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Improving DEI in the facilities management sector

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have been increasingly prioritised by employers in the last few years. Research by Glassdoor suggests much of this is in response to employees’ increasing call for evidence that employers are committed to equality. However, the research also suggests that much more still needs to be done before equality can be achieved in the workplace. FM has struggled in the past with a lack of diversity, so what can be done to improve DEI in the sector?


Employees’ awareness of DEI in the workplace is at an all-time high. Which makes the business case for spaces that support DEI even stronger.

We recently surveyed 500 UK employees to find out if DEI was on their radar, how they thought their employer could improve it, and what impact it had on their productivity at work. The results showed extremely high awareness of DEI, with nearly 90 per cent of respondents commenting positively or negatively on how it was reflected in the design of their physical working environment.

Even when employers showed some awareness of the issues around DEI, the largest group of respondents (44 per cent) still saw room for improvement. Sadly, 18 per cent said their office did not reflect DEI at all. This data highlights the scope of opportunity awaiting employers who want to make a positive change to their working environment.

Building DEI into office design can help attract talent, boost overall employee wellbeing and foster a more positive attitude towards work. Almost 80 per cent of the people we surveyed said that considerate DEI had a positive impact on them.

The top ranked benefits included boosting team morale and culture (37 per cent), fostering a sense of belonging (31 per cent), feeling personally valued (27 per cent) and bringing together new ideas and perspectives (26 per cent). Moreover, 28 per cent of our respondents said a DEI-focused workplace would make them want to continue working at their company.

The top-ranked change, called for by 48 per cent of respondents, was more flexible office spaces. This was followed by 39 per cent who would appreciate better communication about how these spaces can be used.

In our survey, the belief that catering for neurodiverse individuals with flexible spaces – for example, quieter spaces with muted colours for hypersensitive individuals – would improve DEI in the workplace was universal, crossing all age groups from 18- to 65-year-olds.

Younger people showed the highest overall concern for DEI, with 71 per cent of 18–20-year-olds reporting that more inclusivity helped to bring together new ideas and perspectives, and 57 per cent reporting that it boosted team morale and made them want to continue working in their position.

This demographic represents the workforce of the future – an important one to consider when future-proofing workplace design. Designing for DEI will likely play a crucial role in attracting and retaining the top graduate talent to your organisation and will ensure a fit-out that is more sustainable in the long term, catering for your workforce as it changes over time.

Do people need more quiet zones, multi-faith spaces, medical facilities, gender neutral changing rooms, or games areas, for example? Does your space cater for employees who are visually impaired or use a wheelchair? Building the needs of every team member into your design strategy creates a physical space in which DEI can thrive and is strong evidence of a working culture that helps everyone feel they belong. 


It can be difficult for organisations in the FM sector to know where to start and how they can make the most gains. Beyond recruiting a more diverse workforce, FM employers need to take on the more complex challenge of actively embedding a positive workplace culture that engages and enables colleagues to stay, thrive and feel a sense of belonging. Everyone has a role to play to create an inclusive workplace environment and this must start from the top down.

First, organisations must ensure that senior leaders are responsible and accountable for embedding positive values and behaviours throughout the organisation. Leaders must be equipped to do this effectively or hire experts in the field who can adopt this responsibility. Measurement of leaders’ performance should equally measure and assess customer, patient, client satisfaction and outcomes, as well as culture and inclusion. At NHS Property Services (NHSPS), we have established a board-level committee to support and drive our culture and inclusion agenda and are accountable for our Culture and Inclusion Strategy.

Learning interventions are crucial to embed a positive organisational culture further. This can help managers understand their role and accountability in driving DEI across teams. Internal networks can be particularly powerful in creating spaces for groups to share experiences and help drive forward the DEI agenda. For instance, we have a of number of peer-led network groups including Prism (LGBTQ+), BlackNet (ethnic minority colleagues), Disability at NHSPS, and Women at NHSPS. Our colleague networks also hold us to account. Lived experience really is key, and this means staying connected with colleagues and creating safe spaces for everyone to contribute and challenge, taking any positive and negative comments in equal measure and accepting them without prejudice.

Understanding the demographic profile of your organisation is critical, not just to focus resources effectively, but to ensure that all voices can be heard and supported appropriately. Workforce diversity data will indicate how and where an organisation might lack representation, which can be used to inform next steps. An organisation might need to start gathering data for the first time or consider improving the rate of disclosure across their workforce. Employees will need to feel confident that their personal data will be safe, confidential, and be used for the right reasons. For instance, we used our data to inform an ongoing series of lived experience sessions with diverse groups of colleagues to learn more about how we can better attract, recruit, develop and retain. It makes absolute business sense to use our communities with a vested interest to help us grow.

Importantly, organisations must measure their progress to embed continuous improvement, for example by reviewing policies and practices and their impact on diverse groups. Monitoring policy implementation regularly can ensure increased equitable outcomes for all. As the saying goes, ‘what gets measured gets done’ – whilst equality standards and other organisational tools are useful for reporting, it’s the actions taken, and the measures used to track progress that makes the most difference.

About Sarah OBeirne

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