans individuals, provided support for LGBT women to overcome the ‘double glazed glass ceiling’ and facilitated the creation of an LGBT and allies employee network.

 

Inclusion leads to better, fairer workplaces 

Successful D&I cannot be measured by demographics – it is not enough to just have the right numbers on paper.  Every employee must feel valued as an individual and have equal access to opportunities.  In order to achieve this, organisations must look at their own contexts and develop initiatives that tackle the individual and structural barriers to inclusion that have been identified.  Listening to feedback from employees, and genuinely valuing and acting upon their input, is essential.

Becoming more inclusive is not only a moral obligation, it also has profound business implications – a recent study found that the potential benefit to the UK economy from full representation of BAME individuals across the labour market through improved participation and progression is estimated to be £24 billion per annum.  Thus, inclusive organisations are not only better and fairer places to work, but can also achieve better performance and innovation.


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A road less travelled: celebrating Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month – part 1

Traditional Scottish Traveller bow tent at the Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore

This month is Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (GRTHM).

GRTHM aims to celebrate and promote awareness of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) history, culture and heritage, and the positive contribution that GRT groups have made and continue to make to society.  It also seeks to challenge negative stereotypes, prejudices and misconceptions associated with GRT groups.

Over the next two blog posts, we will raise awareness of the many issues faced by GRT communities in the UK today, and highlight some lesser known aspects of GRT culture and heritage.

Gypsies and Travellers are not a homogenous group

One common misconception is that Gypsies, Travellers and Roma are a homogenous group.

In fact, GRT is a term which encompasses many distinct ethnic groups with their own cultures, histories and traditions.

This includes Romany Gypsies, who today are generally of English or Welsh heritage.  Gypsies first arrived in Britain in the 16th Century. The term ‘Gypsy’ was coined due to a common misconception that Gypsies originated from Egypt. However, recent DNA studies suggest that they actually originated from the Indian subcontinent.  Some Gypsies may prefer to be known as either English Gypsies or Welsh Gypsies specifically.

Irish Travellers are Travellers with Irish roots, however, a recent DNA study suggests they have been genetically distinct from the settled Irish community for at least 1000 years. Irish Travellers have their own language – Shelta (also known as Cant).

Scottish Gypsies/Travellers are indigenous to Scotland.  Their exact origins are uncertain, but it is thought that they may be descended from the Picts, and/or the scattering of the clans following the Battle of Culloden in 1746.  Certainly, Scottish Travellers tend to share many of the same Clan surnames – including Stewart, McMillan, McPhee and McGregor.

Scottish Travellers also have their own language – the Gaelic-based Beurla Reagaird.

European Roma are descended from the same people as British Romany Gypsies, and they are Gypsies/Travellers who have moved to the UK from Central and Eastern Europe more recently.  Some have arrived as refugees and asylum seekers. While they face many of the same issues as Gypsies, Irish and Scottish Travellers, they are also subject to a number of additional challenges.

There are also other groups that are considered ‘cultural’ rather than ‘ethnic’ Travellers.  These include Occupational Travellers such as fairground and circus owners and workers and New Age Travellers – individuals who have chosen a travelling lifestyle for ideological reasons.

Distinct ethnic minorities protected by law

Whilst there are some similarities between GRT groups in terms of lifestyle, economic, family and community norms and values – and certainly in terms of the discrimination and poor outcomes that they experience – there are clear genetic differences between each of the groups.

As such, Gypsies, Irish Travellers and Scottish Travellers are each considered ethnic minorities in their own right and protected as “races” under the Equality Act 2010.  Migrant Roma are protected both by virtue of their ethnicities and their national identities.

However, despite this protection, GRT groups are still subject to high levels of discrimination.

‘The last acceptable form of racism’

Indeed, prejudice and discrimination has affected GRT groups throughout history.

In the 16th century, any person found to be a Gypsy could be subject to imprisonment, execution or banishment.  Even after anti-Gypsy laws were repealed, discrimination continued.  In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was not uncommon for doctors to refuse to attend to Travellers.  And despite Travellers’ strong Christian beliefs, churches would often refuse to bury their bodies within their grounds.

And today, GRT people have the worst outcomes of any ethnic group across a huge range of areas, including education, health, employment and criminal justice.  They have the poorest health and the lowest life expectancy of any ethnic group in the UK, and are subject to high levels of racism and hate crime.

