Nearly three in four professionals say they experience ‘discriminatory and exclusionary’ workplace behaviour

New research from The Young Foundation, conducted on behalf of 12 professional membership and regulatory bodies including ACCA, reveals that while equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives are increasingly commonplace, there is growing scepticism among professionals that these are ‘box-ticking’ exercises

The report, Beyond Buzzwords, cautions that unless change is urgently prioritised, recent progress risks unravelling.

The research incorporates insights from more than 7,000 professionals across accountancy, engineering, health and safety, facilities management, human resources, insurance, law, management, procurement and public relations. 

It finds nearly three-quarters of respondents had experienced barriers to career progression (73%) or 'discriminatory or exclusionary’ behaviour  in their workplace (72%). Negative experiences were even more pronounced among those with multiple marginalised characteristics.  

“For many years, the professions have shown real commitment in taking action on EDI. Yet we need to drive greater change, with organisations pushing forward higher standards,” said lead researcher Alice Bell. 

“The findings highlight the critical role of professional and regulatory bodies as agents of change. The organisations driving this research together represent more than 750,000 UK workers, and they possess the influence, expertise and networks to raise standards and drive progress on EDI through training, guidelines and support for members.”

Key concerns emerging from the research include:

• There is widespread scepticism that ambitious EDI goals are being translated into meaningful actions, with a perception that rhetoric and box-ticking exercises bring few tangible improvements. As a result, support for EDI efforts seems to be waning.

• Access and entry routes into many professions remain challenging for people from minority backgrounds, with systemic barriers related to affordability of qualifications, accessibility issues, and lack of role models. This contradicts notions that professional success is based on merit.  

• Many professionals feel excluded from informal networks and opportunities to develop. More than half (53%) have considered leaving their employer or profession due to EDI concerns, related to feeling undervalued or having limited scope to progress.  

However, the research shows that tailored solutions can have significant impacts. It reveals a range of initiatives viewed as effective when well-executed: from normalising flexible working and creating accessible learning resources, to targeted development programmes and removing biases in hiring.

To drive change, the report proposes professional and regulatory bodies can raise the bar for accountable, ethical professions with respect to EDI. It also includes further recommendations, categorised by audience, for organisations involved in this research, policymakers, employers, and individual professionals.

Ultimately, achieving systemic change demands multi-stakeholder commitments.

Helen Goulden OBE, Chief Executive of The Young Foundation, said: “Alongside action from professional and regulatory bodies, real progress relies on individuals, employers and policymakers enacting change within their spheres of influence. But by fostering a 'race to the top' on standards, professional and regulatory bodies can drive sustained, systems-wide change.” 

Gemma Gathercole, strategic engagement lead at ACCA, said: "Inclusion is one of ACCA’s founding values and it is a cornerstone of the actions we take as a professional body. This report is an opportunity to take stock of progress made across multiple professions and the issues faced by our members and other professionals.

It’s a reminder that we as a professional body should continue to focus on addressing the issues of equality, diversity and inclusion to support our members, future members and employers in addressing the issues raised in this report."

Ann Francke OBE, Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute, said on behalf of the collaborating professional and regulatory bodies: “The maths has been done countless times; we know inclusion is beneficial for any organisation’s culture and their bottom line.

“Yet this report highlights how barriers to progress and discrimination against some groups are still highly prevalent. As professional bodies, we are dedicated to leading by example, collaborating effectively, and driving meaningful change, and I'm proud to be joining them to tackle this ‘say-do’ gap. 

“Inclusion in the workplace isn’t just a trend, it’s essential for organisations to thrive in today’s diverse and interconnected world. The sooner we realise we all stand to benefit, the better.”



Download the report here

For more information, please contact Jess Moore or Sarah Hogg at or on 07940 281470.

Recommended action plan for professional membership and regulatory bodies: 

1. Put EDI at the heart of what it means to be a professional by committing to: 

• updating codes of ethics/ conduct, with corresponding reviews of professional standards, to embed EDI principles. 

• reframing EDI as non-negotiable, and integral to all decision-making. 

2. Set higher standards for professionals by committing to:

• embedding EDI across all learning and development opportunities.

• ensuring members are not granted with the highest levels of chartership or accreditation without core competencies around EDI.

3. Actively involve professionals in change by providing meaningful opportunities for members, learners and employers to shape action around EDI in their profession – including: 

• creating working groups for professionals to be involved in reviewing key actions.

• ensuring accountability mechanisms through which professionals’ feed back about activities, and communications is acted upon.

4. Become role models for good practice by:

• ensuring all strategies, policies, procedures and practices are approached with an EDI lens. 

• continuously monitoring progress.


About The Young Foundation

The Young Foundation is the UK’s home for community research and social innovation. As a not-for-profit, The Young Foundation brings communities, organisations and policymakers together, driving positive change to shape a fairer future. Working to understand the issues people care about, The Young Foundation supports collective action to improve lives, involving communities in locally-led research and delivering distinctive initiatives and

Programmes to build a stronger society. The Young Foundation also powers the Institute for Community Studies.



The professional membership and regulatory bodies involved in the research

• ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)

• The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII)

• CILEx Regulation (CRL)

• The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

• The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)

• The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) 

• The Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS)

• The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) 

• The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)

• The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

• The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH)

• The Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM)