Diversity is one of the big buzz words being bandied about in the corporate world today, but is the level of interest matched by investment in training and development?
Most employers are only doing the minimum necessary to meet the legal requirements on diversity.
"My over-arching observation is there is not enough training except for on a compliance level," says Dianah Worman, diversity adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). "That is not going to help us move the issue forward in the way that's needed."
The trouble with this minimalist approach is that it defines diversity in terms that are merely reactive - a response to prescriptive points in the legislation - and negative, to boot.
"In fact, you could make people fearful of what they can and can't do and become preoccupied with political correctness," says Worman. "What organisations need to do now is get their heads around what diversity means in the broader sense."
The CIPD is about to publish its own revamped concept of diversity, last issued in the mid-1990s. It will aim to move beyond compliance issues of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation and religion - all of which are covered by law - and age, for which an EU directive requires legislation to be put in place in the UK in 2006. Instead, diversity as a concept should include broader issues of difference, such as pay, values and functions, as well as practices such as flexible working and work-life balance, says Worman.
She emphasises that training is fundamental to getting people to understand these issues.
"The training function can enable more consideration of how you face up to the challenges going on in the organisation," Worman says. "First you need it to turn the lights on and get people to change mindsets, and then support them in changing and updating the existing processes."
As with all learning and development, buy-in from senior management is essential to success, but middle managers are equally critical, for they are the exponents of behaviours, and play a pivotal role in changing the mindsets of the people reporting to them. Not surprisingly, organisations at the progressive end of the spectrum on diversity are particularly focusing training efforts on line managers.
Since last year, the University of Reading has been implementing a new initiative to broaden out the relevance of diversity