The What, How & Why of Diversity in the Workplace

Last year was a historical year for diversity:

  • With the appointment of the first female First Minister in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon stated “…the sky is the limit to what you can achieve, and no glass ceiling should ever stop you from achieving your dreams.”
  • The right to vote was extended to 124,000 16 and 17 year olds for the first time in the Scottish referendum
  • The right to request flexible working was opened to all employees with 6 months employment

As we begin 2015, we anticipate further significant steps forward:

  • A drive to achieve boardroom gender balance in Scotland with a challenge to certain bodies to achieve a 50/50 gender split on boards by the year 2020
  • The roll out of an ‘older workers’ champion scheme across the UK to tackle age discrimination which is thought could add £50 billion to the UK economy
  • The introduction of Shared Parental Leave to allow parents to choose how to split leave following the birth of their child, rather than the traditional 52 weeks maternity leave

With this in mind, we explore what diversity in the workplace really means, how to achieve it, and why it is so important.

What Is Diversity?

In short, diversity is about differences between individuals.   The Equality Act 2010 is legislation to protect individuals against discrimination. It outlines nine protected characteristics: sex, age, race, maternity/pregnancy, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation, disability, gender reassignment, and religion & belief.

Most organisations understand that intentional discrimination or bias is unlawful and unacceptable. However, a less widely acknowledged concept is that of ‘unconscious bias’:

  • Whilst we might think that we are making decisions logically, scientific research shows everyone makes decisions based on intuition so entrenched in us that we are not even aware of it.
  • There are around 150 named biases we use in our decision-making without realising it.   Many of us will have been in an interview and wanted to hire a particular candidate over another based on a ‘gut feeling’.   This could be because an affinity with that individual (affinity bias), an assumption or stereotype in relation to that individual being part of a particular group (perception bias), or liking that person and believing everything about them is good (halo effect).

How To Achieve Diversity in the Workplace?

Diversity in the workplace is no mean feat, particularly when unconscious bias impacts on every day decision-making:

  • As a minimum, an organisation should have an Equal Opportunities Policy to ensure equality in all aspects of the employment life cycle
  • Appropriately responding to situations which could be perceived as discriminatory is essential, either informally through mediation, or using formal disciplinary or grievance policies as required
  • Training can help embed a culture of diversity, and this could include equalities awareness sessions for all staff, or specific line manager training in recruitment and performance management practices

Why Is Diversity So Important?

Notwithstanding the fact that it is a legal requirement, diversity in the workplace has many advantages. Organisations have nothing to lose, and everything to gain by striving for improved diversity:

  • Valuing all employees, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or any other characteristic which makes them different is essential in achieving job satisfaction and employee engagement, and this will ultimately affect profitability: It is a well known concept that ‘happy employees equal productive employees’  
  • Competitive edge can be achieved through diversity – if employees are satisfied at work in the knowledge that their contributions are respected by their colleagues and management, they are more likely to provide innovative approaches which set their organisation apart
  • Corporate social responsibility is fast becoming a key area of business development, and is not just about environmentally sound policies.   CSR relates to the overall image of an organisation and how it is perceived by both it’s clients and the local community, so diversity is a consideration which organisations should be careful not to overlook in this respect

Further Information & Support

French Duncan HR Services have experience in supporting organisations in promoting equality in the workplace, through developing policies and procedures, providing equality awareness sessions and line manager training.

If you would like further information on this, or other aspects of managing the employment life cycle, French Duncan HR Services would be delighted to assist you. Please contact Louise McCosh on 0141 221 2984 or email l.mccosh@fdhrservicesco.uk to arrange a free consultation.

Louise McCosh

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