GRT groups still face barriers to accessing health services.  As part of a mystery shopper exercise by the Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) charity, 50 GP practices were contacted by an individual posing as a patient wishing to register without a fixed address or proof of identity. They found that almost half would not register them, despite NHS guidance to the contrary.

And while racism towards most ethnic groups is now seen as unacceptable and less frequently expressed in public, racism towards GRT groups is still common and often overt – even among those who would otherwise consider themselves ‘liberal’ or ‘forward thinking’.  This had led it to be termed “the last acceptable form of racism”.

The 2015 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that over 30% of people in Scotland would be unhappy with a close relative marrying a Gypsy or Traveller, and 34% felt that Gypsies or Travellers were unsuitable as primary school teachers.

Research by Travellers Movement has found that four out of five (77%) of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have experienced hate speech or a hate crime – ranging from regularly being subject to racist abuse in public to physical assaults.

Prejudice and discrimination against GRT groups is not limited to the public – there is also evidence of discrimination against GRT individuals by the media, police, teachers, employers and other public services.

Even politicians have openly displayed anti-GRT sentiment.  In 2017, the Conservative MP for Moray Douglas Ross, stated that he would impose “tougher enforcement against Gypsy Travellers” if he were Prime Minster for the day.

His remarks were widely criticised.  Amnesty International’s Scottish director, Naomi McAuliffe, said “When our elected leaders use this sort of blatantly partisan speech, they set a terrible example that only serves to foster further discrimination and prejudice.”.

A lack of sites has led to a ‘housing crisis’

Mr Ross’s remarks reflect another common misconception about GRT communities – that they all live in caravans, purposefully choosing to set up on unauthorised sites.

The truth is that while Gypsies and Travellers have traditionally lived a nomadic life, living in bow tents, wagons – and even caves – over 70% of Gypsies and Travellers no longer live in caravans, having chosen, or being forced for one reason or the other – disability, old age, lack of suitable sites – to move into traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ accommodation.

For those who do still live in caravans, it is widely recognised that they face a ‘housing crisis’ – an urgent shortage of authorised sites to set up on, which threatens their travelling heritage.  It is this shortage that drives much of the use of unauthorised sites.

Of those sites that do exist, quality has been raised as a key issue.  Many sites can lack even the most basic amenities, and some are sited near recycling plants or in other undesirable locations.  Poor conditions and sanitation contributes to poor levels of health, exacerbating existing health inequalities.

Further inequalities

In our next blog post, we will look in more depth at the inequalities that GRT communities face – in health, education and employment.  We also highlight work to address these inequalities and raise awareness of GRT communities’ rich cultural heritage.


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Breaking down barriers: helping disabled people enter and sustain employment

“We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation for people with disabilities, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock their vast potential.Professor Stephen Hawking (2011)

In the UK, the disability employment gap – the difference in the employment rate of disabled and non-disabled people – has remained largely static for over a decade.

Just 48% of disabled people are in employment, compared to 80% of non-disabled people.  Employment rates are even lower for people with certain disabilities, such as learning disabilities (6%), and for people with autism (32%).

There are a number of reasons for this.  These include the personal barriers that people with disabilities face when working, a lack of appropriate support to help them into and remain in work, negative attitudes from employers and recruitment agencies, inaccessible workplaces and inflexible working practices.

Perceived barriers and prejudice

Employers are often wary of hiring people with disabilities.  A recent poll found that as many as 22% of employers openly admitted that they would be less likely to hire a person with disabilities.  Many more may have felt similarly but were less willing to admit to it.

According to research by the Centre for Social Justice, 63% of employers feel that there are significant barriers to employing someone with a disability.  These include:

  • concerns about their ability to do the job
  • the costs of making reasonable adjustments
  • the inconvenience of making reasonable adjustments
  • fear of increased possibility of litigation
  • concerns about their ability to integrate into the team
  • concerns about a potentially negative customer reaction

Given these negative attitudes and perceptions, it is no wonder that as many as 1 in 5 (21%) disabled people hide their disability from employers, and over half (58%) feel that they are at risk of losing their jobs because of their impairments.

Benefits for employers

In truth, research has found that there is a “compelling case” for hiring disabled people – although few (9%) employers recognise this.

Becoming more disability-friendly can significantly increase an employer’s potential talent pool – around 1 in 5 working age adults in the UK have some kind of disability.

