Diversity needs worker support

With several pieces of new legislation in the pipeline, Colin Hann, looks at
how equality is becoming more important for many organisations

Diversity, equality, equal opportunities – or whatever you choose to call it
– is increasingly on organisations’ agendas.

One driver is the raft of new legislation that will soon be in the statute
books on age, sexual orientation and religion. Another is the demanding nature
of existing race and disability legislation. The Race Relations Amendment Act
(RRAA) is one of the strongest pieces of equality legislation in the world.

Furthermore, the reputations of prestigious global companies are suffering
with a spate of high profile cases for sex discrimination in the City.

It means organisations are looking at the issue of diversity afresh. Public
authorities have no choice if they are to meet their obligations under the
RRAA. The private sector, also driven by compliance considerations, is
increasingly recognising the importance of diversity as a factor in business
performance. For example, a recent study by Schneider Ross shows that 80 per
cent of companies contacted felt there was a strong link between good diversity
practice and overall business performance (Analysis, 16 July).

But what does this mean for the average worker? While there are more vision
statements on notice boards, most staff will not have a clue about their

Senior management in global companies can be knowledgeable and sophisticated
about the concepts and vision of diversity. They see it as an important cutting
edge part of their approach to corporate and social responsibility and giving
added value to the image of the business. They may have attended specialist
courses and even discovered ’emotional intelligence’.

However, they often fail to consider how such a diversity approach can be
delivered down the line. Hard-pressed plant managers, for example, with exacting
targets to meet cannot see the relevance of the diversity to the day-to-day
challenge of delivery of outputs.

In one large international company, for example, despite a three-year
diversity campaign and strategy being in place, staff on the shop-floor did not
even know what diversity meant, let alone what it leads to in practice.

The public sector is no different. Increasingly equality issues are a part
of regulatory regimes. For example, equality may be reflected in Best Value
plans and detailed performance indicators, which appear in glossy brochures.
This is fine but staff and the general public have been forgotten. Staff are
not involved despite being expected to deliver the outcomes.

So, how do organisations translate their vision into day-to-day activity?
Staff need to feel some ownership of this diversity ‘thing’.

Unsurprisingly, there are no pat answers. An important factor is that staff
need to feel empathy for diversity. They need to understand it and their roles
and responsibilities within it. Equality needs to be integrated into all parts
of a business. The approach needs to be consistent and comprehensive, not
piecemeal and long-winded.

Effective leadership is essential, and so is communication. Detailed
equality policies and procedures need to be summarised in user-friendly

The arguments for diversity need to be considered and understood by
managers. They need to be able to sell the concept using arguments ranging from
compliance to the business benefits, and the social and moral imperatives.

Training is also important. Staff need time to explore the issues, consider
their own prejudices, and understand the law and their business

Finally, when measuring progress it is essential to recognise that it is
more than winning awards or ticking government performance measurements. It
needs to be something which is integrated throughout a company at all levels,
and failure to do this renders it a waste of time.

By Colin Hann, the head of Managing Diversity Associates and co-author of
the Discrimination and Diversity Information Service recently launched by Gee

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