Diversity needs professional standards body to regulate it

Diversity is becoming critical to the success of both public and private sector organisations, to the point where industry practitioners are calling for a new, authoritative body to standardise the profession.

Eighty per cent of 1,500 equality and diversity experts told the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) in its latest study that they wanted a new association to encourage networking, share ideas and set proper standards and career paths for those in the field.

But when asked whether they wanted that body to regulate the profession, bringing in tighter controls over who can act as a diversity practitioner, most said they did not.

Is this because regulation is seen as a bureaucratic hindrance to their everyday work, or is it a question of who regulates whom – who has the right to call themselves experts?

Focus Consultancy’s professor Chris Mullard, author of the LSC report, told Employers’ Law that regulation is the only answer if diversity is ever to be taken seriously as a profession.

“There are too many cowboys and cowgirls in the business who set themselves up as equality and diversity practitioners, probably on the basis that they are from a minority group, and they have no formal, professional approach,” he said.

“I’m in favour of a minimum amount of regulation that covers codes and ethics, the standard of advice and delivery of knowledge, conduct, and ensuring practitioners comply with all the legislative requirements within the equality field.”

Mullard added that in any industry, those calling themselves professionals should be held accountable for what they do, and that accountability comes from regulation practitioners must abide by a set of rules.

He said: “There’s got to be regulation to make sure people are safe, or doing a job that meets certain standards. The profession needs a common agenda.”

But many diversity practitioners interviewed for the research did not want any formal regulation. Nick Smith, Npower head of diversity and inclusion, explained why. “There is too much regulation in business. Organisations are all subtly different – they need to look at their own circumstances and decide where to focus their efforts,” he told Employers’ Law.

“For some, that means doing more to attract a wider range of people for others, it means opening up senior level opportunities for women. There is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, and regulation tends to drive business down such a route,” he said.

Smith did agree that a new association could help diversity practitioners to network and share good practice. But “smallish” groups already exist – such as the one he belongs to with BT and Yahoo!, he said.

Mullard, however, can see a new diversity association becoming much more than a basic networking forum. “It could start off as an extended network of diversity people, which moves over five years to a membership organisation, and ultimately to a chartered organisation,” he said.

The LSC intends to put its case for a new association to government later this year, after consulting more widely with diversity practitioners about the nature, scope and capacity of such a body.

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