What does diversity in the workplace actually mean?

Posted on 24th October 2018

A lecturer once explained diversity to me in terms of a salad. “A bowl of lettuce is still a salad but isn’t a salad more appealing with cucumber, tomato and other bits chucked in?” This clear visual stuck with me and even though the lecturers name now escapes me, his metaphor helped to shape my understanding.

Diversity, according to the Chartered institute of Personnel and Development, is about valuing everyone in the organisation as an individual. That appears to be a logical approach to managing a group of people. How realistic is that in a large organisation where it is not possible to know everyone on an individual basis? We should still treat a person no less favourably than the next.

I would elaborate further and suggest that it is about ensuring each employee has the ability to achieve their full potential; that the unique skills, character and experience that the employee brings with them is utilised in a positive way. We have a range of legislation in the UK and the EU that supports the fair and equitable treatment of employees at work. But how do we treat people the same when we are all so unique as individuals?


Promote a culture of respect and acceptance

Providing all staff with diversity training – especially decision makers – can be effective. But training as an isolated event will not been enough. There needs to be a clear understanding of the ideal to underpin the culture of inclusion and acceptance within the workplace. If you can achieve acceptance of the differences between team members, this in turn can assist to foster mutual respect between work colleagues.

Individuals will not necessarily share another’s views or beliefs, but if they can understand and accept these differences it can assist in their accommodation of needs. A manager that does not have children or practise a religion may be unaware of the implications of holding a training session out of work hours. Having people in the group who do, will share their views not to attempt to change the manager’s beliefs but to create a more encompassing opportunity for the group.

Everyone has a part to play in upholding the standards of a positive equal opportunity environment. As a business owner, it is important that this message underpins all the business activities. Ensure that there are effective processes for dealing with concerns appropriately and swiftly.


Ethnic and cultural differences

During a recruitment process, a candidate submitted two CVs; one with his real name, which was from an Indian ethnic background, and another with a fictitious English name. The CV with the English name was invited to participate in the second stage selection process; the Indian name was rejected.

Regrettably there still appears to be those with prejudices towards people with a differing ethnic background. As a business, you need clear policies on the company’s approach to equal opportunities. You should also ensure that line managers are not just aware of the content but implement it.

Recruitment is a process in which subconscious or conscious prejudices can surface. You require a recruitment process which provides for inclusion of candidates from a variety of backgrounds. The advert for a role can be an important shop window for the culture of your organisation. It is therefore critical that you ensure that the wording is free from any bias.

Make decisions solely on candidates’ skills and experience, rather than a name/age/gender/perceived characteristics. You’ll reduce the risk of bias and get a candidate that closer matches the person specification for the role.


Flexible approach

Many professionals are unable to consider continuing, returning or pursuing their career due to personal circumstances. Flexible working can be a positive option to unlocking a sector of the population that is limited in their ability to return to work and achieving their full potential. Some take part-time junior roles that are far below their capabilities as a trade-off for flexibility. Given the high employment rates and difficulties in sourcing reliable, quality candidates it would appear remiss to overlook a pool of available talent.


Where are you now?

How confident are you that your business offers the equality opportunity to all your employees and potential employees? Have you considered evaluating the effectiveness of your current policies? Have you reviewed your recruitment practises to understand whether you are attracting a diverse range of applicants?

Can you recall when your equal opportunities policies and practises were last reviewed? It might be worth giving Gateway HR a call to see how we can help!

Gwyneth Hodgkinson Character
Written by:
Gwyneth Hodgkinson
HR Development Consultant