The majority (around 80%) of disabled people acquire their disability during the course of their working life.  There are clear benefits to retaining an experienced, skilled employee who has acquired an impairment – not least avoiding the costs and inconvenience involved in recruiting and training new staff.

Research has also found other benefits. These include:

  • higher rates of retention, lower absenteeism and good punctuality
  • improved employer loyalty and commitment
  • improving access to disabled customers
  • improving staff relations and personnel practices
  • improving the public image of the company as a fair and inclusive employer
  • bringing additional skills to the business, such as the ability to use British Sign Language (BSL)

Adjustments often low cost

Research has also found that employers frequently overestimate the costs of reasonable adjustments. Indeed, according to ACAS, only 4% of reasonable adjustments do cost, and even then the average is only £184 per disabled employee.

In any case, the government’s Access to Work scheme is specifically designed to cover the majority of the costs associated with making reasonable adjustments, including the provision of special aids and equipment, adaptations to equipment, travel to and from work, and support workers.

However, not enough employers know about the Access to Work scheme; only 25% are aware of it.

Free support and advice

According to Acas, there are many things that employers can do to become more ‘disability-friendly’.

These include helping people to gain employment, by tackling unconscious bias, adapting recruitment processes, creating an inclusive workplace culture, providing appropriate training and support for line managers, as well as addressing basic issues such as access to buildings (particularly older buildings where adaptations are more difficult/costly).

Once in work, it is important to maintain an open dialogue between managers and employees in order to develop an awareness of individual needs and potential adaptations.

Wellbeing initiatives, and clear and consistent attendance management/return to work policies, including ‘keep in touch’ days during any period of absence, can also help disabled people to avoid ‘falling out of work’.

Employers can obtain support on attracting, recruiting and retaining disabled people in the workplace through the government’s Disability Confident scheme. They can also make use of Fit for Work – a national occupational health service that is free at the point of delivery.

A better workplace for all

While not all disabled people should be expected to work, a significant majority would like to work more.

Closing the disability employment gap is important – not just for the individuals involved, but for businesses themselves and the wider economy.  Social Market Foundation research has found that halving the gap and supporting one million more disabled people into work would boost the economy by £13 billion.

There are some promising signs of progress.  Organisations as diverse as Barclays, Channel 4 and the Civil Service have all established innovative approaches to employee disability support and management.  Such initiatives not only help disabled employees directly, but also serve as a benchmark of what other employers can do to encourage and support disabled people within their organisation, and raise awareness of the benefits of employing disabled people for the organisation itself.

In many cases too, the improved working practices associated with becoming disability-friendly are of benefit not only to disabled employees, but to all employees, customers and service users too.


You may also be interested in our previous blog posts on supporting neurodiversity and mental health in the workplace.  

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A different perspective: supporting neurodiversity in the workplace

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“We need to admit that there is no standard brain” Dr Thomas Armstrong

It is estimated that over 1 in 100 people in the UK are on the autistic spectrum and awareness of the concept of ‘neurodiversity’ is rising. It recognises that autism, and other conditions that affect how people learn and process information – such as attention deficit disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, or dyscalculia – are a form of neurological difference, rather than being assumed to be a disability.

However, there remains a significant employment gap – where people on the autistic spectrum are often willing and able to work, but struggle to find and maintain employment.

Employment rates for adults with autism are considerably lower than for other groups. For example, only 32% of adults with autism in the UK are in some kind of paid employment. This compares with about 80% for non-disabled people and 47% for disabled people as a whole.

There are also many people on the autistic spectrum who work, but are struggling to maintain employment or to progress their careers due to discrimination, lack of understanding and lack of effective support.

Barriers to employment

Many autistic people are simply brilliant people – highly educated, highly capable, detail-oriented, yet unemployed” James Mahoney, Executive Director and Head of Autism at Work for JPMorgan Chase.

A lack of awareness and understanding means that some employers are fearful of the behaviour traits of people with autism, and the effect of these on their business, resources and other employees. Hiring processes, management practices and workspaces also tend to unconsciously favour ‘neurotypical’ employees.

