Diversity training – should you bother?

It may often be viewed as one of the so-called ‘tick box’ topics that HR rolls out as a matter of course, but equality and diversity training can easily come back to bite apathetic employers. The potentially damaging effects of an employment tribunal – which can include hefty financial penalties (awards for discrimination are uncapped) and a potentially damaging loss of reputation – put diversity squarely in the mission-critical category.

Even so, it’s usually one of the first programmes to get the chop when budgets are being cut, says Karen Sadler, a diversity consultant at Academee, which offers bespoke blended training and consultancy services.

Any nonchalance appears ill-advised, however, because in addition to the six strands of legislation pertaining to diversity – race and ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion and belief, age – Sadler says employers are also expected to recognise other forms of discrimination and harassment that typically relate to body image.

This point was illustrated in 2007 when a 41-year-old waitress from Plymouth was awarded £17,618 in compensation for the harassment she suffered as a result of having ginger hair.

While news of such payouts gets ­people talking, Linda Bellos, director of UK Diversity Solutions Consultancy, which offers blended, online and face-to-face training, emphasises that the real cost of discrimination is not the litigation. She says the loss of productivity for all the parties involved in cases, as well as the months of internal hearings, appeals, and briefing solicitors can be more significant, and adds that some managers are spending more than 10% of their time dealing with allegations of discrimination.

Diversity training should also be designed with the business firmly in mind, as opposed to focusing on a dry mix of rules and regulations, according to Neil Hinwood, UK director of diversity training provider CrossKnowledge. He says diversity training is most effective when designed as a blend, with online or paper-based regulatory information complemented by interactive classroom time.

He claims the use of e-learning ahead of face-to-face training enables firms to save time, money (he estimates that e-learning constitutes a saving of between 33% and 66% on classroom rates) and helps ensure delegates arrive with similar levels of knowledge.

While compliance is a key consideration for many companies, Bellos says training should not be about inflicting views on candidates. “The aim of diversity training is to empower people to understand what the law is and comply with it.”

Alyson Malach, director of Equality and Diversity UK, which has been working with Arsenal Football Club on diversity issues for the past two years, agrees. “Diversity training is about recognising that the context you work with is very different to the way you live and play,” she says, “because what you think and feel there is your business.”

While the core content of Academee’s bespoke and blended diversity training will be the same for every employee, Sadler says first-line, second-line and executive and senior managers all receive additional, tailored training on top of the e-learning and classroom blend. Prices are also subject to negotiation.

Equality & Diversity UK’s half and one-day packages cost £400 and £650 respectively and comprise face-to-face training, DVDs, study packs and case studies. The company also provides e-learning.

Post-impact assessments

While opinions differ when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of diversity training, assessments typically take the form of post-impact questionnaires or exams that assess knowledge. The Diversity Solutions package includes online surveys and evaluations that include encrypted questions to preserve employee confidentiality.

Bellos says this provides employers with key information about diversity in their company, as well as enabling them to evaluate knowledge levels. Academee offers an equality and diversity audit that Sadler says many companies run before learning to identify key themes or issues that need to be addressed, in addition to identifying existing good practice that they may be able to learn from. “Often, organisations are doing good work that can be linked to diversity, but the link or relevance isn’t made,” she explains.

IEDP launch date

The Institute for Equality & Diversity Practitioners is due to launch on 26 January. It aims to promote, maintain and regulate practice and standards in equality, diversity and human rights. For more information go to www.iedp.org.uk

Ufi, the organisation behind Learndirect, operated a Single Equality Scheme to anticipate and address its diversity requirements, but wanted a bespoke learning programme that would support it and develop an inclusive culture. It appointed Academee to create a programme for its leadership group and equality and diversity champions.

Each group has about 30 members. Academee devised a two-day workshop combining knowledge-based and interactive activities to develop communication and conflict-handling skills. The workshop also focused on helping the champions to raise awareness of equality and diversity across the organisation. Academee also facilitated a workshop session for the board and went on to support Ufi in the production of its first annual report on equality and diversity. Academee has also designed and delivered impact assessment learning as part of the Equality Impact Process. Ufi’s induction training has also been revised. Training began in June 2007 and is ongoing.

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