Diversity: Get the right mix

The mere mention of tribunal claims can send a shiver down employers’ spines. And, with mistakes around diversity sometimes being costly, L&D has a major role to play in making sure people get it right.

According to Acas, there were 84,039 tribunal claims in 2006-07, and almost 6,500 involved some form of discrimination, especially diversity.

Robust diversity and equality training is now almost a must – not only to avoid potential claims, but also to protect corporate reputations and ensure an organisation is actually running successfully.

Diversity is now such a wide area, encompassing age, race, religion and belief, disability, gender, and sexual orientation, that a comprehensive training programme needs to cover a vast remit.

Jane Moorman, an employment lawyer at law firm Howard Kennedy, says training is vital in ensuring that employers don’t break diversity laws, because tribunals can award unlimited compensation. “From a legal perspective, training can offer a key defence against future discrimination claims. It also shows that companies are committed to upholding the law in the eyes of employment tribunals.”

Spread the word

Richard Wilkes, a director at training firm Steps, uses drama to deliver diversity training, with actors helping to drive home the reality of poor practice in the workplace.

He says training should cover relevant laws, as many people are aware of their rights and are more likely to sue.

But, he adds, firms should concentrate on the business case for training staff to understand and value diversity, rather than worry about preventing claims.

Training should help organisations serve their customers, become more creative, and better reflect the population at large. Wilkes also believes it will help recruitment, because people want to join employers that value diversity.

Alick Miskin, head of diversity services at training firm Grass Roots, says diversity learning and development should focus on frontline staff to help develop a workforce that understands all the issues around diversity. “You have to assume the most senior staff will already be onboard, so firms really need to start spreading the message to frontline staff,” he says.

He adds that diversity training should be measurable, and advocates using extensive interactive testing to make sure messages are understood. But he says companies still aren’t getting it right.

“Many have done a lot of top-level work, but I’m not sure the lessons have stuck,” he says. “You just need to look at the boards across Europe to see the top of organisations are not very diverse places.

True colours

“Diversity training has been about tick-box legal exercises that people won’t have bought into or been tested on,” he adds. “All this leads to is poorly trained staff, and a list with HR of people who have attended. It should be about appropriate behaviour, not political correctness.”

Dr Nic Sale, managing psychologist at Pearn Kandola, says more people are becoming interested in diversity training as the population changes and employers start to realise the benefits it can bring. But, she says, simply introducing training as a way of avoiding future legal claims is not the right way to improve diversity.

“Having training just to meet legal compliance is really counter-productive, because a tick-box approach just does not work for diversity,” she says. “Employees and customers will see through it and think that it’s only being done to keep you out of trouble.”

An expert in business psychology, Sale says diversity training needs to be based on what happens in an organisation on a day-to-day basis, and should be accompanied by proper objectives and competencies. To be successful, employers need to look at a properly co-ordinated, strategic programme that is integrated within the business culture.

Case study: Sunderland City Council

Sunderland City Council is using an online course to help raise awareness of equality issues and meet its obligations under the Equality Standard for Local Government.

More than 14,500 staff will complete the course, which covers many diversity issues, including the expected standards of behaviour and the implications on customer services and communications.

Mike Frankland, training manager at the council, says a steering group worked with consultancy Balance Learning to ensure the course met all the specific needs of the local authority. “This enables us to keep a record – and provide proof – that the mandatory training has been undertaken and understood,” he says.

The online course monitors staff progress, and staff complete an interactive test at the end of the programme.

“So far, the average post-test score is around 80%, which shows that the course is successfully promoting a high level of understanding of the key issues. This greater awareness of diversity will enable our staff to better respond to the needs of our local community,” adds Frankland.

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