Best Behaviour

is one thing to have a diversity policy but another to ensure it is correctly
observed. Heather Falconer looks at suitable training methods to ensure its
subtletiesare understood by employees

employee goes on holiday to Africa. He sends a postcard to colleagues back in
the office – it features bare-breasted black South African women, and on the
back is written ‘South Africa’s answer to Mayfair’. On its routine circulation
round the office, it lands on the desk of a black colleague, who takes offence.
He brings a claim of racial harassment against his employer – and wins.

case highlights that employers are liable for a wide range of inappropriate
acts and behaviour on the part of employees, unless they can show they have
taken all reasonable steps to prevent it.

a diversity policy in place will not meet that burden of proof – the employer
in this case, Kent Constabulary, had such a policy, but the officer who sent
the postcard said he hadn’t seen it. The fact is diversity policies will no
longer stand up in court unless they are communicated to staff and followed up
with training.

Joanna Blackburn, employment law partner at Mishcon de Reya: "Where many
companies still fall down in employment tribunals is in being unable to show
they have put otherwise good equal opportunities policies into practice."

diversity training will not only help to stop complaints arising in the first
place, but will be significant in helping employers defend claims.

tribunal is far less likely to be impressed by a manager with no real
understanding of discrimination laws than one who has been properly
trained," Blackburn says.

becomes increasingly important as discrimination law grows in both breadth and
complexity. According to conciliation service Acas, discrimination complaints
to tribunals increased from 14,543 in 1999-2000 to 17,657 in 2000-01.

December, the Government issued an equality consultation paper putting forward
its plans to outlaw discrimination on grounds of religion, age and sexual
orientation by 2003.

perhaps even greater significance is the new Race Relations Amendment Act,
which for the first time imposes a legal duty on public sector organisations
not just to prevent discrimination but to actively promote diversity.

the business case for promoting diversity is much wider than the need to comply
with the law. The ‘war for talent’ and the need to show corporate social
responsibility are strong motivators. But according to Pamela Elmes, associate
director of global diversity at City firm Barclays Capital: "Litigation is
the biggest driver for managing diversity in the UK." She cites many
others: globalisation, consumer power and competition for talent to name a few.

on legal compliance is a dangerous game, warns Robin Schneider, managing
director of diversity consultant Schneider Ross: "Such a mindset drives
behaviour underground as opposed to facing it and tackling it," he says.

don’t think the kind of route that has been taken in the US, where people
cannot crack a joke would fit well with British culture."

it is at the level of cracking jokes – along with engaging in banter, passing
saucy e-mails, making personal comments and other office ‘pastimes’ once
regarded as trivial – that employers need to focus their attention if they are
to avoid damage to their purses and their reputations.

is worth remembering how easy it is for employees to break the law. They need
not have any intention of harassing anyone; they need not even have anyone specific
in mind. But if through remarks, jokes, comments or banter they cause offence
to someone they work with, the employer could be liable. It doesn’t matter of
they perceive the behaviour as harmless fun – harassment is in the eye of the

legal profession has been quick to exploit these trends by offering an array of
seminars and training days outlining the law and helping employers understand
the issues. According to Martin Edwards, head of employment law at North West
law firm Mace & Jones: "The level of interest among an increasingly
wide range of employers, generally led by HR, is quite strikingly higher than
it was two or three years ago."

a key objective for training and development specialists is to put in place
programmes that will challenge and, crucially, change the ingrained behaviours
and attitudes that make employees who are not young, male and anglo-saxon feel
intimidated or oppressed in the workplace, or even in the pub after hours.

this change cannot happen overnight – it requires a sustained and committed
effort from the very top of the organisation downwards.

are very much less black and white than people would like in this area,"
says Robin Schneider. "What you cannot do with diversity training is tell people
what to do and not to do. What you have to do is equip them to make that
assessment as they get involved in real situations. It is beyond motherhood –
you need to illustrate the greyness and draw people into the debate."

popular is the use of interactive drama-based training. Done skillfully, this
kind of role-play can bring issues to life and illustrate the ambiguities,
provoke discussion and exploration and allow participants to test solutions in
a safe setting.

of the best known providers is Steps, formed in 1992 and with a solid client
base ranging from blue chip companies to Whitehall departments. It has expanded
its diversity workshops in line with developing trends over the past 10 years.

can have the most wonderful diversity policies, but they come unstuck when
people on the shop floor have issues between themselves that expand and
explode," director Richard Wilkes comments.

