Today’s businesses are more diverse than ever before, putting pressure on companies to ensure that their culture is one of equality and fairness. The rise of social media has allowed people to share experiences and information faster and wider than ever before, and with high profile discrimination cases in the spotlight, companies cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
With industries being more open than ever before to people of different genders, abilities, races, and cultures working together, companies have had to adapt and change to create a culture where all are valued and treated in accordance with their needs.
Having an equality policy in place without no other measures and actions around it will not protect businesses if something goes wrong.
What can go wrong?
As humans we are subject to preconceptions whether they are conscious or unconscious. The trick is to understand how our unconscious bias affects us so that we can identify when it may be influencing business decisions. This could be in several ways such as making assumptions on a person’s merit based on their membership of a specific group, supporting an individual with the characteristics most similar to our own, or drawing conclusions based on the opinions of others.
These unconscious (and unfortunately sometimes conscious) biases can come into play in our day to day work environment. So, if companies do not train staff sufficiently, or prepare to deal with issues when they arise, discriminatory grievances can come about.
In addition to the cost of defending any legal action and resulting pay-outs, these complaints can lead to many other negative effects on businesses, such as loss of time to prepare for and take part in tribunals, stress on all involved parties, damage to company reputation, the negative effect on morale from such processes and the knock on effect on productivity. Therefore, to stop them arising, companies should take the following steps:
- Create and implement equal opportunities, anti-harassment, and bullying policies and review them as appropriate;
- Make all employees aware of the policies and their implications;
- Train managers and supervisors in equal opportunities and harassment issues and filter this training down through their teams;
- Take steps to deal effectively with complaints, including taking appropriate disciplinary action.
What are the benefits?
Diversity in the workplace can be linked directly to higher performing teams and in order to be most effective, people within them need to have the freedom to think and act on their own. They need the ability to make mistakes as part of the process, to review them and use them as a learning tool (known as a growth mindset). By providing managers with guidance on what is and isn’t acceptable through training and clear policies, you are able to give them the freedom to build a strong team with the knowledge that the boundaries are clear.
Above all, it is important to recognise that true diversity in the workplace cannot be achieved through a few documents and the HR department, but through a companywide ethos of acceptance and constant communication.
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