Diversity drive using minority workers as role models can lead to exploitation

Using minority workers as role models for other staff can lead to “exploitation”, experts have warned.

‘Talent not Tokenism’, a joint report by the CBI and the TUC, last week found that employers with diverse workplaces had higher morale and productivity, lower recruitment costs, and more help addressing skills shortages.

Many employers and industries are using females and ethnic monority staff in high-powered positions as role models to show others what can be achieved.

But Angela O’Connor, chief people officer at the National Policing Improvement Agency, told Personnel Today that promoting diversity using role models was fraught with danger.

“It’s really good to be able to show real people who have been successful, but I think you can move into exploitation unless you work with people,” she said.

“They’re there because they are good at what they do, irrespective of the fact that they’re a woman or from an ethnic minority. It’s a bonus for us to be able to grab hold of them and say, ‘look, this can be done’, but you shouldn’t exploit people.”

Professor Binna Kandola, senior partner of business psychology consultancy Pearn Kandola, said women and ethnic minorities faced pressure to be role models.

“Organisations have got to be careful how they handle this,” he said. “It may be the case that some people get over-used in organisations because they’re the only one in that particular category of work, so they’re being rolled out for photo shoots, conferences and promotional activities.

“It shouldn’t be a compulsion, it should be something that people willingly do. Don’t test their patience.”

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