Crash course in... Diversity in the workforce

You've always prided yourselves on being an Equal Opportunities organisation, but a visitor points out that your people look remarkably similar to each other. Are you discriminating against some groups without even knowing it? And could you be missing a trick? How do you achieve a truly diverse workforce?

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Comply or else. The need to comply with legislation is far from the only reason to take diversity seriously, but it's a good one. 'Last year, the legal cost of discrimination to British business was £320 million,' says Aaron Reid of Birmingham Professional DiverCity. 'The burden of proof has also changed; the employer now has to prove that they didn't discriminate, not the other way round.'

Think opportunity. 'Diversity is about innovation and creativity,' says Dianah Worman, policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. 'If you bring many different perspectives to a problem, you end up with more creative solutions.' Adds Steve Williams, director of diversity at Acas: 'You want the best person for the job, full stop. So you want to recruit them from the widest possible pool. If you don't embrace diversity, you risk losing out.'

Make your own business case. Look at how diversity could benefit your business directly. It could help you reach markets that aren't buying your products or services. 'Diversity shouldn't be about political correctness, it's about marketing and recognising changing demographics,' says Reid. Getting accreditation is also increasingly a requirement for procurement contracts.

Measure it. Data helps to identify where action is needed, and lets you demonstrate progress. 'If things are measured, they're taken seriously,' says Williams. 'You need to know not just who you recruit, but who applies, who is selected, promoted and so on.'

Get out of your box. If your workforce or your customer base are under-represented, examine the root causes. 'Around 97% of black and ethnic minority people don't read local newspapers,' says Reid. 'So if that's where you advertise when recruiting, you're missing out on 97% of those communities.'

Be holistic. Today, diversity is about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability and age. Tomorrow, who knows? It could be about fat and thin or even beautiful and ugly. 'The important thing is to keep an open mind and to value people as individuals,' says Worman.

Share responsibility. Diversity needs support at the top, and it must be embraced throughout the organisation. 'Your top team must give permission to take the agenda forward,' says Worman. 'But while you may designate one person with ultimate responsibility, they need to be an engine-room for change, rather than someone the issue gets dumped on.' Training will help your people understand the benefits of diversity.

Do say: 'We think that people's differences make us stronger.'

Don't say: 'I've got nothing against gays, blacks or anyone else. They just never seem to apply for a job here.'

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