New diversity trends could have far-reaching effects

Most moves to improve the diversity of an organisation – as long as they are within the law – are applauded. It is largely accepted that it makes good business sense to weave diversity through the fabric of corporate culture.

An organisation that is reaping the benefits of diversity is car giant Ford ( Distancing itself from the practices that provoked negative publicity in the late 1990s, Ford now has its first all-female HR team at its Dagenham manufacturing plant – a far cry from the macho days of the industrial 1970s. With a rigorous approach to equality and inclusion, Ford is an interesting case study on the huge turnaround that can be achieved by putting diversity at the heart of how an organisation operates.

So perhaps it is the next logical move for a major company to demand high levels of diversity in its suppliers, as Barclays plans to do ( Just as supermarkets and food producers insist on auditing their suppliers to guarantee traceability in the food chain, so private sector organisations in the UK could start asking for diversity assessments of the firms that make up their own supply chains.

The fact that a blue-chip brand such as Barclays should start requesting diversity information from the legal firms it uses is likely to prompt other major organisations to follow suit.

The legal profession is known to have its own diversity challenges, with a high proportion of partners being white men, so it will be interesting to see how firms respond to make their workforces more diverse.

Not everyone in HR will welcome or indeed follow Barclays’ lead, however. Some HR practitioners might resist the arrival of what they consider to be a more target-driven, mechanical approach to diversity that already exists in the US, where it is commonplace for suppliers to undergo diversity audits.

But if the trend does catch on over here – with more clients insisting on diversity as a condition of doing business – then it could result in some far-reaching cultural changes.

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