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Diversity and equality in today's workforce - the role of HR

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Recent articles in the press would indeed suggest that acts of discrimination and inequality are still rife in the workplace. The most recent being staff at Birmingham City Council being awarded millions as a result of inequality over pay. The new equality bill aims to tackle this recurring issue against discrimination by replacing nine laws and more than 100 other measures with a single act, in order to make it easier for employers and staff to understand their legal rights and obligations.

What's the role of diversity?

Treating people equally is essential to being an effective and productive organisation. Combined together, equality and diversity not only drive an organisation to legally comply with anti-discrimination legislation but also emphasise the positive Benefits of diversity such as drawing on a wider talent pool, positively motivating all your employees and understanding the needs of a wider customer base. 

Antony Grey Jenkins, chief executive of global banking at Barclays, recently confirmed this by saying that organisations that focus on equality and diversity tend to be higher performing than those who don’t.

How should HR prepare for the Equality Act?

HR departments should be prepared for this new bill with the first step being for them to extend their own knowledge and understanding of diversity, far beyond the basic compliance with laws on sex, disabilities, race and age and then offer this support and guidance to employees and heads of department who will be affected by the bill. 

In particularly, smaller organisations will suffer most due to less comprehensive anti-discrimination and harassment policies. HR should ensure that their equal opportunities and recruitment policies comply with the new laws and regulations when the bill comes into force. This could potentially mean more work for the employer but it will be worth it as both employers and employees will benefit from a fairer workplace.

How can HR promote diversity in the workplace?

HR’s next step after getting the organisation to comply with the laws and regulations is to encourage diversity inclusion in the workplace. This can be tackled by training sessions and team building activities as they provide an excellent opportunity not only to refresh and encourage employees, but also to mingle diverse groups. In the process, seemingly different individuals may form new bonds, creating a more harmonious and productive work environment for all.

Diversity, when it is understood, could only work better to help any organisation grow. The two key factors that will benefit any workplace are ‘personal value’ and ‘external diversity'.

The role of diversity at work - inside & out

Firstly, all employees like to feel they are valued within an organisation. What happens in your organisation when a staff member/members do not feel valued? Decreased communication, decreased self-esteem, decreased involvement, decreased morale, lower productivity and increased absenteeism.

Employees that feel respected for their talents and differences, and recognised for their strengths, will undoubtedly be more engaged in their workplace as well as increasing productivity and morale. Furthermore, research has suggested that employees within a diverse and inclusive work environment are less likely to seek employment opportunities elsewhere; subsequently reducing attrition and its associated productivity knowledge, and social cost.

My second and final factor is external diversity. What I mean by this is the consumer markets your organisation are targeting are themselves a diverse audience. By capitalising on the diversity in your workforce you can only add an extra edge in the consumer market.

Linking diversity to the bottom line

Employers have a huge Challenge ahead, but HR help is at hand. It's absolutely critical to prepare properly for the changes ahead which cover race, religion and belief, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, age, disability and pregnancy.

Expert HR and legal advice should be sought for all businesses to make sure you are fully prepared for all the changes and ready to move forward. Employers can then put the necessary procedures in place so they are seen as good managers and supportive of equality, diversity and opportunities for all. 

By being fully prepared, employers prevent incidents with legal changes which could result in costly, time consuming and disruptive disputes with employees.

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