Diversity for goodness’ sake

Employment | Print Article

Diversity is generally defined as acknowledging, understanding, accepting and valuing the differences among people regarding age, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental disability, race, sexual orientation, and religious or political beliefs. Regardless, discrimination on any of those grounds would be unlawful under the Human Rights Act 1993.

With the world’s increasing globalisation, interaction among people from diverse cultures, beliefs and backgrounds is more relevant than ever. Diversity in a workplace can create positive outcomes both internally and externally for a business. Businesses with staff from a larger variety of backgrounds and previous experiences are more likely to make a greater contribution. The obvious advantages are that it will create an environment that will better foster productivity and economic benefit through broader thinking and innovation, compared to a workplace made up of people who are all the same and are likely to think in the same way. A greater number of diverging opinions and thinking processes helps encourage employees to challenge the status quo and to think outside-the-box for new solutions to problems. From a commercial perspective, diverse workplaces help to attract a wider talent pool as they are more welcoming of everybody, which is attractive to potential employees.

Diversity in workplaces is often framed as a need and not a want through the likes of quota systems and recruitment targets. This controversial tool can be an effective way of addressing bias and correcting historical imbalances. However, there are risks associated with quotas. When employers feel they need a diverse business to ‘tick a box’, their recruitment policies can backfire. There is a dark side in showcasing diversity. A host of gender conflicts, race tensions and cultural frictions can lie hidden and create a feeling of inequity. This can generate a mentality within the workplace that some staff hold employment based on merit while others hold employment based on their diverse appearance. Even in situations where this is not the employer’s intention, the showcasing of quotas and targets can create this (false) perception and result in the opposite to what diversity is intended to achieve. Organisations looking to boost diversity via quotas or targets should carefully consider an holistic approach to exclusivity, making sure that their business is genuinely embracing diversity throughout the organisation and not just during recruitment time. The value and virtue of workplace diversity is undeniable. It should not just be a ‘box ticking exercise’.

How should an organisation set and accomplish its diversity goals? Clear policies are a good starting point. Your employment team can help you establish and implement your policies.