Research has shown that standard recruitment processes are a key barrier to employment for people on the autistic spectrum.  Processes such as writing a CV, completing an application form, attending an interview, or doing a work-place assessment all rely heavily on social and communication skills. It may be difficult for people on the autistic spectrum to respond to open questions, or to abstract, hypothetical situations. They may be prone to conversational tangents, be overly honest about their weaknesses, or have difficulties in understanding body language and maintaining appropriate eye contact.

‘Good communication skills’ and ‘ability to work as part of a team’ are commonly listed as essential criteria in job descriptions – even though in practice, these skills may not be essential to the role. Thus, those on the autistic spectrum may find themselves ‘screened out’ of selection processes.

The workplace itself can also be challenging for people on the autistic spectrum. Office etiquette, social interaction and the sensory environment (such as sounds, lights, smells, interruptions) may present difficulties. People on the autistic spectrum may also suffer from anxiety or low self-esteem, which can impact upon their working lives.

Thinking differently

“Asperger’s syndrome provides a plus – it makes people more creative. People with it are generally hyper-focused, very persistent workaholics who tend to see things from detail to global rather than looking at the bigger picture first and then working backwards, as most people do.”  Professor Michael Fitzgerald, Trinity College Dublin

Despite the challenges that they may face, research has shown that neurodivergent individuals also demonstrate a number of strengths of particular relevance to employment.

People on the autistic spectrum are often good problem solvers and innovative thinkers, with particular strengths in analytical thinking, memory, pattern recognition, and attention to detail. Some often have an exceptional ability to assimilate and retain detailed information, which can result in highly specific interests and technical abilities in specific areas of work.

Likewise, individuals with ADHD can have strong visual spatial reasoning and creative thinking abilities, and can be hyper-focused, passionate and courageous. Indeed, many of the world’s top entrepreneurs – including Sir Richard Branson – have ADHD.

As such, forward-thinking employers are beginning to recognise that they are missing out on a large pool of potential talent. Large-scale corporations like Microsoft, JPMorgan, EY, SAP and Ford have all recently instigated neurodiversity initiatives. There has also been an increase in the number of small companies that employ almost exclusively autistic people – such as IT and compliance consulting business Auticon – and specialist employment agencies – such as Specialisterne – that help match autistic candidates with employers looking for specialist technical skills.

What can employers do?

Traditional workplaces are built to suit “neurotypical” people. However, employees who fall slightly outside the range of what is considered typical often have valuable skills that employers need, such as lateral thinking or innovative problem-solving. It’s necessary to make adjustments for people on an individual basis to ensure they can perform their best in their role.” Ray Coyle, UK CEO of Auticon

There are a number of things that employers can do to help support employees with autism in the workplace. Many of these are low-cost and easy to implement, and have the potential to benefit all employees. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently published guidance for employers on becoming ‘neurodiversity smart’ – covering areas such as recruitment, induction, management and provision of on-the-job support for neurodivergent employees.

They recommend considering alternatives to recruitment interviews that focus on the ability to perform the job role to ensure that organisations are not unintentionally screening out neurodivergent individuals. These may include work trials, work samples, practical assessments, and mini apprenticeships. They also suggest providing candidates with detailed information about what to expect, being clear about the purpose of assessments and being aware of the bias of ‘first impressions’ and the limits of interviews to judge on-the-job performance.

In the workplace, suitable adaptations may include enabling employees who are disturbed by open-plan offices to wear earphones or face a wall, or to work from home where possible. Other adaptations may include the provision of formal or informal coaching or mentoring, regular breaks and access to flexitime, training and support for managers and colleagues, access to quiet spaces, flexibility regarding communication preferences, and clarification of any ‘unwritten’ organisational rules or office etiquette.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ response. What is key is that the support provided is both personalised to suit the needs of the individual employee, and sustained over time. It is also important that a culture is fostered where it is easy for employees to disclose their condition, to be open to suggestions for adaptations that suit each individual’s needs, and to raise wider awareness and understanding of neurodiversity among employees.

Neurodiversity smart

Making reasonable adjustments is a cost-effective benefit to society; we also have a moral and ethical duty to act inclusively. We could view the pool of potential employees with neurodiverse conditions as untapped talent, rather than an employment burdenBritish Psychological Society, 2017

The UK government has also committed to halving the disability employment gap by 2020. In order to achieve this, the number of autistic people in employment will have to double. Employers also have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act.

However, becoming ‘neurodiversity smart’ is not just a legal or moral obligation – it is also essential if organisations are to harness the skills of this significant pool of untapped talent.


Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our article on ‘Girls with autism‘.

How to tackle unconscious bias: Step 1 – read this!

What is unconscious bias?

Although levels of explicit prejudice are falling, discrimination continues to be a problem for many sections of society.  One reason for this may be ‘unconscious bias’.

Unconscious bias is “a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.”

Everyone has some degree of unconscious bias.  Unconscious thoughts are often based on stereotypes and prejudices that we do not realise that we have.

From a survival point of view, these brain ‘shortcuts’ are a positive and necessary function – they help us to make snap decisions in dangerous situations, for example.  However, in everyday life, they can negatively effect rational decision-making.

Types of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias has different forms.  One common form is Affinity bias – the subconscious preference for people with similar characteristics to ourselves (sex, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, educational background etc.).  In 2015, the CIPD reported that recruiters were often affected by affinity bias, resulting in the tendency to hire ‘mini-mes’.

The Halo effect involves the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area.  For example, a disproportionate number of corporate CEOs are over six foot tall, suggesting that there is a perception that taller people make better leaders, or are more successful. Similar patterns have been observed in the military and even for Presidents of the United States.

The Horns effect is the opposite of the ‘Halo effect’ – where one characteristic clouds our opinions of other attributes.  For example, the perception that women are ‘less capable’ in certain occupations.  A review found that female psychologists and women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) departments were just as likely to discriminate against female candidates as their male counterparts.

The same qualities can also be perceived very differently in different people – for example, assertiveness in a man may be perceived more positively (‘strong leader’) than in a woman (‘bossy’).

Impact of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias not only influences our body language and the way we interact with people, it can also negatively influence a number of important decisions in the workplace, including:

  • Recruitment
  • Promotion
  • Staff appraisals
  • Workload allocations

As well as being unfair, decisions based on unconscious biases are unlikely to be optimal and can result in missed opportunities.  Where unconscious bias also effects a protected characteristic, it can also be discriminatory.

How to mitigate unconscious bias

So, now you know what unconscious bias is, what can you do about it?

The good news is that it is possible to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias. The first step is to become more aware of the potential of unconscious bias to influence your own decision-making. Large organisations such as Google and the NHS are already providing unconscious bias training to their staff.

You can take this awareness further by taking an Implicit Association Test, such as that provided by Harvard University.  This will help to identify and understand your own personal biases.

Other ways to help reduce the influence of unconscious bias include:

  • Taking time to make decisions
  • Ensuring decisions are justified by evidence and the reasons for decisions are recorded
  • Working with a wider range of people and get to know them as individuals, such as different teams or colleagues based in a different location
  • Focusing on positive behaviours and not negative stereotypes

At the corporate level, ways that organisations can help to tackle unconscious bias include:

  • Implement policies and procedures which limit the influence of individual characteristics and preferences, including objective indicators, assessment and evaluation criteria and the use of structured interviews
  • Ensure that selection panels are diverse, containing both male and female selectors and a range other characteristics where possible (ethnicity, age, background etc.)
  • Promote counter-stereotypical images of underrepresented groups
  • Provide unconscious bias training workshops

Tackling unconscious bias is not just a moral obligation; it is essential if organisations are to be truly inclusive.  By making best use of the available talent, it can also help to make organisations be more efficient and competitive.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may also be interested in our other articles on management and organisational development.

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Building control – constructing a modern, diverse profession

A fire destroys England’s oldest hotel; a car crashes into a Northern Ireland shop; a sinkhole opens up after heavy rain hits a Surrey village. On the face of it, these stories from the past twelve months are unrelated. But in each case building control officers were called to the scene to assess the buildings in question.

Of course, not every aspect of a building control surveyor’s day makes the news, but the role of enforcing national building regulations does have far-reaching impacts. On one day, a building control officer might be suggesting ways to improve the energy efficiency of a new building, and on the next, assessing whether fire-damaged property should be demolished.

A profession in the making

Building control goes back centuries. After the Great Fire of London wiped out 80% of the city in 1666, a new London building act banned the use of timber-framed houses and gave surveyors powers to enforce the regulations. The first national building regulations were introduced in the 1960s, initially in Scotland and later in the rest of the UK. Subsequent changes have improved the overall quality of new and altered buildings, provided practical guidance on compliance, and made provision for private sector approved inspectors to compete with local authority building control officers.

