All in the mix

Diversity is one of the big buzz words being bandied about in the corporate world today, but is the level of interest matched by investment in training and development?

Most employers are only doing the minimum necessary to meet the legal requirements on diversity.

“My over-arching observation is there is not enough training except for on a compliance level,” says Dianah Worman, diversity adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “That is not going to help us move the issue forward in the way that’s needed.”

The trouble with this minimalist approach is that it defines diversity in terms that are merely reactive – a response to prescriptive points in the legislation – and negative, to boot.

“In fact, you could make people fearful of what they can and can’t do and become preoccupied with political correctness,” says Worman. “What organisations need to do now is get their heads around what diversity means in the broader sense.”

The CIPD is about to publish its own revamped concept of diversity, last issued in the mid-1990s. It will aim to move beyond compliance issues of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation and religion – all of which are covered by law – and age, for which an EU directive requires legislation to be put in place in the UK in 2006. Instead, diversity as a concept should include broader issues of difference, such as pay, values and functions, as well as practices such as flexible working and work-life balance, says Worman.

She emphasises that training is fundamental to getting people to understand these issues.

“The training function can enable more consideration of how you face up to the challenges going on in the organisation,” Worman says. “First you need it to turn the lights on and get people to change mindsets, and then support them in changing and updating the existing processes.”


As with all learning and development, buy-in from senior management is essential to success, but middle managers are equally critical, for they are the exponents of behaviours, and play a pivotal role in changing the mindsets of the people reporting to them. Not surprisingly, organisations at the progressive end of the spectrum on diversity are particularly focusing training efforts on line managers.

Since last year, the University of Reading has been implementing a new initiative to broaden out the relevance of diversity to all existing staff, particularly managers. It is also taking a completely fresh approach to training, which – despite being critical in terms of the compliance issues at stake – is all too often delivered in an uninspiring manner, according to Justin Hutchence, project officer for the staff training and development centre.

External provider Steps Drama delivered the programme, which involved actors role-playing different discrimination situations, and ‘freeze-framing’ the action when sticking points would arise. The participants then have the opportunity to make suggestions, which the actors enact.

“The sense of freedom [drama] gives is unusual for training sessions, particularly in an area where people feel they must be politically correct,” says Hutchence. “Role play can be difficult, but with this particular approach, you simply give instructions to the actors, which isn’t intimidating.”

With the awareness-building phase of training completed, the university is now running a series of sessions with Steps Drama to spread good practice throughout the organisation. Attendees at this level are ‘champions’ in individual departments who are being equipped with the latest legal requirements particularly relevant to the university, including dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Beyond legislation, external forces such as the available talent pool and changing demographics are pushing a growing number of employers to become bolder in the design of their diversity strategies.

Sarah Veale, the TUC’s head of equality and employment rights, says: “If they don’t take note of diversity in this day and age, then they won’t be an employer of choice. And at a time when the labour market is tight, they’d be missing a trick.”

For global financial services company ING, diversity means reflecting its customer base in its management and staff so the company is better positioned to understand customer needs and make the most of the talent pool available.

“Research shows a diverse team is much more innovative and creative in dealing with organisational complexity,” says Lideweij Bakker, leadership development and training manager for ING UK. “We want to attract, retain and develop all our talent, because the demand for talent is becoming greater than the talent available. Excluding certain people will affect the bottom line.

“We also feel that a culture where people feel more valued makes them more motivated, which impacts customer interaction,” Bakker adds.

The push for the diversity agenda at ING began with senior management at global level, with a diversity council in place to steer progress, and a directive from the [previous] CEO requiring managers down the line to include diversity goals in their strategy. Such a strong message coming from the top is essential for initiatives at local level to be effective, says Bakker, an advocate of the benefits of diversity drama workshops. Some 1,000 staff in ING’s wholesale banking operation in the UK have attended sessions on raising awareness of the business case as well as compliance issues regarding diversity.

“It’s much more engaging and interactive than PowerPoint slides,” she says. “It sticks in people’s minds.”

Bakker is now considering implementing local employee diversity networks in addition to the global ones already in place. She favours a top-down approach to diversity.

“Get it into the company strategy – don’t do lots of ad hoc things,” she says. “Try to make management responsible, and work your way down. Supporting it with local initiatives such as employee networks or training really helps.”

There is hard evidence to back up the business case for diversity, says Stephen Frost, manager of Stonewall’s diversity champions programme – a forum that facilitates the sharing of best practice among employers on improving the workplace environment for gay and lesbian staff.

“Research shows that gay staff have higher brand loyalty and can be 30% more productive if they’re ‘out’ [in the workplace],” says Frost. “The rationale is that people work better when they can be themselves.”


In the public sector, the business case for diversity is all about delivery of services, and legislation on race and disability places the “duty to promote” diversity on public authorities. At Cambridge City Council, good practice is being extended to all areas of diversity.

Sigrid Fisher, equalities strategy officer, says: “The duty to promote is not just case law, but how well you understand your communities and to what extent you are changing your services to take that on board – that’s the angle we come from. It’s not about what you’re doing wrong, but what you’re doing right.”

Understanding diversity training in terms of compliance is dated, says Fisher. “Diversity is much more about embracing cultural difference and recognising everyone as individuals. It’s much more attitudinal.”

This approach means diversity training is not done in isolation, and Cambridge has started revamping its other learning programmes to bring in the diversity angle, such as customer services.

“In the past, raising awareness was about trying to change people’s hearts and minds on race, gender and disability,” says Fisher. “People left the training personally challenged, but unsure of how to relate it back to the job the next day.

“What we need to be doing [with training] is [focusing on] behaviours and services. We need to say what is and is not acceptable, and in terms of services, what’s needed to deliver them in an equal way.”

Compliance: the facts

Current law requires employers to be able to prove they take all reasonable steps to prevent staff from discriminating against each another on the grounds of gender, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marital status, race, religion and belief and disability, says Cherry Livesey, employment partner at Hammonds.

“Tribunals will look at how the policy has been adopted and implemented, such as how it was communicated, and whether training was given to people operating that policy. There have been cases where training has taken place, but was deemed inadequate. Just having it is no guarantee you’ll be home and dry.”

Best practice is much more than a session on an induction programme, says Livesey. “The most successful companies have developed sophisticated packages where people are constantly going through the training and being reminded of the issues. The whole point of it is to get under people’s skin,” she says.

Case study: mentoring works

A pilot project among housing associations in the East of the UK is using mentoring to break down barriers to career progression for under-represented groups working in the affordable housing sector.

Stephanie Doylend, chair of the steering group for EDGE (Equality and Diversity Group East) Forward, says: “It may be they need help with career progression, moving to an alternative career or just help building confidence in their organisation.”

The housing associations will put forward candidates to participate in the scheme. Mentors will be voluntary, and it’s hoped they will come from the private as well as public sector. A series of masterclasses will be held in which all the participants and mentors can share their experiences.

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