Look around you. What’s the make-up of your team/department? Does it represent a mix of gender, ages, races, physical abilities and skills? Or are you all quite similar across these aspects?
‘Workplace diversity’ is not a box-ticking exercise. Just as we said within our piece on gender equality last week, employing people just to ensure diversity in your company, even if those hired may not be right for the job, is not what we’re talking about.
So, if you can walk down any street in the UK and see a true mix of people – and if our overall population is wonderfully diverse – wouldn’t our workplaces be organically multifarious, too?
According to statistics, an eighth of all working age employees are black, or of mixed ethnic origin. Following that logically, then, as you look around your office, one in eight of your colleagues should be black or of an ethnic minority – but is that what you see? In a number of cases, BME (Black and Minority Ethnicity) workers approach/apply for jobs with companies already employing workers of their ethnicity and background; is this through choice, though, or just to make life easier?
Following the Equality Act 2010, it’s illegal to discriminate against any employee based on race, gender, sexual orientation or religious views; or whether an employee is disabled or nearing retirement age. It’s illegal to impose special terms upon a pregnant woman, for example, or to discount her from opportunities to advance if she’s due maternity leave. And that’s exactly how it should be; an employee should be hired, promoted and assessed on their skills, experience, application, attitude and innovation, regardless of the hereditary, personal or social aspects mentioned, which have little bearing on their ability to carry out their job.
Gender equality is an issue that’s gathering pace, as we spoke about in last week’s post. Even age discrimination is an issue that’s more widely discussed now, with companies waking up to the benefits an older worker can bring to team dynamics and productivity. But other diversity issues aren’t getting the attention they deserve – until they do, ‘workplace diversity’ will remain an ideal, rather than become common practice.
According to experts, this is not doing business any good, because workplace diversity could “boost the UK economy by £24bn”. A recent government-backed review, overseen by Baroness McGregor-Smith, approached more than 500 large UK businesses. In one aspect of their review, companies demonstrated how they’d benefitted from the harnessing of the skills and talents of BME employees, which involved heightened innovation, improved productivity, a better understanding of markets, and more effective teams.
Evidence gathered in the McGregor-Smith review gave strength to the claim that GDP could increase by an extra 1.3% if BME employees were encouraged to reach their full potential and progress at the same rate as their white colleagues. But, despite this promising forecast, there are 12% more BME job-seekers than white unemployed individuals, and only 6% of BMEs hold top-level positions.
We wrote a recent piece about different generations in the workplace, and the benefits older employees can bring, with their wealth of skills and experience that can be passed on to younger members of the workforce. Wisdom, patience, and a lifetime of interaction with all walks of life, are just some of the benefits an employee nearing retirement can still bring to an organisation. Focusing only on the ‘next generation’ risks skills gaps as well as labour shortages – as there soon won’t be enough younger job-seekers to fill the roles retiring workers will be leaving behind. To discriminate against, or block the entry path for, an employee based on their age would represent a poor business decision.
The CBI believes workplace diversity is a priority of an issue, and warns that, far from bringing these issues to the fore, UK businesses risk “going backwards”. Says their Director General, Carolyn Fairbairn, “As we head into a perfect storm of changes in demographics and technology, talent will be the number one worry for our firms. For many it already is. In part, it’s a simple numbers game as labour supply in this country tightens. Whatever the impact of leaving the EU, there are likely to be fewer EU migrants coming to work in the UK than in the past. At the same time the UK’s domestic labour force is shrinking as the baby boomers retire, making it even harder for firms to find the right people. It’s also a skills game, as having the right skills for the future is a firm’s leading source of competitive advantage.”
Diversity, of course, is a consideration during the hiring process, but here at Emerge, we believe it goes much deeper than that. The culture of a company, and its approach, can help employees from diverse groups to flourish – or it can have the opposite effect. From the top of a company to the bottom – concerning stakeholders, suppliers and its clients – every single element needs to be welcoming, encouraging and supportive of the whole workforce – whatever its make-up. Minorities don’t want to feel ignored or segregated, or assume they’re not privy to the opportunities the majority of employees face.
For example, a woman, during her career, doesn’t want to feel she’ll lose ground, or have superiors feels she’s less committed to her job, if she takes time off to have a family. This is as much about policy and procedure within a company than it is about her ongoing training and development. Similarly, an older employee shouldn’t have to assume a promotion is off limits because they’re nearing the age of retirement – what’s to say they won’t continue to work past retirement age?
A mix of workplace coaching, personal coaching and development, executive coaching, support with organisational change, and an overhaul of company culture, are just some of the ways Emerge can help businesses tackle their approach to workplace diversity. A way of equipping people to reach their full potential, and the key to changing their thoughts and behaviours (this can also be done on a company-wide basis), coaching is an effective investment, and a true in-road towards a diverse workplace. Which business wouldn’t want to see increases in revenue or a boost to productivity?
Demographics will continue to change, as will globalisation. By not incorporating or fully-utilising all minority groups, your company could lose its competitive edge and be at a disadvantage. Don’t wait for that to happen.
If you’d like Emerge to coach teams, departments or individuals within your organisation, or if you’re an individual who would benefit from a confidential, effective sounding board and facilitator, contact us on 01329 820580, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the image.