Breaking down the barriers

New laws and business pressures mean
that organisations must attend to diversity issues. Elaine Essery looks at a
pan-European project that helps to get the relevant training off to a flying
start

As managing diversity moves higher
up the list of priorities at many organisations, an ambitious new project seeks
to turn the rhetoric into reality.

Sheffield Hallam University Business
School has secured funding from the European Commission to develop a Diversity
Enabling Framework in partnership with organisations in Italy, Spain and
Sweden.

The year-long project aims to
produce a practical toolkit to help employers tackle diversity by drawing on
current good practice and sharing the knowledge and experiences of
transnational partners. It seeks to build a consensus on how to tackle common
problems within the European Union, whilst promoting cumulative learning.

The initiative is the brainchild of
Dr Nav Khera, an expert in managing diversity and consultant to the European
Commission who served on both the Euro- pean anti-discrimination directives
adopted in the last year within the Amsterdam Treaty.

Khera is passionate about the need
for social inclusion and about empowering organisations to manage diversity.
“If you want to enforce anti-discrimination laws you’ve got to start pooling
knowledge and action,” he says.

“Many organisations are in a deficit
model not because of sinister designs on exclusion, but because they simply
don’t know what to do. I want to teach organisations to fish, not just give them
a fish.”

Massive distinction

Khera wants to see the term
“managing diversity” used as common parlance and is keen to distinguish it from
equal opportunities. “The distinction is a massive one,” he stresses.

“Equal opportunities is about
letting people in, but managing diversity is about what you do with them once
you’ve let them in.”

“Basically, it’s about getting from
our employees the best they’ve got to offer and, if we do it well, giving them
the best we have to offer. That’s the definition of good management.”

The project will take an
across-the-board or “horizontal” approach, looking principally at race,
disability, age and sexual orientation in a bid to combat discrimination on
different grounds.

Sheffield-based project leader,
Jacqui Yates, explains, “We need to recognise that things don’t happen in
pigeon holes. People are sometimes badly treated for a number of reasons. They
don’t always get discriminated against because they’re black, for example: it’s
much more complex and holistic.”

The project is needed because
cosmetic approaches have not worked, says Yates. “A lot of organisations claim
to be committed to equal opportunities and have policies and glossy documents.”

Issues not addressed

“But whether that translates into
the way people are recruited, trained and managed, the way the organisation
works with its customers and evaluates what it does in the area of managing
diversity – all those issues are not addressed,” she says.

Her view is borne out by the
findings of a recent survey carried out by the Industrial Society.

Two out of three respondents said
that diversity was a high priority and 77 per cent expect it to become even
more important to their organisation over the next couple of years.

But the survey showed that less than
half had relevant strategies in place. Falling foul of the law is just one of
the damaging effects of failing to match good intentions with commitment in
practice.

Over 40 per cent of respondents said
they had been involved in tribunal cases regarding diversity/equality issues.
Increasing legislation and regulation is one of the drivers which will prompt
action.

Diana Worman is diversity adviser
with the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development and is involved with
the Sheffield Hallam project. She says, “Most people will only start to think
about the issues if they’ve got pressure to make them do that.

“There’s a lot more legislation
coming out of Europe, in particular in the field of human rights, and we’re
waiting to see what the impact of that will be.”

Looking out for law

“Because there’s so much regulation
around, the challenge to HR is to think, ‘What is around? What law can I be
caught out by?’ and so on.”

There is also a sound business case.
Because organisations are now operating in a very competitive global
marketplace, they are having to look for new ways and new solutions to the
challenges of dealing with the world the way it is.

And it is a world that is changing
more quickly than we might appreciate, with intensive travel, improved communications
technology, demographic changes and different social expectations all impacting
on the business environment.

“The war for talent and new
resourcing practices will force more HR activity,” Worman believes.

“There are a lot of arguments about
the business case – and what competitors are doing and why they are real movers
for systemic change.

“The more people understand the
various levers, the more they’re likely to make the waves that need to happen,
because it’s all about change management.”

There is a clear need to get the
diversity message out of the HR box. Respondents to the Industrial Society
survey said that the attitude of line managers (42 per cent) and business
pressures on line managers (41 per cent) were among the main barriers to
achieving progress in diversity.

Understanding relevance

“How you influence and help the line
to understand why it’s relevant to what they’re doing is very hard because HR
people have been grappling to get things right in their own area of
responsibility,” says Worman.

“It’s a question of trying to get as
many people as possible to understand more of the issues.”

The starting point for the partners,
led by Sheffield Hallam, is to find out what has been done in other
organisations and other cities, draw it together and put it into a format that
is manageable and accessible.

A comprehensive modularised toolkit
will be the result, which people can use to meet their own needs.

“The Diversity Enabling Framework
won’t be a prescription of what you ought to do,” says Yates. “It will be some
options, some ways of thinking, some schemes that others have used that people
might find useful and prompt them to think about their own organisation – how
it interacts with the community and how it treats its staff.”

That way the important principle of
subsidiarity within the EU will be maintained, whereby member states will
continue to have their own say and adapt things in a local context.

Initially the toolkit will be used
by the people involved in the project. They will be trained in its use by staff
at Sheffield Hallam so that they can act as change agents by training trainers
how to implement it in other organisations.

But its impact will become much
greater. In December Sheffield Hallam will present its final report on the
project to Brussels.

Rolling out framework

The university will then focus on
rolling out the framework within Britain and will work with the CIPD in
promoting its use among HR and training professionals.

Transnational partners will do the
same in their countries, as it is to be translated into Italian, Spanish and
Swedish.

Longer term, Yates wants to see it
developed as a dynamic resource for a wider population. “I would see it as
something which gradually keeps evolving as things go out of date and new ideas
come in,” she says.

Use of a “diversity” symbol is
proposed for those organisations that participate in the Diversity Enabling
Framework, though the project leaders and management board have yet to work out
the detail of how such a kitemark would be awarded.

Committed to the concept

“To have a kitemark would
demonstrate that an organisation was committed to the concept behind the
framework and was taking forward its plans to implement it,” Yates explains.

“It will be an important signal to
employees and customers, so I think it’s going to be an attractive thing for
organisations to have.”

Sheffield City Council leader, Peter
Moore, agrees. “If you can put the logo on your headed notepaper it’s like IIP
– it shows that you’re a good, forward-thinking employer. These sort of things
always add value to a business.”

Since diversity is an inclusive
concept, active involvement of stakeholders, including those groups affected by
discrimination, is key to the management of the project.

Two major employers in the area –
Sheffield City Council and Central Sheffield Universities Hospital Trust – are
participants.

So are bodies such as the Black
Community Forum and the Council’s Disability Consultative Committee.

Christine Barton is part of that committee.
“We want to ensure that whatever enabling framework is produced it’s one that
disabled people can sign up to.

“In the timescale we hope that the
initiative will bring best practice to people’s perspective across a fairly
wide audience and, what’s more, it will be good practice that we – disabled
people – have identified,” Barton said.

The transnational aspect of the
project is of great interest to Barton. “There are enormous differences in
perspectives across Europe, particularly between somewhere like Sweden and
somewhere like Italy and that’s a debate that needs to be entered into,” she
says.

Starting debate

“Perhaps another outcome of this
project would be that it allows us to some extent to start that debate.”

Participating employers see a range
of benefits from the project, both in terms of their staff and the wider
community.

“We already do a lot of training in
equal opportunities, but recognise that we still have a long way to go. The
toolkit could be the way in which we achieve our aim of raising awareness of
diversity issues throughout the whole organisation,” says senior personnel
manager at Central Sheffield Universities Hospital Trust John Friend.

“One of the main benefits we want to
see is better recruitment and retention which is a problem with particular
staff groups.

“Other benefits are a little less
tangible. They’re about being an even better employer and fitting in right with
the local community.”

Moore believes that having the
toolkit to help tackle diversity within the organisation has to be of benefit
to the council as an employer of 19,000 people.

Carrot to employers

But its chief benefit is acting as a
carrot to the potential new employers and investors Sheffield is trying to
attract. “It’s another string to our bow,” he says. “We will be able to give
them the means to tackle diversity – because the legislation is there that
needs to be adhered to.

“Most employers want to be equal
opportunity employers and it’s one more good thing we can offer potential
employers and investors in the City.”

The road to managing diversity is a
long one, but the journey is essential for business growth. “We have to learn
better that it doesn’t matter what a person looks like or acts like,” says
Khera.

“More important is how they deliver
the job outcomes necessary to achieve the organisation’s goals.

“Imperative to progress is that we
understand that neither our staff nor our customers are homogeneous in any
conceivable way.”

Khera does not underestimate the enormity
of the challenge and how it can overwhelm employers.

His message to them is reassuring:
“Help is at hand. Here’s what we’re giving you and we’re teaching you how to
use it.

“You can integrate this into your
own practices and it will help you manage your business better.”

This article reflects the author’s
views. The European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of
the information contained herein

Managing
diversity

The business benefits are:

– Attracting and retaining the best people

– Maximising employee contribution

– Boosting morale

– Reducing absenteeism

– Complying with EU legislation such
as the Human rights Act and the directive on Race which has to be implemented
by 2003

– Avoiding legal costs

– Enhancing company image

– Improving customer relations

– Accessing new markets

– Increasing competitiveness

Managing
diversity – the Swedish view

Diversity is high on the political
agenda in Sweden, according to Gunilla Jansson, development manager with the Fire
Brigade in Malmö, one of the transnational partners.

“About 40 per cent of the population
in Malmö is from abroad. There’s a lot of social discussion and problems about
immigration, so the project is particularly relevant to our city,” says
Jansson.

She sees the need for the workforce
to reflect the diversity of the population. “When you’re used to working with a
particular kind of people, you have to look around you and see that there are
other groups of people you can work with.

“We need those people in our
organisations who can talk to, inform and educate others,” she says.

“A project like this is interesting
because it can open your eyes to things you need to do. It gives us an
opportunity to discuss with other countries and share knowledge – it’s a
learning experience.”

Jansson says the project partners
will be able to learn something about equality in the workplace from Sweden,
especially from her own organisation.

“The fire brigade here in Malmö is
very good at training and education and that’s why this project is very
interesting because it concentrates on training. I think we can give you
something there,” she adds.

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