Sincere obliviousness

adjective – genuine unconscious unawareness of the current lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in the organisation

Author – Tracey Burley, former non-executive director of CSW Group and Chief Operating Officer of Stonewall and Founder of Pure Consulting, explains why diversity, equity and inclusion do matter and what you can do to improve.

Diversity and inclusion matter for 2026

Everyone is aware of the business reasons for improving diversity, equity and inclusion; increasing diversity of thought, increasing diversity of decision making and ultimately improving productivity, yet many seem somehow unconvinced by these arguments, still seeing diversity, equity and inclusion (“DE&I”) as a tick box exercise reported to the Board once a year, potentially alongside a Gender Pay Gap report.

This approach may have worked for some in the past, but this will not carry into the future. If you are not convinced by the usual business reasons, then consider your workforce. People need to look beyond Generation X, Y or even Z. Generation Alpha will change everything. A new workforce will be entering the labour market from 2026 – a workforce with a greater conscience for social justice, a workforce currently aged 11 and who already call out microaggressions, albeit using different language, that many of todays workers wouldn’t even notice. They will not tolerate inequity, they will make decisions based on the ethics of employers, they will walk away from you if you have not taken diversity and inclusion seriously. Oh, and they will also be your customers.

They will have grown up in households with living arrangements that do not meet outdated stereotypes: the dominance of the all-White, straight, biologically related family is reducing, which in fact will become the minority. They will have used social media not as a tool, but as a way of life. They will be informed on social justice and equity, and most likely will be prepared to propel others towards success ahead of themselves. They will be concerned with their own self-care and mental wellness.

The business case for change is clear, but most organisations fall into what I have termed “sincere obliviousness”. Every CEO or Director that I have ever spoken to about DE&I explains that they head up an inclusive organisation. Usually, within one hour of talking to the teams, in turns out that there is racism (in plentiful supply) and sexism embedded in the culture, but the leaders’ sincere obliviousness leaves them satisfied that they are doing ok on the inclusion agenda.

Stories from employees have varied from people being excluded from meetings and events, refused access to shared mailboxes for no good reason, having to change their name because their colleagues could not pronounce it and receiving less pay than colleagues undertaking the same work. There are plenty more examples, but this article may be better spent talking about what you can do.

Taking action now can make you inclusive

Those businesses that act now can create the inclusive and equitable workplaces that Generation Alpha will expect – not through tick box exercises but by recognising the sincere obliviousness that exists in almost all organisations and putting measures in place to create a workplace where everyone belongs whatever their background or identity.

We need to move from a perspective of compliance with basic legal equality requirements to diversity, equity and inclusion being part of who we are, not what we do.

The simple roadmap below sets out a general approach that can be taken.

Most organisations immediately find this daunting. Executives struggle with knowing how to undertake a review or where to start with a strategy, let alone an improvement plan. They do not know whether to start with policies and procedures, leadership, talent management, suppliers, people or data and measurements. The answer is of course that all these areas need attention. There is no point in attracting a diverse group of applicants for a job that they will not stay in for more than 6 months, because they feel they do not belong.

Seven steps to get you started

1. Lead the way in your sector and your organisation

Leaders need to systematically focus on using inclusive leadership approaches to create an inclusive workplace that benefits everyone. Leaders should be aware of their own gaps in knowledge or understanding and should demonstrate the courage to address these imperfections, through conversations with others to promote curiosity and create a shared learning environment. Leaders should make a commitment to DE&I and then stick to it, even in challenging situations, and they must take everyone with them using collaborative approaches. All the systems, processes and data in the world will make no difference if leaders fail to create an inclusive culture.

2. Collect diversity data

You should be asking for data throughout the recruitment and selection process, and you should hold a good dataset of your workforce. Ideally, you would also want to collect both a quantitative and qualitative data from those that leave the organisation.

3. Analyse the data

There is nothing worse than collecting data and never using it. Analyse the data and identify which groups are underrepresented. Be a bit more sophisticated than just checking whether the organisation meets the regional average for the percentage of each group. Look not just at people’s identity, but also their environment – for example, how many women do you have in senior positions? Better still, consider intersectional identities – how many Black women do you have in senior positions? Think about what happens over time, how job applicants compare to successful candidates and to those with 5 years or more service – this will demonstrate a link between environment and inclusion. Also consider how surveys can capture inclusion metrics by group.

4. Set up a DE&I working group

Making changes takes time, effort and money. You need a team to lead this for the organisation. This could include people with a variety of backgrounds and characteristics and allies of all levels who want to improve the work environment for others. Let them see the data and make decisions about how things can be improved.

5. Undertake some strategic thinking

This does not have to be a whole strategy but as a minimum, develop a vision for how the organisation should be and identify some key thematic priorities. Please stop using the language “We have a zero-tolerance policy to all forms of bullying, harassment and discrimination” or “We comply with the requirements of the Equalities Act 2010” on job adverts or in job information packs. Compliance with the law hardly makes you an employer who is leading the way on DE&I and publishing it just shows how far behind you might be.

6. Develop an improvement plan

If you have reviewed your organisation thoroughly, there will be areas for improvement or even if you have analysed your data, you will see where you lack representation and hence can do better. You just need to work out the cause and think about actions that can start to make a difference. Once you have momentum, don’t stop! Pull in the DE&I group, give them the budget and responsibility to create and support delivery of the plan.

7. Use the metrics

The diversity data and performance against the improvement plan metrics together will provide a compelling story that you should share with your teams, your suppliers and your customers. You can demonstrate that this is not just a tick box exercise, that you do not suffer from sincere obliviousness and that you are doing something about it. It is ok not to currently have a diverse or inclusive workplace if you are taking it seriously and making a change.

What will happen if you don’t

The population growth of 15–64-year-olds in the UK more than halved between 2010 to 2020 to 1,410,700 and in the next decade it will reduce by a further 78.3% to just 305,441[1]. Generation Alpha will be a rare and valuable resource for all organisations.

The high demand and low supply of the future workforce should move you to action and this, alongside the moral social justice argument, provides a robust case for change. This is even before we begin to go into the normal productivity arguments.

Not making the right changes creates a risk of Generation Alpha and other generations making career and customer choices based on their social conscience and on their own well-being. This may well leave organisations that continue behind the curve, facing a significant shortage of both.

If you want to find out more about diversity, equity and inclusion, contact me on tracey.burley@pure-consulting.co.uk or through LinkedIn @TraceyBurley

[1] The World Bank: Health Nutrition and Population Statistics: Population estimates and projections.