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How to drive diversity in your company

Organisations in the private sector need a real reason to create an equal and diverse workforce.

The law can be useful in understanding current thinking, but in itself is not a real motivator for companies to be proactive about equality, diversity, fairness, inclusion and respect.

So, why change? Research shows the benefits of diversity include:

  • More innovation through differing experience;
  • More adaptable management;
  • Greater accountability;
  • Meeting public sector procurement requirements.

However, these benefits should come with a word of warning: the research around diversity is firmly split, with one camp saying well managed and considered diversity work is profitable and productive for your business, and the other that badly managed and ill-considered diversity programmes can have a negative impact on your business.

Wide-ranging effort

Companies must consider all of their business actions and how they affect others. For example:

  • Do payment terms stop your supply chain taking on full-time staff? If so, this can result in a false self-employment model which, in the UK construction sector, is more suitable to white males.
  • Do your managers promote people for the values they themselves reflect, rather than the differences they need? This can stop talent moving up through the company and can contribute to ‘group think’.
  • Are your senior appointments written in a way that subconsciously excludes women? This can mean you don’t receive applications from the best range of candidates.

In the first instance, stop and think; form a task group to take charge and involve your staff, but don’t pressure them to have the solutions. Being from a minority group does not mean you know all the answers; sometimes you’re not even sure of the questions.

Barriers to change

There are two dangerous assumptions that are often made around work in this area:

All work done in the name of equality is good. Just like with health and safety, the end aim is a good one, but that does not mean everything done in the name of it will benefit individuals or the company.

All people are engaged with the equality agenda. Many people in the sector confuse work around equality with giving certain people an advantage over others. While there is a distinct difference, most people are too busy doing their jobs to find the time to know what that is.

It is therefore vital your workforce is onside and see work in this area as beneficial to all. The easiest way to do that is by talking about fairness, inclusion and respect as opposed to equality and diversity.

Make this agenda about treating all your staff equally. Once they feel they can trust their organisation to make the right decisions, companies can start to focus on minority groups.

Good equality practice is similar to good management: to see real benefits, strive to make this part of business as usual. Measure the effect of your work and consider what other initiatives may also be successful. Keep measuring and finding out what works for your company, people and image.

As the market recovers, competition for the best talent will be fiercer than ever, and one way for organisations to differentiate themselves is by showing they give everyone the chance to get ahead.

Chrissi McCarthy is managing director of Constructing Equality

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