What is Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and why is it so important (an apprentice panel perspective)

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion currently refers to a multitude of terms to include gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin. The aim for EDI initiatives is to ensure all individuals are respected by their unique needs, perspectives and potential. To recruit those with different backgrounds is to recruit those who think differently. 

The following guidance will support employers, training providers and apprentices in understanding what EDI is and how they can be an enabler in creating a positive and successful working environment for all.  

Recruiting those who think differently will equip organisations with a range of unique perspectives which are required to tackle global challenges and pioneer global technologies through truly diverse collaboration. 

The Apprentice Panel has also provided their own views in the form of case studies and extended reads. Please use the links to read the following:

“Diversity and inclusion are two interconnected concepts—but they are far from interchangeable.  Diversity is about representation or the make-up of an entity. Inclusion is about how well the contributions, presence and perspectives of different groups of people are valued and integrated into an environment.” 

The following sections highlight several aspects of EDI and highlight certain aspects to include socio-economic factors and ethnicity and religion.


1. Importance of EDI in the workplace

Over the past 40 years, the makeup of the labour market in the UK has changed dramatically. The proportion of the working age population that come from a BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) background is increasing. In 2016, 14% of the working age population were from a BME background. This is increasing, with the proportion expected to rise to 21% by 2051.

Socio-economic backgrounds are equally important in the hunt for a diverse and talented workforce. According to a 2021 report from Engineer UK, “35% of young people (aged 13 to 19) in lower income households know what subjects they would need to become an engineer. This compares to 52% of young people in higher income households”. The disparity further includes your location in the UK with “63% of young people (aged 11 to 19) in London said they knew about apprenticeship options available to them, which was the highest across all English regions. This compares to just 34% in Yorkshire and the Humber”.

When engaging on the recruitment drive to produce the next generation of Sustainable Growth, we must ensure the skills and behaviours these individuals have can radically challenge the current norm and support the huge challenges yet to come in the industry. Employers and training providers must therefore be able to reach out and attract talent from all backgrounds.


2. Facts and challenges

Why have a diverse portfolio of apprentices?

  • Every 1% increase in the diversity rate of a workforce can lead to a 9% rise in sales revenue
  • Businesses with a healthy balance of men and women are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors
  • Businesses with employees from a good mix of ethnic backgrounds are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors

Ongoing challenges

  • Women made up 52.9% apprenticeship starts in 2020-21 but remain extremely under- represented in STEM subjects only making up around 11.4% starts in those roles
  • Black, Asian, and ethnic minority uptake was 13.3% in 2019/20 and has increased to 14% in 2020/21
  • An estimated 20% of the population have Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (LDD). This could be a ‘hidden’, ‘visible’, or multiple and complex disability


3. Best practice

What are other organisations doing?

Continuous changing perspectives and national diversity means organisations must accelerate and continue to challenge its process’ and working environment. Both the McGregor-Smith Review and Apprenticeship Diversity Championship Networks annual paper includes numerous initiatives that various organisations have successfully implemented.

Supporting the progression of minorities

Imperial College made waves in career development for BME students with an initiative called iLead which is a 6-month course that focussed on progression of BME staff in academic, research, technical and professional support sectors. 

The course explored barriers to success, the fundamentals of effective leadership, management techniques and career development and had amazing results:

  • More than 50% of attendees progressed their careers through promotion in their current role
  • 9 out of 11 attendees progressed their careers through applying for other jobs

This shows the benefits of educating BME staff on the barriers to success and progression in bettering chances of career progression.

Improving processes to build equity

Ernst & Young (EY) ensures representation of BME to the top is consistent with their BME employee make up through data – for example, if 20% of the workforce is BME, then EY would ensure that there would be at least 1 in 5 promotions would include someone with a BME background.

In 2011, only 3% of senior career stage managers were high-level partners but using this data driven approach to promotions, there are 8% BME partners showing the fantastic success of the approach. By setting these goals across the entire organisation, it provides a bigger incentive for managers of BME employees to develop and progress their staff and become more passionate in uncovering unconscious biases.


4. What can we all do better

Workshops and training

The first step we can all take is to acknowledge that we all have biases. The next step is to individually take accountability in ensuring we understand our own unconscious and conscious biases and how that may affect our day to day interactions with everyone we interact with. It is your own duty to understand these biases but organisations can support this process in creating an environment and culture where these sensitive discussions can be held.

