Equality and diversity issues at work have attracted considerable press attention recently. We have seen reports of sexual harassment at the men-only Presidents’ Club, and six highly-paid male broadcasters have taken a reduction in salary to redress the gender pay imbalance at the BBC. These are undoubtedly high profile cases, and show the reputational risk of inequality in the workplace. On a more positive note, diversity signals competitive advantage; organisations with greater ethnic and gender diversity at board level and across the workforce report above average profitability (full article).
But what does this all mean for you in your search for meaningful work? This article explores some of the key concepts in equality and diversity, and shows some of the initiatives that proactive employers will have in place to ensure that all employees are supported to participate, develop and progress in an inclusive environment.
First, it’s important to clarify the legal situation. The Equality Act 2010 (more details) legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of:
- being, or becoming, a transsexual person
- being married or in a civil partnership
- being pregnant or on maternity leave
- race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
- religion, belief or lack of religion/belief
- sexual orientation
Employers will have policies and procedures in place to protect employees from discrimination and provide recourse for those who believe they have been treated unfairly. Any organisation can express its commitment to equality and diversity, but the rhetoric and the reality need to be in alignment. Employers who demonstrate a proactive approach to equality and diversity in the workplace will ensure that their systems, processes and culture are equitable, so that employees can be their most empowered, authentic and talented selves at work. There are a multitude of examples of proactive approaches to equality and diversity in the workplace. Consider the following examples:
- The visual and physical landscape: do buildings and facilities meet access requirements and are they easily navigable? How do images of the workplace (on site, websites, publications) speak to the aspiration of a representative workforce?
- Charters, accreditation and indexes: Stonewall (LGBTQ), Working Families, Disability Confident, Athena SWAN (gender in higher education), the NHS Workplace Race Equality Standard. Employers need to devote time and resource to meeting the requirements of external organisations, which demonstrates their commitment.
- Returner programmes and internships (especially in science and technology): these provide a valuable opportunity for anyone who has had time away from the workplace, due to caring responsibilities or illness, for example, to refresh their skills and seek meaningful work.
- Case studies of flexible working: part time, compressed hours, remote working, phased return from parental leave, making the transition from part time back to full time. Employers who are creative and flexible about how and where work is done will be able to harness the talents of a more diverse workforce.
- Diversity champions and staff advocacy networks: consultation and engagement allow members of under-represented groups to share a supportive environment, and provide mechanisms for views to be communicated in a structured way.
- Publication of diversity strategies and data: making this information public allows current and future employees to hold organisations to account for progress against objectives, and contribute to their ongoing fulfilment.
- Commitment to ongoing professional development: a full range of learning opportunities, both formal and informal, that relate to individual and organisational effectiveness, knowledge sharing, problem solving and innovation.
- Case studies of career development and promotion: promotion and progression requires employees and managers alike to articulate, evidence and reward high-performing individuals. Look at the composition of the board, the leadership teams and the representativeness of the workforce – do they reflect a diverse group of individuals? What evidence is there of promoting part time staff? Are there sponsorship programmes for BME or disabled members of staff? Can you see yourself progressing?
This list is not exhaustive, but provides a solid start for you to think about an organisation’s equality and diversity credentials. Finally, think about this: if you were asked at an interview how you would contribute to equality and diversity at work, how would you answer?
This article is designed for you consider a new employer but it is all highly relevant to the one in which you currently employed.
Dr Naomi Irvine specialises in helping individuals to find their voice in complex organisations, focusing on gender empowerment, courageous conversations, personal effectiveness, leadership development, coaching and mentoring.