Millennial and Gen Z workers won’t accept anything less than full EDI

Employers are driving progress on equality, diversity and inclusion because they realise they have to

Ireland is doing well compared to its European counterparts in terms of female representation at company board level and making good progress with C-suite figures. So says Gillian Harford, country manager with the 30% Club in Ireland, part of a global organisation campaigning for gender balance at board and executive levels.

The view of the 30% Club, Harford says, is that targets are better than quotas in all matters relating to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace.

“We believe targets are more sustainable because the organisations are driving progress themselves,” she says. “In terms of Irish employers, we see that all sectors are focusing on EDI for talent attraction. Within the 30% Club we have companies representing every sector of industry, whether that’s public or private, and every sector, without fail, sees EDI as critical not just in attracting talent but also in talent retention.”

This interest applies across all generational cohorts, Harford believes. “It’s not limited to any one age group,” she says. “The baby boomers are starting to worry about the next generation, especially if it includes their children. Generation X are coming to that stage in their careers where they are very conscious of it for themselves and their peers.


“And millennials and Gen Z are really starting to think about it. They’ve gone through school and university and have felt very equal, and now they are in the world of work they are not going to accept anything less than full EDI.”

Torunn Dahl, Deloitte Ireland’s head of talent, learning and inclusion, also sees interest in EDI across all age groups and industries.

“Whether it relates to gender balance, sexual orientation, disability, neurodiversity or ethnicity, the challenges cut across all age cohorts and at Deloitte we have seen engagement across all age groups for our inclusion agenda,” she says.

“Deloitte works with companies in every sector in the economy and there is not one that does not have EDI as a priority. Access to talented people is an executive priority in all organisations and in a competitive labour market, which we have, a committed and authentic approach to EDI is the only way to attract and retain the best people. Leaders in all sectors know that their success is dependent on getting this right.

“Nonetheless, different sectors may vary in the way they are focusing on EDI. Every organisation has limited resources and has to prioritise. For a sector like construction where there is a large gender imbalance they might focus more of their energy there. Another sector might have good gender balance but significant challenges around attracting or integrating ethnic minorities so that is what they will prioritise.”

Sarah Healy, founder and CEO of Tools for Better, an organisation that offers diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging solutions, says all sectors need to take EDI seriously, not least because it is founded in law.

“We have various employment laws that prohibit discrimination and you’re seeing a lot more policies and regulations coming into place in this area, including support for victims of domestic violence and a menopause in the workplace policy framework for the Civil Service,” says Healy.

“Discrimination can impact anyone of any age through disability, race, religion etc. Ageism in itself is a ground for discrimination and something that we see as older people seek out new roles and work towards a retirement age that’s best for them. Other age groups will be hit with fertility health, endometriosis, menopause, parental, paternity, maternity,” she says.

At the end of the day, a successful business reflects both its customer base and the available talent pool, says Healy.

“We need to be consciously prepared for the next generation,” she adds. “For Generation X and millennials, EDI is something we very much care about, while Gen Zs have taken it to the next level where it’s about pure acceptance, celebrating who you are as an individual. And if your company isn’t up to scratch, you’ll be scrambling to catch up with those with the foresight to invest in this space.”

We’ve moved on from ‘cupcake days’ and then nothing happens for the rest of the year, mainly because organisations are realising that it doesn’t work

—  Gillian Harford, the 30% Club

To avoid possible suggestions of EDI washing, a strategic approach is required to truly embed equality, diversity and inclusion into the culture of an organisation. Organisations need a clear strategy that has executive sponsorship and buy-in and metrics that are measured and reported on. Engaging the people in the organisation is also key and this will only be sustained if they believe the commitment is real. There are various ways of measuring progress.

“We have seen the gender pay gap reporting requirements support efforts to make real progress on gender balance across all sectors,” says Dahl. “Similarly, engagement surveys can provide organisations with a lot of valuable data about what they are getting right, or not.”

Harford says that five years ago she would have conceded that some companies were simply paying lip service to EDI.

“But we’ve moved on from ‘cupcake days’ and then nothing happens for the rest of the year, mainly because organisations are realising that it doesn’t work,” she says. “Employees are now very clued in to what’s authentic and what isn’t.”

Heally concurs. She believes that companies make EDI real by implementing fully considered strategies that include top-down and bottom-up initiatives.

“Leadership needs to be bought in and understand the value that EDI brings, and incorporate it into the business’s social values,” she says. “And then it’s about having the right team in place to take these lofty ideas and make them real and tangible and make them work for your employees.”

Dahl concludes: “If EDI was easy it would have been solved long ago. It isn’t easy and it evolves continually, which is why continuous engagement with employees and communities is a key tool of organisations that are serious about making it real.”

Jillian Godsil

Jillian Godsil is a contributor to The Irish Times