Truly changing an organisation’s culture to make it more diverse and inclusive takes years, not hours, and it requires tools beyond training sessions.  

Follow-up and reinforcement is essential. Training should not necessarily be a single tick in the box activity but a prolonged and progressive training scheme to really make an impact.

The following are suggestions to how such trainings could be implemented:

  • Focussed Equity, Diversity and Inclusion training for recruitment teams 
  • Series of open conversations throughout the year for all employees
  • Reverse mentorship
  • Training pack for placement managers 

In-addition, it’s suggested that certain individuals who are in positions of leadership or manage/interact with multiple individuals should receive enhanced training. These individuals include:

  • All interviewers
  • Early career managers 
  • Group leaders and senior leadership
  • Recruitment managers

Moreover, those apprentices or early careers should not be forgotten and be given the opportunity to learn about EDI and understand their own unique bias’. Through bottom up training, the ambitions and aims of EDI can be grounded at the foundation of our organisations. By allowing not only your early careers but the current working population, the goal and ability to “challenge the status quo” will most certainly bring smarter ways of working and ultimately benefit your working environment. 

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Page 38.In 2015, RBS created a tailored training programme with targeted interventions aimed at each level of the organisation. This programme consisted of a workshop for senior leaders, a webinar for those with managerial responsibilities, and scenario based e-learning for all employees. Over 40,000 employees as of 2019 had undertaken the training with 97% reporting they will ‘do their job differently’. This has enabled leaders to be more aware of how their behaviours affect the work environment and thus improve the way they lead by being a better example. Moreover, RBS has begun looking more broadening at who they consider talent to include mentoring more diverse groups of people to include female talent, BAME, carers and retirees for example. 


Data is important to understand how we can support the diverse needs of our working population. The analyses of this data whether it be qualitative or quantitative, will help understand the unknown barriers within the workplace and potential opportunities which we should be utilising to the best of our abilities.

There are two ways you can improve and gather data. 

  • Requesting data during the recruitment process. Make stating personal data mandatory but ensure this in not part of the actual recruitment decision process
  • Requesting the current population to update their personal data. Ensuring data is being collected to improve the workplace and not for individual employee assessment

By creating a culture where candidates and employees can be confident in providing their data can really benefit the individuals who may require additional support and may not know what is available to them. The employment of disabled people 2021, published November 2021 it is estimated (no exact figure is known due to declaration rates) that around 20% of the population have an LDD. This could be a ‘hidden’, ‘visible’, or multiple and complex disability. Support for this population can be provided by the government. 

  • For apprentices with LDD on off-the-job training, they can have additional learning needs funded by Additional Learning Support
  • Employers have a range of support available to them such as becoming Disability Confident and accessing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Access to Work, which helps people with LDD in the workplace

Lloyds Banking GroupThe Lloyds Banking Group analysed their internal data, qualitative and quantitative, to understand the barriers and opportunities for BAME colleagues. Their Career Development Programme for ethnic minority colleagues receives consistently positive feedback from delegates, and has been able to show that the promotion rate for colleagues going through the programme is significantly higher than for BAME colleagues who have not been through it. Appointing 'diversity champions' or advocates in each business unit has also been a highly effective strategy, coupled with being able to offer a practical programme of support for BAME colleagues. Diversity champions have been able to raise the profile of our Inclusion & Diversity ambitions, including the availability of specific development opportunities, across the business.

Physical spaces

To make sure the workplace is a comfortable environment for all, there are specific areas which certain individuals may require. Allocated spaces to pray, meditate or to be specifically used for quiet work supports individuals who either have invisible disabilities, follow certain religions or require a place to destress in a space without external distractions. Such a place is integral to supporting the well-being of employees.

Multi-Faith Space 

A Multi-Faith Space is required for certain populations to pray. This should include washing facilities, a simplistically designed (without provocative images) clean room with chairs

Well-Being Space

A Well-Being Space is required for certain individuals who require a space to destress from the work environment. This may include sofas, bean bags and non work related books

Quiet Space

A Quiet Space is similar to a Well-Being Space but with a focus on the room being quiet and ultimately with reduced sensory distractions. This may include single acoustic sofas, soft painted walls and natural light with blinds

Parental Space

Space to provide parents to support kids if required (breast feeding etc) 

An example quiet space set aside in an open plan officeAn example multi-faith space with prayer mat

Assessment centres, interviews and group exercises 

One of the aims of the Assessment Centres is to create an environment in which you can best connect with the individuals that you want to attract. To ensure that all potential apprentices feel that they are welcomed, it is important to ensure that Assessment Centres include a diverse group of individuals including those of different gender, age, ethnicity, and ability. It is crucial that when creating a group that diversity goes beyond being a ‘tick box’ and that those individuals are passionate about their area.

