A panel group presents at the WIRC launch event
A WIRC panel discussion featuring Dr Sarah Forbes, Dr Scott Taylor, Dr Daniel Wheatley and Emma Partlow.

On 23 January 2020 an exciting new research Centre in Birmingham Business School was launched. The Work Inclusivity Research Centre (WIRC) is a dynamic centre, committed to the study of issues of equality, diversity and inclusion in employment.

The research centre is led by Dr Holly Birkett and Professor Jo Duberley, who opened the launch by talking about the importance of working together across the university to deliver ground-breaking research in collaboration with practitioners.

Our first speaker, Baroness Lorely Burt, highlighted the research of WIRC as both relevant and timely; not only is it morally important to allow people of all backgrounds to reach their full potential, but also inclusive workforces perform better. Workforces made up of people from the same background become echo chambers, whereas diverse workforces can draw on the opinions from people from different backgrounds, making them more innovative and better decision makers.

Recruitment strategies are vital in ensuring workforces become more inclusive. Our second speaker Mark Lomas, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for HS2, explained how they have seen fantastic results by using blind auditions rather than the traditional CV or application style of recruitment, with an increase in successful BME and women candidates.

The launch also showcased the four work streams within WIRC. The first workstream adopted a panel discussion to focus on issues of managing diversity and inclusion. Dr Sarah Forbes, Dr Scott Taylor, Dr Daniel Wheatley and Emma Partlow shared the research that they have been conducting and discussed the importance of organisations following inclusive polices. Sarah highlighted the important work of the Equal Parenting project, which has been driving gender equality in child care and working on creating a fathers in the workplace toolkit for employers. Additionally, Emma Partlow is researching the impact of equalities legislation on disabled people and she emphasised the importance of inclusive policies not being tick box activities.

Various speakers presenting at the WIRC launch

Wellbeing also has an enormous impact on diversity and inclusion. Dr Dan Wheatley highlighted that organisations have a lot to do in terms of supporting mental health and wellbeing, and making sure that they are priorities because ‘wellbeing is central to the health of individuals, workplaces and society’. Discussion centred on the importance of transparency, and Dr Scott Taylor said that both developing a public facing strategy and individual action within organisations is important.

The second work stream focused on trust. Louise Turner (Managing Director, Edelman Intelligence UK & Ireland), shared findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer and stated how important it is to follow through and make tangible changes. There is a clear business case for fostering trust, as trusted companies outperform others in their sector. However, Professor Mark Saunders highlighted that despite significant benefits we are increasingly seeing a group of people who are ambivalent and disengaging in the workplace.

Another vital factor in inclusive workforces is inclusive labour governance and employee voice, and our third work stream discussed the positive impact that the living wage and Trade Unions can have on employees. Trade Unions play a significant role in giving employees a voice, however employment is becoming increasingly individualised, Professor Tony Dobbins and Dr Ben Hopkins discussed the future of trade unions and the extent to which employers consult and inform employees.

Paying employees the Living Wage is an example of how labour governance can foster inclusivity. Sebastian Bachelier, Programme Officer from the Living Wage Foundation highlighted the issue of in work poverty with two in three children living in poverty having at least one parent in work. He put forward a strong case that organisations adopting the Living Wage is not only hugely beneficial to workers, affording them a better quality of life, but there is also a strong business case with the Living Wage improving retention and providing a boost to local economies.

Sp3eakers and audience members at the WIRC conference

Our final work stream looked at labour market inequalities and disadvantages. This stream conducts research both in the UK and internationally on young people’s access to work, getting to work, income (im)mobility, wellbeing at work and disability, caring and work. Dr Chris Darko and Dr Marco Ercolani presented case studies around young people’s access to work and commuting in Africa. They found that those with limited social and family networks or limited experience tend to be disadvantaged in Ghana. Another considerable factor in labour market inequalities is access to work for disabled people. Work has an intrinsic value and is important for people with disabilities; however, as Fiona Carmichael, highlighted work is not unconditionally good for all people and often the value of unpaid work is overlooked.

Inequalities in the workplace can often start with inequalities in education, and our next speaker Professor Kalwant Bhopal underlined that there are huge inequalities with BME students less likely to achieve a 2:1 and go on to postgraduate study than white students. Moving forward it is important that Universities increase the visibility in BME staff in senior positions and that Universities acknowledge and tackle institutional racism.

Our final speaker of the day was Nicola Smith, Joint Head of Equality and Strategy at the TUC. The TUC campaign for more and better jobs and better lives and Unions have a vital role under the equality act in upholding workers’ rights. There is a strong and compelling business case for equality, despite this there people across the country not being treated fairly based on personal characteristics. The TUC is tackling far right rhetoric, campaigning for ethnicity pay reporting and have started the #Thisisnotworking alliance to stop sexual harassment happening before it takes place.

Speakers presenting at the WIRC launch event

Importantly, there was also plenty of time for discussion and debate over lunch and coffee. These conversations between academics, business people, trade union officials, policy makers and representatives of third sector organisations will help shape the future research agenda of the centre. 

Dr Holly Birkett said “The launch was an important opportunity to demonstrate the excellent work that we are doing accross the centre. We are excited to build on the launch event and work towards a more inclusive workplace and society.”