With several pieces of new legislation in the pipeline, Colin Hann, looks at how equality is becoming more important for many organisations
Diversity, equality, equal opportunities - or whatever you choose to call it - is increasingly on organisations' agendas.
One driver is the raft of new legislation that will soon be in the statute books on age, sexual orientation and religion. Another is the demanding nature of existing race and disability legislation. The Race Relations Amendment Act (RRAA) is one of the strongest pieces of equality legislation in the world.
Furthermore, the reputations of prestigious global companies are suffering with a spate of high profile cases for sex discrimination in the City.
It means organisations are looking at the issue of diversity afresh. Public authorities have no choice if they are to meet their obligations under the RRAA. The private sector, also driven by compliance considerations, is increasingly recognising the importance of diversity as a factor in business performance. For example, a recent study by Schneider Ross shows that 80 per cent of companies contacted felt there was a strong link between good diversity practice and overall business performance (Analysis, 16 July).
But what does this mean for the average worker? While there are more vision statements on notice boards, most staff will not have a clue about their meaning.
Senior management in global companies can be knowledgeable and sophisticated about the concepts and vision of diversity. They see it as an important cutting edge part of their approach to corporate and social responsibility and giving added value to the image of the business. They may have attended specialist courses and even discovered 'emotional intelligence'.
However, they often fail to consider how such a diversity approach can be delivered down the line. Hard-pressed plant managers, for example, with exacting targets to meet cannot see the relevance of the diversity to the day-to-day challenge of delivery of outputs.
In one large international company, for example, despite a three-year diversity campaign and strategy being in place, staff on the shop-floor did not even know what diversity meant, let alone what it leads to in practice.
The public sector is no different. Increasingly equality issues are a part of regulatory regimes. For example, equality may be reflected in Best Val