Below we have provided some helpful tips to ensure that those with additional support requirements are catered for:

  1. Adjustments should be made depending on a person’s needs, there is no fixed measure for what  reasonable adjustments  should look like with neurodivergence or LLD. A person’s needs should be considered on a case-by-case basis. If in doubt, candidates should be invited to share what changes they have had before that has helped them, or what they believe would support them with this assessment centre.
  2. Have multiple stages where candidates can disclose. Create a space that allows candidates to disclose any neurodiversity they have at different times during the assessment process
  3. Create an assessment that allows ALL candidates to demonstrate their skills. Provide candidates with various opportunities or situations to prove their abilities as part of the assessment centre.
  4. Continually aim to reduce  unconscious bias  during the assessment. Ask yourself if you are being as fair as possible during the assessment centre when evaluating all candidates.

Accessibility issues should also be assessed prior to potential apprentices attending assessment centres. Below we have provided some guidance as to how you can cater to those who require additional access needs:

  • Provide signposting and support staff where necessary to guide candidates to the correct place
  • Ensure assessment centres venues have wheelchair friendly access i.e. ramps and lifts
  • Providing extra time on written tasks – this is especially important for those with  dyslexia,  dyspraxia  or  ADHD
  • Using visual cues such as the agenda sent to candidates before the day of assessment Printing information

Whilst there is a focus on diversity, we also suggest the following as general guidance for assessment centres: 

  • Make sure a representative of the employer (and on scheme apprentices if possible) are in attendance and available to answer any questions on their place of work. A friendly face is always welcomed for candidates looking to join your organisation!
  • Provide some basic networking tips for assessment centres to candidates. This can be a very simple ‘Do’s and Don'ts document with pieces of advice from former and current apprentices.

Recruitment events, education engagement & marketing

Alike to assessment centres, employers and training providers should ensure that a representative of the employer (and on scheme apprentices if possible) are in attendance and available to answer any questions on their place of work. The aim is to connect with the individuals you want to attract. By not showing diversity, you may inherently make potential candidates feel less comfortable. The following tips are routes to engage and attract a wider pool of candidates:

Expand your reach

Depending on the talent and diversity needs you want to attract, don’t just focus on local schools but expand your reach by targeting a wider range of schools. This may mean utilising OFSTED and ISI reports to find which schools provide free school meals, are single sex or provide specialist support to those with LDD

Stand accessibility

Employers and training providers may choose to have physical stands to showcase the opportunities they have. We suggest ensuring these stands are accessible for all, especially those who may be wheelchair users! Having a ground platform or small ramp is certainly helpful 

Work experience 

Online work experience can amplify the quantity of candidates you can expose your apprenticeship and industry to. Being online also means allowing individuals who may not have the ability to physically attend a chance to have an insight into your industry, further increasing the chances of attracting talent from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

EDI - “An environment where many different genders, races, nationalities, and sexual orientations and identities are present but only the perspectives of certain groups are valued or carry any authority or influence, may be diverse, but it is not inclusive.” 

IfATE has a full EDI strategy and toolkit available for use.


5. References and reading


Bush, M. (2021). Why Is Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace Important? [online] Great Place to Work®. 

Wohland, P., Rees, P., Norman, P., Boden, P. and Jasinka, M. (2010). ETHNIC POPULATION PROJECTIONS FOR THE UK AND LOCAL AREAS, 2001-2051.

Race in the workplace: The McGregor-Smith Review

A Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Reading List

5 Ways to Improve Diversity Training, According to a New Study

Reading list

“This Is What It Means to Be Black in America and Black in Corporate America”

6 Evidence-Based Strategies for Improving Diversity in Your Organization

A Tilted Playing Field

How to Make Inclusivity More Than Just an Office Buzzword

What’s Keeping Corporate Boards from Becoming More Diverse?