Friday 5: 5 ways D&I is getting up to speed for the post-pandemic workplace

The French Open’s response to Naomi Osaka’s refusal to speak to the press, citing mental health concerns, has created huge waves. It’s the familiar tale of what happens when someone – notably a woman of colour – shows vulnerability in their profession, and rather than receiving empathy, finds reprimand.

But there’s a business lesson to take from this. Working from home, furlough, and Black Lives Matter have all signposted what the workplace ought to look like as we move back into the office. Perks like pizza on a Friday and yoga classes on World Mental Health Day shouldn’t necessarily fall by the wayside, but they can’t stamp out microaggressions or prevent burnout. Employers know that more needs to be done.

It’s June, which means it’s also Pride Month. With this in mind we’ve decided to do a deep-dive into the businesses implementing tangible D&I strategies that promise to protect minority employees for the long-term. 


  1. Zalando’s diversity and inclusion programme

The leading European fashion e-tailer has set out a 12-point diversity plan under four different umbrellas: talents, leaders, customers, and partners. As part of its doBETTER initiative, Zalando is aiming to build an inclusive space for everyone that uses the website, from the everyday browser to its content creators.

In such a saturated environment, D&I initiatives tend to fall flat – or are forgotten about. To ensure this doesn’t happen, Zalando has set itself the ambitious target of ramping up the number of women in its tech roles from 40% to 60% by 2023.

It’s also monitoring progress through annual reports, the first of which kicked off in the autumn of 2020, aiming to track where progress has been made and what areas need more rigour. Real change comes from businesses knowing where they’re falling short, and pushing themselves to do better in the future.


2. Bentley’s Beyond100 initiative

To anyone who doesn’t fit the chiseled, clean-cut James Bond archetype, cars – and their ads – can sometimes feel like a boys-only club, where anyone who doesn’t fit the mould only belongs in the passenger seat. But Bently wants to change that.

As a first point-of-call, the legacy car brand wants to increase diversity in its management to 30% by 2030. It will also be flexing out its recruitment scheme to widen the talent pool and is integrating development programmes to ensure minority employees can accelerate at the same speed as their peers.

But inclusion has to come before diversity to initiate tangible change, so Bentley will be introducing KPIs and board-led engagement with the aim of stamping out issues like microaggressions in the workplace.

Bentley has also taken D&I out of its stale HR package into something more creative by recruiting designer Rich Moss to redesign one of its models dipped in the colours of the Progress flag.


3. The UK theatres sowing the seed to cast only trans people in trans roles

It’s been a divisive topic in Hollywood for some time. While straight actors can secure film roles from the corners of arthouse cinema to mainstream blockbuster, shouldn’t directors be giving trans roles to those who can play them with optimal authenticity? Not least because representation of trans actors is already so sparse.

This is now an issue trickling into UK theatres. The Royal Court, Oxford Playhouse, Contact Theatre and the Royal Exchange in Manchester have committed to the following pledge: “Never cast, or endorse a production that casts, a cisgender person in a trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming role”. It’s a brave choice to potentially put themselves in the cross-fire of the unending ‘TERF’ war – particularly as they don’t have the open support of bigger players like The London Palladium.


4. Lego’s ‘Everyone is Awesome’ set

Slapping a rainbow sticker onto a logo or product might have become synonymous with paying lip-service, but Lego has got it right. 

As a brand with a younger demographic than most, it clearly understands that educating children about the LGBTQIA+ community is key to preventing bullying and hate crimes against vulnerable peers. The brand unveiled its limited-edition ‘Everyone is Awesome’ set to celebrate the community, featuring figurines that represent its diversity – one even has an eccentric beehive as a nod to drag queens!

But Lego hasn’t neglected the leg work needed to improve its internal structures, and is working with partners like Workplace Pride and Stonewall to ensure all LGBTQIA+ employees feel safe and included at work.


5. WPP brings its Mental Health Allies programme across the pond

Following a year of furloughs, WFH/parenting juggles, joining remotely, WPP will be making its Mental Health Allies programme available to all 10,000 of its UK staff.

It’s spearheaded by Mediacom’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Nancy Lengthom, under leadership of global COO, Josh Krichefski. The initiative brings the Employee Assistance Programme across the pond to provide staff with 24/7 counselling, regular wellbeing check-ins, and safe rooms to be emotionally vulnerable, share lived experiences, and ultimately find a way of working through them. All of these facets will prove invaluable to boosting psychological safety in the post-pandemic workplace.

What’s more, those in the WPP network can help, too. Some 250 staff members have already put their hands up to be mental health volunteers and have given specialised training to support and signpost where necessary.