The first national building regulations were introduced in the 1960s, initially in Scotland and later in the rest of the UK. Subsequent changes have improved the overall quality of new and altered buildings, provided practical guidance on compliance, and made provision for private sector approved inspectors to compete with local authority building control officers. More recently – as our previous blog post explained – new regulations have introduced a requirement for new homes to have easy access to fast, reliable broadband networks.

The challenges of change

Changing legislation is just one of many challenges facing the building control profession. In recent years, increasing numbers of properties across the country have experienced severe damage as a result of storms and flooding – widely regarded as by-products of climate change. Meanwhile, a shortage of housing has spurred on ever-more creative solutions, such as building on top of existing structures, and extending apartments below ground (so-called iceberg homes). All of these developments have implications for building control. Innovations in building technology and a government pledge to build a million new homes by 2020 will only add to the future demands for building control expertise.

But Britain’s army of building control surveyors is growing older, with increasing numbers reaching retirement. A recent report for the Department for Communities and Local Government noted that building control bodies are likely to face “significant problems replacing experienced staff as their workforce approaches state pension age”.

Attracting a new generation

Skills shortages have been exacerbated by a poor pipeline of new recruits. Young people who may have a limited understanding of building control and its opportunities are unlikely to pursue it as a career. As a result, building control bodies have been accelerating their efforts to attract new talent.

One approach has come from the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors (ACAI) – the professional body for the private sector of building control. In 2015, ACAI devised a new apprenticeship programme. The two-part scheme offers a 16-18 apprenticeship programme for school-leavers, and a graduate/career development option for those aged 18 and over.

Elsewhere, the Construction Industry Council (CIC), which represents professionals in all sectors of the built environment, has developed a building control technical support apprenticeship for individuals providing practical support on projects covering assessment of building regulations and inspection of compliance on site.

It’s also important for the building control profession to spotlight its high achievers. Local Authority Building Control (LABC), which represents councils’ building control teams in England and Wales, does this through its annual Superstar and Trainee of the Year awards.

A diverse and inclusive profession

The recruitment challenge for building control is all the greater when it comes to inclusivity. In 2016, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reported that 13% of the workforce in the land, property and built environment profession were female, and just 1.2% were Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME). Those with disabilities were at less than 1%, and there was no data for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) representation. The number of qualified female building control surveyors working for local authorities has grown from just 26 in 1986, but the proportion today is still a disappointing 15%.

RICS includes building control professionals among its 118,000 members, and in 2015 the institution unveiled a new initiative to make the property and construction sector more inclusive and diverse. Launching the Inclusive Employers Quality Mark (IEQM), RICS External Affairs Director Kim Worts stressed the need for the profession to respond to demographic changes and shifting employee expectations:

“We need to bring more skilled and qualified people into our sector, and until we change the culture in the workplace, we are not going to attract the brightest and the best.”

So far, more than 120 employers have pledged their support for inclusion and diversity. Among those signing up for the IEQM are Rolls-Royce, Gerald Eve property consultants and Northumbria University.

Selling the unsung heroes

Building control is much misunderstood, even among industry professionals. A senior manager from a major construction firm who was on the judging panel for the 2016 LABC building control awards expressed surprise at the full extent of the profession’s reach:

“I was amazed by the scope and depth of work carried out by building control and we saw many examples of great work by individuals covering training, emergencies and danger to the public, consumer protection and everyday support for good builders, architects, developers and property owners. It certainly helped me to see local authority building control in a new light.”

Building control is a keystone in the system that keeps our buildings safe, sustainable, energy efficient and accessible for all. But if it is to continue with its work and mission, it will need all the help it can get in spreading the word to the next generation of building control professionals.


Idox’s innovative technologies for the sector – including iApply and a new Building Inspector app – will continue to support building control departments and officers, whatever the future may hold.

Further reading

Building inclusivity: Laying the foundations for the future
This 2016 report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors looks at all aspects of diversity and inclusion in the land, property and construction sector.

Mind the gap – how can the construction industry tackle its skills shortage?
Published on the Idox blog in September 2016, this article considers the factors driving skills shortages in the construction sector, and looks at possible solutions.

Controlling the future
This article from the summer 2015 issue of the RICS Building Control journal (p.15) describes the ACAI apprenticeship programme which aims to attract new entrants into the building control profession.

