Is the diversity debate going in the right direction?

The best employers recognise that human nature can get in the way of motivating, retaining or promoting the best people. These natural inclinations or biases are part and parcel of human behaviour and interaction. By recognising and identifying them we can address a broad range of potentially discriminatory issues and minimise disadvantage across a range of areas.

There has been lot of activity in the last few months on gender diversity, which in my view looks at diversity from the wrong end of the spectrum.

A lot of businesses we work with are broadening their senior managers’ experiences and those of middle managers: helping them to understand and recognise the issues. They do that through a range of programmes:

  • Unconscious bias training,
  • Dining with a Difference (http://diningwithadifference.com) and
  • Outreach programmes — for example, apprenticeships or, in the legal profession, opportunities which give school children from more diverse backgrounds an insight into the law.

So it is heartening to see both the Prime Minister and the TUC challenging the ethnic divide with startling figures identifying the pay gap at graduate recruitment for black, Asian and ethnic minority candidates (see Resolution Foundation Study).

This goes hand in hand with another dimension almost unique in UK society – the class ceiling , or social mobility – which garnered attention a couple of years ago but seems to have moved away from centre stage.

Having recently given evidence to the Women & Equalities Committee, one of the more interesting questions raised was the extent to which failure to progress, whether manifesting in less senior women across professions or in closing the gender pay gap, is due to overt or covert discrimination in the workplace. In the writer’s view, although harassment and attitudes to women (especially working mothers and those taking maternity leave) remains an issue for many — things have improved and organisations see the need to retain and encourage returners.

 The challenge now is in addressing covert disadvantage or discrimination, sometimes inadvertent, unintentional or simply an unwillingness to change “the way things are done “

The challenge now is in addressing covert disadvantage or discrimination, sometimes inadvertent, unintentional or simply an unwillingness to change “the way things are done “– whether that is in the way work is done (not flexibly, lacking agility, full time, 9–5 etc.) or the way in which promotion decisions are made or processed.

Businesses must recognise that change needs to be wider ranging and, to be most effective, look at opportunities as a whole and in the broadest way.


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