Diversity and Inclusion

by Gamiel Yafai

In a nutshell

1. Assumptions, stereotypes and prejudice

We all carry assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices; they are part of our natural make up and relate to attitudes and the way we make sense of things.

  • Although our stereotypes of some groups may be positive (or have positive aspects), the long-term effect of being stereotyped is usually damaging, because it can limit the opportunities available.
  • It is not unlawful to be prejudiced or to make assumptions or to carry stereotypes. It is impossible not to! We are allowed to think what we like about anyone.
  • However, once we start taking action on our prejudices, we may be behaving in a discriminatory way and we might be breaking the law or working against our organisation’s policies.

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2. The business case for diversity and inclusion

At the highest levels, leading businesses realise that diverse teams that can boast a range of cultures, backgrounds and life experiences work more creatively together, increasing innovation and flexibility. Other benefits include

  • Improving staff retention, leading to lower recruitment and training costs
  • Gaining access to a wider range of resources and skills among your employees
  • Avoiding claims of unfair treatment or discrimination
  • Building a competitive edge in recruitment and retention (as you can select from a bigger pool of candidates).

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3. Discrimination

Discrimination can be defined as action taken on assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices, whether negative or positive. All of us carry certain prejudices. This is fine, until we use our power to act on those prejudices. This then becomes discrimination.

  • Direct discrimination is where a person treats another person less favourably because of a protected characteristic. It does not matter what are the reasons for this treatment or whether the less favourable treatment was intentional or unintentional.
  • Indirect discrimination may occur when an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice is applied which puts people sharing a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage.
  • Discrimination by association is where someone is treated less favourably because they are or you think they are associated with a person or persons having a protected characteristic. Equality law recognises two types: Direct Discrimination by Association and Harassment by Association with someone with a protected characteristic.
  • Discrimination by perception occurs when someone is treated less favourably because you think they have a protected characteristic.
  • Discrimination occurs when you treat a disabled person unfavourably, and this treatment is because of something arising in consequence of the disability and cannot be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

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4. When the culture ignores discrimination

The cost of ignoring issues of diversity and inclusion within an organisation is that discrimination can insidiously become a part of the culture. In time, this will often result not only in lost business opportunities and wasted talent, but in incidents that may well end up in tribunal with charges of

  • Harassment
  • Bullying
  • Victimisation.

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5. The protected characteristics

The Equality Act 2010 brought together a number of characteristics that would be protected by law. The following are known as protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation.

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6. Political correctness gone mad

In the workplace people are often faced with situations which end up being classified as political correctness gone mad. Political correctness gone mad as an absolute term, we feel, is meaningless; it only acquires meaning when seen in certain contexts.

  • It may be an extreme reaction to a situation where an organisation has found itself in the diversity and equality firing line.
  • It may be that, while the blue collar workforce is diverse, management may not be.
  • Sometimes, in an effort to appear not to be offensive, people acting with good intentions have provoked extreme reactions on the part of others in the organisation and in the media.

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7. Towards diversity and inclusion

As an organisation moves towards diversity and inclusion, the spirit of the place should become one that mutual feelings of dignity and respect, but you should be aware that positive steps to change the balance of the workforce in order to enhance its diversity must remain within the law.

  • Affording dignity and respect means treating a person in the manner in which they expect to be treated.
  • Where an organisation has been under-represented by people from a protected characteristic within the preceding 12 months, the organisation may lawfully provide positive encouragement and training.
  • In most cases, it is unlawful to select a person for a job simply because they have a protected characteristic.

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8. Embedding diversity and inclusion

If you are going to reap all the benefits that accrue from a truly diverse and inclusive culture, you need to identify where you are in terms of the diversity agenda by completing a diversity audit.

  • Is there evidence that there is commitment to the equality and diversity agenda from the senior managers within the company?
  • Does the company have an equal opportunity policy or equivalent in place?
  • Is there an opportunity within the company for feedback, allowing concerns about equality and diversity issues to be discussed?
  • Have staff responsible for internal recruitment received training on equality and diversity?
  • Does your organisation have an appropriate training programme in place to inform staff about the equality and diversity agenda?
  • Does your organisation monitor recruitment at each stage of the recruitment process?

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9. Managing diversity

  • Diversity entails paying more attention to the individual needs of employees – simple good intentions are not enough.
  • Diversity does not manage itself.
  • Managing diversity is about using all of the talents available to the organisation without ethnocentricity and stereotyping.

To manage diversity we need to

  • Create an environment of acceptance
  • Confront prejudging behaviour
  • Confront intolerant behaviour
  • Utilise the full potential of all employees
  • Recruit for diversity
  • Retain diverse staff

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10. Implementing diversity

To implement an organisational framework for diversity, it is necessary to take a methodical approach. For example:

  • Prioritise the desired improvements through close examination
  • Research possible solutions
  • Plan improvements
  • Use expert trainers
  • Keep diversity on the agenda
  • Review and evaluate

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11. Measures that support diversity

To maintain diversity within an organisation, the process needs to be supported by a range of measures. For example;

  • Recruitment and selection measures
  • Offering a choice of benefits
  • Ongoing training
  • Promotion procedures

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