How to … Manage a diversity programme

Diversity – often mistakenly confused with old-style equal opportunities –
refers to any differences between individuals, including age, race, gender,
sexual orientation, disability, education and social background. Such
differences can affect how people perform and interact with each other in the
workplace, hence the need for a diversity management programme.

Why is it important?

Litigation is one of the biggest drivers for managing diversity. A raft of
complex new diversity laws concerning age, religion and sexual orientation,
means that employers are even more vulnerable to discrimination claims. They
must be able to demonstrate they are keeping pace with legislation, that their
policies are communicated and that diversity is actively promoted.

There is also compelling evidence that diversity helps to improve business
performance. A survey last year of 140 of the UK’s top companies revealed that
four out of five of them believed that successful equality and diversity
policies deliver significant business benefits, including improved recruitment
and retention, a better understanding of markets and an enhanced reputation.

Other factors include the impact of globalisation, the increasing importance
given to corporate social responsibility (of which diversity forms a component)
and that an organisation with a visibly diverse culture can be perceived as a
key value by the workforce.

Where do I start?

Some implemented diversity programmes remain totally misunderstood at
shopfloor and management level years after they have been put in place, even
despite sustained campaigns to promote awareness.

The starting point of any programme is to communicate what diversity is and
what the organisation hopes to achieve by managing it more effectively, along
with its goals. These could be to recruit more women, to recruit more over 50s,
to make it easier for working mums to leave early, to have faith days and
prayer rooms, and so on.

The following steps are good ways to communicate key messages and instill
good behaviour:

– Send senior and line managers on diversity training courses

– Brief all staff on discriminatory attitudes and behaviour and the
disciplinary consequences, as well as how to raise a grievance

– Conduct diversity workshops

– Establish network support groups, which could be further bolstered by
creating a diversity user group on the corporate intranet to generate online

Remember, diversity management can take years to embed into the culture of a
company – and sustained change will only occur if employees fully understand
diversity, feel they have ownership of it and are receptive to change.

Furthermore, HR cannot do it alone, so diversity champions and change agents
need to be identified throughout the company.

Undertaking a diversity audit

Before writing a diversity management programme, it is essential to assess
current diversity levels. This will mean conducting a thorough diversity audit,
which should include the different kinds of diversity existing within your
organisation, how many people there are, the effect this diversity is having on
employees’ ability to do their jobs, how such diversity is perceived by others
at the company (for instance, what do colleagues think about staff who want to
work at home one day a week due to family logistics?) and the effectiveness or
otherwise of current diversity policies and procedures.

Writing your policy document

Once you have established your aims and assessed the current state of
diversity, or lack of it, you can start to identify the areas that need most
attention, such as policies and procedures, as well as perceptions and
attitudes at both management and shopfloor level. Include:

– An explanation of diversity

– The advantages of managing it more effectively and why it is important to
do so – remember to make a business case for it, linking it to better

– Specific aims of your programme and how you can achieve them

End with an impassioned plea that HR cannot implement an effective diversity
management programme alone, or overnight, and that company-wide support and
buy-in is critical. Publish it in print and on the intranet to reach the widest
possible audience.

Where can I get more info?

Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000
Equal Opportunities Commission
Commission for Racial Equality
The Work Foundation runs one-day awareness sessions for managers on diversity
management. Call 0870 165 6700, or e-mail:


Diversity Incorporated: Managing People for Success in a Diverse World By
Ron Johnson, David Redmond Financial Times Prentice Hall £24.99 ISBN:

Diversity in Action: Managing the Mosaic by Rajvinder Kandola, Johanna
Fullerton, CIPD, £22.99 ISBN: 0852927428


The Business of Diversity – how organisations in the public and private
sectors are integrating equality and diversity to enhance business performance

Managing Best Practice Valuing Diversity (No 78), £65. Published by the Work
Foundation (details above).

Remember five things

1 Most people in the workforce claim
to be ‘diverse’

2 Equal opportunities is just one part of diversity

3 HR can initiate diversity programmes, but needs company-wide

4 Regularly review diversity policies and ensure they keep pace
with legislation

5 Detailed policies and procedures should be user-friendly

Expert’s view: Dianah Worman on diversity management

Dianah Worman is policy adviser, diversity, in the Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development’s professional knowledge department

Is diversity management is given enough priority by HR?

Diversity is central to good people management. If we strive to understand
it better HR will be in prime position to add value to organisational
performance. Everyone is different and we need to keep this at the front of our
thinking as we recruit, retain and nurture talent. If the profession fails to
do this, organisations will continue to be hamstrung by unused potential.

HR has made progress in recognising the importance of diversity and encouraging
employers to take action – but we need to focus more energy and resources on
understanding diversity better. HR can help firms to do this by promoting the
importance of diversity to their line colleagues, who can influence progress
and make diversity a central business issue.

Can some of the lack of importance given to diversity in UK firms be
attributed to a lack of diversity in our boardrooms?

We know that there is too much cloning on top teams. This means top-level
thinking can be too narrow as similar people often think in the same sort of
way. This can be counter-productive where organisations need to access
different perspectives at board level. Rich corporate DNA is vital for economic
survival in changing world markets.

Having more diversity at the top is only part of the challenge for being
able to benefit from diversity. We must understand how to use difference and
work with it to add value.

Three top tips

– Don’t apply a damage limitation process to the new legal requirements – a
compliance-based approach to diversity can close down the subject and
marginalise it, limiting its potential to add value

– Embrace diversity as an opportunity not a problem – if at first we don’t
succeed try, try, try again

– Remember, managing diversity is a dynamic process and we are constantly
learning about it. Knee-jerk resistance to change means shooting ourselves in
the foot

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