Apprenticeships – inclusive and accessible to all?

AZUBI und Ausbildner

By Heather Cameron

The government is “committed to making apprenticeships inclusive and accessible to all”. But, unfortunately, this is not currently the case. Just 10.6% of the starting apprenticeships in England in 2014/15 came from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, compared to 14.6% of the general population. And while women are well represented overall, there are significant disparities across sectors.

In response to a recent Ask a Researcher enquiry, we looked into the topic of diversity in apprenticeships and, in particular, the barriers that face some groups such as women and ethnic minorities.

Occupational gender segregation

Occupational gender segregation in apprenticeships was found to be a particular issue. Research has shown that, despite women apprentices having outnumbered men since 2010, young women miss out on certain opportunities as a result of this issue. For example, women comprise 94% of childcare apprentices but under 4% of engineering apprentices. And these figures have hardly changed in the last decade.

According to recent research, occupational gender segregation contributes to women losing out at every level with apprenticeships:

  • Women tend to work in fewer sectors
  • Women receive lower pay than men
  • Women are less likely to receive training as part of their apprenticeship
  • Women are more likely to be out of work at the end of their apprenticeship

In terms of the barriers facing women specifically, a lack of awareness of the careers advice and information services available, or of the funding available for training; formal entry qualifications; and child care and other caring responsibilities have all been cited.

Under-representation

The other significant issue highlighted by the research is the under-representation of BAME groups. The overwhelming majority (88.5%) of apprenticeship starters in 2014/15 were White and the provisional figures for 2015/16 are similar at 88.1%. This compares to just 10.6% of apprenticeship starts from BAME groups in 2014/15, with provisional figures for 2015/16 down slightly at 10.4%.

Similarly to women, BAME apprentices are also under-represented in specific sectors. Fewer than 3% of apprentices in construction, land based industries, science, engineering and manufacturing, building services engineering, and hair and beauty came from a BAME background.

Barriers facing ethnic minorities include a lack of awareness around the benefits of apprenticeships and parental influence. A study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has therefore called for action to increase the awareness of apprenticeships among ethnic minority young people and their parents.

Progress

Despite the issues of occupational gender segregation and ethnic minority under-representation, it should be noted that progress has been made.

The most recent statistics on apprenticeships in England show that: there were 12% more apprenticeship starts in 2015 than in the previous year and that achievements increased by 1% over the same period; overall, between 2013/14 and 2014/15 the number of apprenticeship starts increased across all age groups except for people aged under 16 and those aged 18 to 24; the number of apprenticeship starts for learners with learning disabilities and/or difficulties was up by 12%; and although an overwhelming number of apprenticeship starters were White, the number of non-White apprenticeship starters increased by 17%.

Way forward

The government ambitiously aims to deliver 3 million quality apprenticeships by 2020, to reflect the widest spectrum of society. And it has pledged to increase the proportion of apprentices from black and minority ethnic backgrounds by 20% from 10% to 11.9%. However, no specific targets have been set for gender diversity.

The research suggests that formal entry criteria should be removed where not necessary to encourage better uptake of different apprenticeships by women, and awareness of apprenticeships should be increased with initiatives targeting ethnic minority young people and their parents. Other recommendations include introducing diversity targets within organisations, providing more part-time and flexible apprenticeships and providing better advice and support to apprentices at all stages.

Perhaps if such additional actions are taken, the government will move closer to its commitment of making apprenticeships truly inclusive and accessible to all.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in our previous blog on higher apprenticeships.

Our popular Ask-a-Researcher enquiry service is one aspect of the Idox Information Service, which we provide to members in organisations across the UK to keep them informed on the latest research and evidence on public and social policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, get in touch.

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Women in technology: London Tech Week

From 20-26th June London Tech week will once again be shining a spotlight on all things digital in the UK’s capital. An opportunity to showcase and network, the event will see some of the UK’s biggest tech firms gathering, along with smaller start-ups and keen individuals, to talk all things tech: from enterprise and engagement, to growth and innovation. This year one of the core themes is “talent and inclusion”, with the keynote seminar considering what now seems to many to have become the age old question: what will it take for business to truly take action on diversity within technology, and specifically how can businesses be encouraged to “shift the dial on the gender agenda”?

technology

There have been many studies, blogs, reports and comments about the reasons technology-based careers, or jobs within technology firms seem so inaccessible to women, and chances are many will form the basis of the London Tech Week event discussions.

