Testing diversity

Diversity is a business issue which affects every organisation. Not only is there a raft of legislation to protect individuals from being discriminated against on the grounds of disability, sex, race and religious belief, but many organisations have become proactive in creating a diverse workforce to give them access to a wider talent pool. This enables organisations to select the best people for their organisation, and opens the business to an increased customer base. So where does the issue fit when it comes to the assessment and development of talent?

Legal compliance

The minimum standards to which all companies must adhere are set out in various anti-discriminatory legislation. Most recently, The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 have been introduced alongside the final part of the Disability Discrimination Act and others (see the DTI’s website at www.dti.gov.uk/er/equality). The legislation covers all aspects of working life, but selection, recruitment and promotion are key areas where discrimination can become apparent and where decisions are made which directly affect the diversity of the workforce.


Do not underestimate perception. Before addressing assessment and development techniques, organisations should ensure all messages received by internal staff and external customers (and potential staff) portray the company as being diverse and welcoming of diversity. The impact of negative stories, such as the Ford worker’s photo controversy and image problems within the Police, can be severe.

“It’s very much a mindset,” says Roger Tweedy, head of diversity at the Blue Arrow recruitment agency. “You can have the best processes and toolkits around, but unless your people have bought into the concept and value of diversity, it won’t work.” Assessment and development, like every other activity, must be driven by a clearly stated and implemented diversity policy.


Kevin Kerrigan, managing director of workforce solution specialists SHL, explains that tools and approaches such as those used by SHL consultants and appropriately trained HR practitioners are designed and evaluated to ensure there is no bias present in each assessment.

“In some cases assessment can take place by telephone, thereby removing even the visual bias an assessor may have,” he says. He also notes that even when a test focuses purely on a person’s ability, there should be an awareness of how issues such as age may influence a person’s performance.

Awareness into action

Gill Craven, head of HR at the University for Industry (UFI), says: “Rather than assessing people to find out their values, we ask how they have delivered on their equality and diversity objectives.”

This means all personnel have to demonstrate how they are contributing to the equality and diversity agenda in their everyday jobs. Failure to do so can result in the withholding or reduction of pay awards.

“Someone came to me and said they didn’t think the diversity objective applied to them because in their job they dealt with the board of directors,” says Craven. “However, we discussed how a diverse board could be created and supported, and put in place objectives to achieve that.”

The UFI has also undertaken specific diversity training initiatives to engage staff with the issue. As part of its ‘Learning at Work Week’ activities, some staff learned basic sign language, while others were given the opportunity to experience what it was like to have a visual impairment. With a remit that includes supporting the Learndirect brand, UFI now has a workforce that mirrors the ethnic diversity of the UK.

Diversity and competence

When it comes to assessment and development, the best way to embed the concept of diversity is to make it a recognised management competency – something the organisation actively measures, rewards and develops.

“People may understand the issues which surround diversity, but they don’t always realise when they need to change their behaviour to account for diversity,” says Binna Kandola, of occupational psychologists Pearn Kandola. “Assessment and development are ways of exposing everyone to this particular competence. It’s a step change to take it from something you want people to be aware of to something you recognise as being critical to the future success of your organisation.” 

Learning points for HR

– Create champions throughout the organisation who are dedicated to supporting and encouraging diversity

– Ensure they exist in all parts of the organisation

– Ensure all assessment exercises, assessment forms and developmental activities conform to your diversity agenda

– Use diversity assessors/trainers to reinforce the message and ensure they have been trained to be aware of bias and stereotyping

– Introduce training/awareness initiatives specifically to address diversity and to challenge preconceptions

– Create partnerships and associations with groups such as the Employer’s Forum for Age and/or for Disability. Share and contribute to industry best practice

– Use internal and external communications to celebrate diversity within the workplace and customer base.

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