There’s no doubt that equalities and diversity in the workplace is a hot issue (Shen et al, 2005); not only is it a staple of annual compulsory staff training and integral to just about every routine activity that we do, it’s also required by law. So what are the benefits of it? Are there really benefits beyond the general fluffy statements?
(This is the first of three posts looking at what equalities and diversity aims to achieve, some of the actually benefits to business of diversity, and ways of properly implementing an affective E&D policy.)
Embedding E&D and encouraging managers to go the extra mile to ensure a diverse workforce against the push back of ‘I have a service to run and this is just making matters harder’ is a huge challenge.
It needs to be more than just the ‘right thing to do’
So why should we commit to it?
I can almost hear the chorus of angry yelling in the background chanting: ‘because it’s the right thing to do!’
And I totally agree with you: having a diverse and accessible workplace is absolutely the right thing to do for moral and ethical reasons, for our employees, for communities and for society.
But that’s not enough – we must persuade those that don’t believe the same that there are benefits to them, their business and their bottom line.
Why do we need E&D?
‘Diversity is the art of thinking independently together.’ Malcolm Forbes, entrepreneur
‘Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.’ Stephen R Covey, businessman and author
As true as these statements feel, they’re also unsubstantiated drivel. They’re trotted out whenever you look at reasons why we need E&D in the workplace. Just have a look at any website claiming to explain the ‘7 benefits of E&D’ or ‘How E&D can help your business become a global super powerhouse and make you President of the USA!’
In case you were wondering: Malcom Forbes was the son of the founder of Forbes Magazine, an avid promoter of capitalism and free market trade and was known for his extravagant lifestyle, parties, travel, collection of homes, yachts, aircraft, art, motorcycles, and Fabergé eggs. I’m not entirely sure why he is quoted other than it being a good sound-bite, it doesn’t sound he had to struggle for equality, but maybe I’m wrong.
Stephen Covey is an author and businessman. His most famous book: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is an incredibly popular personal development book that fails to appease my desire for evidence beyond anecdotal stories behind what it promotes.
Is this really the best we can come up with?
You can probably split the reasons we’re told we need Equalities and Diversity into two groups:
Because we have to
The UK Equalities Act (2010) aims to ensure consistency in what employers and employees need to do to make their workplaces a fair environment (ACAS). Most of the more developed world has something similar.
According to Shen at al (2005), Human Resource Management approaches to diversity have mainly focused on compliance with equalities legislation and employment law; indicating that legislative compliance, and not the moral imperative of equal opportunities and diversity is the primary driver of policy and strategy.
The Equalities Act identifies discrimination as treating people unfairly because of who the individual is, has or believes within a set of 9 protected characteristics:
It defines different types of discrimination:
- Direct discrimination where someone is knowingly treated less favourably because they have (or are perceived to have) or are associated with one of the protected characteristics
- Indirect discrimination where someone is excluded because they have a protected characteristic, and can be unintended. Think about a job requiring 10 years experience that would discriminate against anyone below a certain age
- Harassment, i.e. bullying based on a protected characteristic
- Victimisation because they made an allegation of discrimination
Because there are benefits
We are often given a list of benefits of equalities and diversity. If you plug in ‘benefits of Equalities and Diversity’ into the google search bar you get a myriad of generalised lists, such as 7 ways which your organisation will definitely benefit from equality and diversity and How Equality and Diversity Improves your workplace: Examining the benefits. These lists usually look something like this:
- Attract and recruit top talent because opportunities are open to everyone
- Employees feel empowered because they know they were picked because of their skills and aptitudes
- Greater creativity and innovation in the workforce
- Able to deal with complex problems because people see things from different perspectives and experiences
- Better understand customer needs and attract a wider client base helping to expand your business
- Employee turnover reduced because staff feel welcome, included and supported
- Don’t have to deal with tribunals from failing to implement equalities policies – I’m not sure if this is a benefit or simply avoidance of punishment!
These are wonderfully fluffy, semi-motivational poster-esque statements that mean very little. For every positive statement there’s a counter argument about why it’s a waste of time, often ineloquently stated by individuals who don’t share my moral imperative, with my brain eagerly translating their statements to: ‘I’m too lazy and don’t care enough about this.’
There is some supporting evidence for the above 7 statements if you are inclined to search for it. McLoed, Lobel and Cox (1996) did find that diverse groups create better quality solutions to brainstorming tasks and display greater co-operative behaviour than homogeneous groups. Cox and Blake (1991), Iles (1995) and Gerdenswartz and Rowe (1998) have found that greater diversity enables access to changing market places by mirroring increasingly diverse markets. However, Blum, Fileds and Goodman (1994) found that companies with greater diversity actually had higher, not lower turnover. But you would have to actually search for the data, and that’s not easy.
If we don’t address this and convince people of real, tangible benefits we will continue to experience half-hearted implementation of equalities and diversity policy.
Despite legislation, there is still widespread discrimination
Low employment of women and minority groups across nearly the entire world indicates there are still problems with creating truly equal, engaging and diverse workforces.
A study by McKinsey & Company (to be discussed more in the next post) indicates that while certain industries perform better on gender diversity and other industries on ethnic and racial diversity, no industry or company is in the top quartile on both dimensions.
Pay inequality still exists, diversity training often indirectly reaffirms the existing dominant culture within organisations, policies often aim for compliance with legislation whilst failing to empower a truly diverse workforce. In short, we’re getting it wrong, and we need to do something about it.
What if you feel you have been a victim of discrimination?
If you would like support on your rights or you feel you have been discriminated against you can get advice and support from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau here.
Blum, T.C., Fields, D.L., and Goodman, J.S. (1994), Organizational-Level Determinates of Women in Management, Academy of Management Journal, 37, 2, 241– 266
Cox, T., and Blake, S. (1991), Managing Cultural Diversity: Implications for organizational Competitiveness, Academy of Management Executive, 5, 3, 45 – 56.
Gardenswartz, L., and Rowe, A. (1998), Why Diversity Matters, HR Focus, 75, 7, s1 – s3
Iles, P. (1995), Learning to Work with Difference, Personal Review, 24, 6, 44 – 60.
McLeod, P.L., Lobel, S.A., and Cox, T.H. (1996), Ethnic Diversity and Creativity in Small Group, Small Group Research, 27, 2, 248– 264
Shen. J, Chanda. A, D’Nett. B and Monga. M, 2006, Managing diversity through human resource management: an international perspective and conceptual framework, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 20, No. 2, February 2009, 235-251