recent typical workshop, for example, tackled issues around race, religion,
class, disability, sexual orientation and gender, and examined them from
several different angles – of the manager, employee, colleague – to unearth the
assumptions and stereotyping that can lead to problems.

included a member of staff of ethnic minority origin making inappropriate
comments to a colleague about a visiting delegation from Bangladesh –
participants were asked to advise the colleague on how to respond to the
remarks. In another situation, an employee suffering harassment after telling
colleagues she was a lesbian sought participants’ help on how to pursue her
concerns with her manager, while the manager was advised on how to treat her
concerns seriously (another crucial part of an employer’s defence in

include freeze-framing the scenario at given points and asking delegates ‘What
do you think I should do?’ Role players then put suggestions into practice,
often asking the audience for exact words and phrases to use, and carry them
through to a conclusion.

is putting particular protagonists on the spot during a break in the action and
allowing delegates to directly question them about their underlying beliefs and
motivations in taking a certain line.

effectiveness of the training lies in its ability to engage participants and
encourage them to give voice to underlying and often unrecognised assumptions.
Rather than seeking to control the discussion, actors allow it to develop
organically and are often pushed by delegates in unexpected directions. Wilkes
points out that subtle class distinctions, for example, were so often raised by
delegates as an issue that eventually Steps started including class issues in
its workshops.

the right hands, these techniques can elicit responses and break down
inhibitions amazingly fast, as Lucy Moy-Thomas, staff development and training
manager at Barking College, can testify: "Diversity has a lot of grey
areas, so we deliberately chose scenarios that were ambiguous so as to provoke
comment and discussion. Almost immediately participants were shouting out
suggestions and laughing."

Barking sessions were part of a programme to develop a code of practice to help
the college reach a wider cross-section of the local community.

needs to be done, but we feel the atmosphere has already changed following the
sessions," says Moy-Thomas. "This approach leaps across boundaries
and we found it a very powerful way of bringing home the messages."

company offering drama-based diversity training is Management in Action, which
began its interactive role play training oil drillers in health and safety for
companies such as BP. Now it runs diversity programmes for those same clients
and others such as the Department for Education and Science.

techniques it uses are similar to those of Steps, but unlike Steps, it does not
necessarily use professional actors. "This is seat-of-the-pants stuff –
some of our people have very little drama training but plenty of life
experience that they can bring to the scenarios," says director Chas

always stress that we are a training company that uses drama and not the other
way around. There are plenty of out-of-work actors out there who decide to do a
bit of training – but our trainers are qualified to the hilt."

says the company’s work is "sixty per cent research, talking to training
managers and staff and getting a really good picture of the issues the
organisation wants to address".

is crucial, says Tess Finch Lees, a consultant at Schneider Ross who attended a
recent Steps event. "You need to know what the diversity issues are and
then recreate them subtly so the penny is dropping in people’s minds without it
being in their faces."

Schneider identifies three types of effectiveness measures for diversity
training: short-term measures – questionnaires before and after a workshop to
test whether it has communicated key messages; medium term measures – perhaps
three months down the line asking what people are doing differently as a result,
which can be achieved through random calls or focus groups and correlated with
feedback from managers; longer term measures such as employee and customer
opinion surveys which can help to ascertain changes in organisational culture.

this stage, says Schneider, "it is a no-brainer to try to separate out the
contribution of diversity training. It is an enabler, not an end in

the context of legal compliance, however, return on investment becomes much
easier to demonstrate. Research by the CBI shows tribunal costs have risen
overall by 50 per cent in two years, from £426m in 1999 to £633m in 2001. This
is based on government estimates that each tribunal application costs a company
£2,000 in the legal and management expenses needed to prepare a defence to a

average cost of recruiting a new employee is £3,500, which the CBI estimates to
be necessary in at least 75 per cent of cases. Compensation for discrimination
(which is not capped) is also increasing, and according to the TUC, awards for
sex discrimination almost doubled in the past year to an average £17,000.

the pressure on training departments to demonstrate returns on investment in a
jittery economic climate, diversity training can have proven benefits in saving
organisations many thousands of pounds, not only in helping them defend
discrimination claims, but as a way of avoiding costly complaints arising in
the first place.


020 7403 9000

in Action 0191 284 9900

Ross 01264 882400

& Jones 0151 236 8989

de Reya 020 7440 7162

Comments are closed.