In the UK today women make up fewer than 30% of the information and communications technologies (ICT) workforce, comprising around 20% of computer graduates and fewer than 10% of app developers. The Lords Select Committee, chaired by Baroness Sally Morgan, produced a report in early 2015: Make or Break: the UKs Digital Future 2015 which urged the UK government to seize the opportunity to secure the UK’s place as a global digital leader by investing in and promoting careers and skill building to try to encourage more young women and girls to consider a career in the tech industry. They state that increasing the number of women working in IT could generate an extra £2.6 billion each year for the UK economy. But just how exactly can women be encouraged to pursue a career in technology? Is it all down to funding or the availability of jobs, or does there need to be a combined approach? The following sections highlight some of the opinions of women who work in the tech industries, and showcase some of the strategies of technology firms to try to diversify their workforce and attract women to a career in technology.

Creating and promoting positive, high profile female role models in the tech sector

As the various magazine polls and top 10 countdowns show, some of the best and brightest minds in the UK tech industry are women. And yet, some girls and young women still feel like the technology world is not open to them. More and more high profile role models may be a way to tackle this – and clearly some do exist – but their profile is limited and more could be done by the industry and the media to promote them in an appropriate way. Similarly, mentoring schemes, like those promoted by Girls In Tech UK, which engages women already in industry by mentoring future tech professionals, could also demonstrate practical ways in which girls can work in a technology based profession.

Emphasising the importance of a female approach to creative technology and technology based problem solving

Women, it is often said in psychology and sociology literature, approach problems in different ways, and will often take a different approach to finding solutions. Including a female perspective brings another set of experiences which can be used to address specific problems. Additionally, the problems women experience are different to those of men and as a result they may allow tech companies to tap into an entirely new market.

Increasing funding and industry promoted schemes specifically to support women entering the tech industry

Although it is recognised that there is still a long way to go, the scope and the space to develop skills within the sector is growing for women. There are many initiatives promoted by large multinationals to encourage more women either to train for a career in tech, or to join their workforce. Many of these employers will be present at tech week but schemes by Microsoft, Apple, Google and Samsung need to have their profiles raised even within the sector; they should also be used as blueprints for others, and act as examples for smaller and medium sized businesses to encourage more women into their workforce.

Marketing a career in tech as desirable

Learning providers should recognise the importance of maintaining relatively low barriers to entry and promoting upskilling and retraining. They should also seek to engage with employers to create easy transition pathways into employment; an almost certain guarantee of employment at the end of a period of training can be a great incentive. Similarly, many courses exist to promote learning and upskilling around the tech sector. These should be made more accessible to women and promoted more widely, as should the availability of grants and additional funding opportunities for women and girls who want to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

Education and industry figures should do more to market the tech industry, emphasise the positives and make it an appealing career pathway. Some of the most rewarding aspects of working in the tech sector – problem solving, considering solutions and watching a product develop from start to finish – are not always highlighted as good reasons for joining. Many tech companies also come with a great working ethos. Employees can often work flexibly, or from home, enabling women to maintain a suitable work/life balance, while maintaining their position within the company.

Don’t underestimate the importance of stereotypes and misconceptions

The consistent rhetoric that the tech industry is a “man’s world” can be off-putting for some people; not everyone wants to be a trailblazer within a company. Women’s involvement should be normalised, but so should the language.Talking about women working in tech careers as being unusual can have an effect on the women and their male colleagues. Industry and education both need to be aware of the need to strike a balance between not sounding too complacent about the number of women pursuing careers in tech, and not making too big a deal about women joining the tech industry so as to single them out and place additional pressure on them.

Showing that there’s more to a career in tech than “nerds doing coding”

Careers services and advisers need to be aware that someone who has an interest in STEM (or specifically in technology based subjects) has more career options within the tech sector than “computer coder”. The tech industry is diverse, taking in areas such as social media, gaming, content creation, research and development, digital marketing and product design and development. Technology as an industry also generates products and solutions needed by diverse sectors for their day-to-day business, including health and social care, education, finance, and ICT,

DARPA_Big_DataObviously these are just a few reflections on the literature and some common perceptions of women in the industry. But it is clear that there is a key role for both industry and learning providers in driving the diversity agenda forward.


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