Equality and Diversity Programme
The argument for equality and diversity in the workplace extends much further than the legal imperative to comply with the law or the moral issues persuading us to work towards a fairer society with equality of opportunity. There is a clear business case for diversity at all levels in organisations, offering particularly multi-perspectives in problem solving and decision making, and increased innovation.
At one level it seems perfectly reasonable that organisations should be representative of the customers they serve. When it comes to policy making or designing a customer engagement strategy, who would better know what the needs of breast-feeding mothers or wheel-chair users are than breast-feeding mothers and wheel-chair users themselves. However, even in this, if we are not careful, we risk stereotyping or racial profiling if we deem certain jobs to be specifically suited to particular groups.
It is important to recognise that difference in personality traits and competence are greater within groups than between them, which suggests that no job or position should be reserved for a particular group. No, the argument for diversity is centred around avoiding homogenous groups, thereby reducing the possibility of group-think. Numerous writer on management theory have pointed out that heterogeneous groups consistently out-perform homogeneous teams on similar tasks. And at the leadership level, cultural diversity would seem to fit more comfortably with the concept of situational leadership, where there is a need to balance relationship and task behaviours.
There is also, of course, the wasted resource argument. Systematic discrimination in the workplace not only denies some employees of the opportunity to progress in their careers but is demotivating and promotes high staff turnover leading to organisational inefficiencies.
The barriers to greater workplace equality and diversity are not obvious. Clearly there is a need for rules that ensure compliance with the law and, better still, encourage the adoption of best practice, but these alone are unlikely to create the truly multi-cultural organisation we might envisage for the future. There has to be a belief at all levels that a truly diverse workforce is both desirable and attainable, which in some organisations means a seismic shift both in awareness of the issues and in attitudes.
It would be easy to believe that the focus of any initiative should be directed at the dominant group, those who make the rules and confer or withhold the prizes. Once the shackles are removed, we might expect the minority groups to flourish. However, this may not happen without help. South East Training has recently been involved in delivering a Women’s Development Programme for a Government Body aimed at addressing the issues of image and visibility of women.
The organisation recognised that there was a significant under-representation of women in grades 8 (SEO) up to SCS and that tackling the lack of confidence and self-presentation skills amongst junior officers was a critical factor in achieving greater representation at the highest level. Unconscious bias as well as a lack of confidence and skills played their part in creating the lack of balance.
This experience underlines the need for training in both equality and diversity awareness, and the skills necessary to challenge stereotyping and prejudicial behaviours. The management of unconscious bias and indirect discrimination will only be brought about by education and a commitment to ensure it does not perpetuate inequality into the future.
Our newly launched Equality and Diversity Programme aims to provide participants with basic knowledge and skills in recently topical aspects of equality and diversity, covering Diversity Awareness, LGBT Awareness, Mental Health Awareness and Unconscious Bias.For more details go to the Equality and Diversity Programme page.
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