Diversity looks at appreciating the differences between people and recognising the value that a variety of knowledge, working styles and personalities can bring. Diversity awareness embraces those differences to create a more cohesive environment; whether it is within a firm, school or community.
Anti-discrimination legislation has existed within the UK for several decades. However, in October 2010 all relevant legislation was replaced by the Equality Act 2010; this was done so that legislation was easier to comprehend and apply consistently. The Equality Act 2010 highlights the responsibilities of employers and employees with the aim of creating a fair and equal working environment.
The Equality Act 2010 built upon existing legislation and introduced 9 ‘protected characteristics’. Several characteristics were covered previously; for example, race, sex and disability. The Act went further. These are the 9 protected characteristics under the Act:
Questions that organisations need to consider:
- Are employees aware of how to apply for flexible working?
- Does your organisation understand their duty to consider ‘reasonable adjustments’ for a disabled employee?
- Do job descriptions focus on the criteria for the role rather than the person?
- Do employees know what to do if they or a colleague are subjected to discrimination or harassment?
“Everyone has the right to be treated fairly at work and to be free of discrimination”
Source: Health & Safety Executive
The business case for diversity
- Someone subjected to inequality and discrimination could suffer from stress and ill health. The individual’s output may fall and they may take time off for sickness. This could have a knock-on effect on their team and department as colleagues have to cover work. If no action is taken to tackle the discrimination then the individual may submit a claim which could see the company in a tribunal. Not only would this be costly and time-consuming; it would also attract bad publicity which could damage the firm’s reputation. Clients may take their business elsewhere and potential candidates may be deterred.
- Organisations need to be proactive in preventing inequality and discrimination. Diversity initiatives should be led at senior level and reinforced through appropriate HR policies. Differences in personalities and working styles may lead to conflict in the workplace so there needs to be structured procedures to follow in order to manage this. The concepts and practices contained within policies need to be visible, realistic and understood by all.
- An employer of choice is an organisation that people want to work for. Candidates are attracted to the organisation as they respect the brand and feel that their own values align with that of the company’s. Candidates are not always just applying for a job but applying to a company that they can affiliate with. Employers of choice tend to have a more open and cooperative way of working. They respect diversity and this will appeal to the candidate market.
- When employees appreciate diversity and are respectful of it then it can boost productivity. Staff will better understand the needs of their clients; this will improve client relationships. Empathy with colleagues could improve, leading to stronger team morale. If all employees had the same skill-sets, experience and knowledge then the generation of new ideas and ways of working would be limited. A variety of experiences and knowledge could lead to product development and increased efficiency giving a company a competitive advantage within their specific industry.
- Provision of diversity training to staff can go some way in getting employees to discuss diversity and grasp the key points. From an organisation’s perspective, not only will diversity management lead to a more collaborative and respectful environment; a tribunal may look more favourably on an organisation that trains their staff on diversity.