Business case for diversity beyond question

Race for Opportunity (RfO) recently published its annual benchmarking report and it paints an encouraging picture of racial diversity in the workplace.

Eighty-five members of the RfO campaign, with a combined workforce of 1.6 million, contributed to the research. Those taking part reported year-on-year growth in the commitment to the race equality agenda and have shared some great examples of innovation and ideas that can make a real impact.

The proposals in the Equality Bill demonstrate that the government and businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the changing environment in which they operate, and the need to adapt their workforce to reflect this.

However, the UK is still faced with an enormous challenge as ethnic minorities are still 15% more likely to be unemployed than white people. That gap is just 1.3% smaller than it was 20 years ago.

Action, not discrimination

I wholeheartedly support positive action on racial diversity which is one of the key recommendations of the Equality Bill. This is a notion quite distinct from positive discrimination, so I was surprised by the negative reactions to the proposals, in particular, the misunderstanding of the phrase. What the Bill outlines is a working culture of transparency, ensuring that when two candidates are of equal competency, businesses are allowed to recruit the candidate from an under-represented group and clearly communicate the reasons.

Encouragingly, the RfO report revealed that many of our members were already reworking their recruitment and retention strategies to make workforces more reflective of national and local populations. Companies such as Ernst and Young, Lloyds TSB and BT are all investing time and money in providing bias training for those involved in recruitment and development, a practice RfO would like to see replicated more widely.

While measures such as workforce profiles and internal training are invaluable tools for promoting diversity throughout the workplace, the key factor in bringing about cultural change within an organisation is leadership from the top.

There is a growing trend among organisations of appointing a race or diversity champion at board level to promote and drive the message forward. In fact, 94% of those benchmarked in 2008 have made this kind of appointment, compared to 83% in 2001, the first year the survey was run.

Lloyds TSB, which topped our list of overall performers this year, believes there has to be positive leadership from the top of the organisation. The group chief executive committee and board members all demonstrate their commitment to race by having specific accountabilities.

Other positive themes to come out of this year’s study were an increase in talent-spotting and mentoring which actively focuses on retaining staff. Many leading employers, such as Shell and the Department for Work and Pensions, are introducing mentoring circles where one leader runs events with a group of employees.

One key trend that we have measured since 2001 is the establishment of a business case for race diversity. In 2001 only 38% of member organisations had a clear business case. This has grown to 92% in 2008 and is proving to be the most effective way to engage senior leaders and get their buy-in. This figure is not surprising, as it is expected that by 2010 ethnic minority spending power will reach £300bn.

Room at the top

A key future focus for RfO will be encouraging businesses to monitor and communicate their workforce profiles honestyly. We believe these profiles should be linked to census data to ensure fair representation from all groups of either gender or race.

However, despite an increase in the number of ethnic minorities recruited to low level positions within companies, the most striking issue remains their absence from senior management and board positions. RfO will continue to champion positive action on racial diversity, but particular emphasis needs to be placed on tackling this glass ceiling.




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