Diversity is a business issue which affects every organisation. Not only is there a raft of legislation to protect individuals from being discriminated against on the grounds of disability, sex, race and religious belief, but many organisations have become proactive in creating a diverse workforce to give them access to a wider talent pool. This enables organisations to select the best people for their organisation, and opens the business to an increased customer base. So where does the issue fit when it comes to the assessment and development of talent?
The minimum standards to which all companies must adhere are set out in various anti-discriminatory legislation. Most recently, The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 and the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 have been introduced alongside the final part of the Disability Discrimination Act and others (see the DTI's website at www.dti.gov.uk/er/equality). The legislation covers all aspects of working life, but selection, recruitment and promotion are key areas where discrimination can become apparent and where decisions are made which directly affect the diversity of the workforce.
Do not underestimate perception. Before addressing assessment and development techniques, organisations should ensure all messages received by internal staff and external customers (and potential staff) portray the company as being diverse and welcoming of diversity. The impact of negative stories, such as the Ford worker's photo controversy and image problems within the Police, can be severe.
"It's very much a mindset," says Roger Tweedy, head of diversity at the Blue Arrow recruitment agency. "You can have the best processes and toolkits around, but unless your people have bought into the concept and value of diversity, it won't work." Assessment and development, like every other activity, must be driven by a clearly stated and implemented diversity policy.
Kevin Kerrigan, managing director of workforce solution specialists SHL, explains that tools and approaches such as those used by SHL consultants and appropriately trained HR practitioners are designed and evaluated to ensure there is no bias present in each assessment.
"In some cases assessment can take place by telephone, thereby removing even the visual bias an assessor may have," he