Workplace diversity in reality
In reality, workplace diversity is thriving; arguably better than it is outside the workplace. This is not to say it has reached a stage of perfection; it hasnt. But knowledge and understanding overall is certainly increasing through employment.
Most of us meet and interact with a much more diverse population through our work than we do out if it. Many of us now have close colleagues and friends at work of different faiths and cultural backgrounds, of all ages, of both sexes and sexual orientations. This is often in sharp contrast to the friends we grew up with or who come to dinner, or with whom we play golf or go to the gym, the pub or on holiday. These are interactions that dont get measured in the same way.
Diversity & disability
Through our employment, we come to understand just how accomplished many people are who twenty or thirty years ago would have struggled to find work, whereas outside work we may never have had the opportunity to meet them in the first place.
Most obvious in this category is disabled staff. Before decent screen-reading software, blind people really struggled in the world of work. Now, with almost all information available via the web or email they can access virtually everything sighted people can. Wheelchair users, who all too often couldnt even get to work, let alone get into the building, now have decent cars, accessible buildings and, where they need it, adaptable software. Even deaf and hard-of-hearing people have a greatly improved time with email, text messaging, Blackberrys and Typetalk/TextDirect.
Diversity & race
Without workplace relationships, how far would Britains non-white, BAME (black and Asian minority ethnic) population have integrated into the wider community? As Lord Ouseleys 2001 report on race relations in Bradford showed, schools, once segregated, too often become part of the problem.
It's with large employers like the NHS where integration starts to happen. In 2008, nearly 50% of staff at the Bradford Royal Infirmary declared themselves to be other than white British. And while countless indicators show some ethnic groups, like Pakistani, Bangladeshi and black African men have worse job prospects and lower pay (up to a fifth lower than an equivalent white British man, according to a 2010 report from the National Equality Panel), this same report showed variation in incomes within ethnic groups to be as wide as across the population as a whole.
Diversity & genderLess dramatic, but more significant (because of the numbers involved) has been the pace of change affecting womens job prospects. Women remain under-represented at senior level and under-valued elsewhere.
Only 15 of the FTSE 100 companies have any female directors according to the Cranfield School of Managements 2009 report; we have just 60 women MPs, and equal pay claims with Employment Tribunals are up 500% over the last four years.
But nobody now Challenges the right of women to be equally represented on boards, in Parliament and at every level of the workplace and, as a result, in society at large. And with women doing better than men in higher education and moves afoot to allow couples to share maternity leave, gender equality is a much closer prospect than ever it was in the 1980s.
Diversity & sexuality
Of all areas of diversity, it is LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) people who have seen the greatest leap forward in full public acceptance.
According to research by Stonewall in 2007, 93% of us now support laws to protect gay people from discrimination and harassment at work with 60% believing that gay people should be able to be open about their sexual orientation, no matter what.
Acting on diversity
While the Equality Act 2010 that's due to come into force this October is primarily a tidying-up exercise to bring most anti-discrimination legislation into a single Act, it does strengthen certain areas that companies need to prepare for.
The outlawing of pre-job offer health enquiries means some jobseekers are faced with an awkward situation; do they disclose a non-obvious disability or condition they may have and run the risk of not being offered the job, or conceal it and face difficulties or lack of support once hired? HR teams need to be aware of the possibility of having to make provisions for the additional requirements of new staff members should the employee in question decide to disclose information.
The range of measures in the Act aimed at reducing pay inequality also outlaws the inclusion of gagging clauses in contracts that prevent staff discussing their pay or bonuses, and encourages larger employers to monitor and report on pay and gender. While this is an important area that needed to be addressed, any move to make pay monitoring compulsory will not happen for several years.
Promoting diversity at work - workplace learning
It's the workplace that has compelled the reluctant majority to confront its collective prejudices around what the new act calls people with protected characteristics and led us all to understand the value of different people.
Giving staff the opportunity to learn about human diversity, often supported by workplace learning programmes, has not only moved the whole process on, it has inevitably spread back into society at large.
Organisations find that workplace learning programmes enable them to focus on all relevant diversity issues, not just those they were already familiar with and employees report that they have added confidence to know how best to work with people from a wide range of backgrounds.
And without this sea-change of attitudes, just think how dull life would be; imagine a world still dominated by white, non disabled heterosexual males; goodbye Sandi Toksvig, Lenny Henry, David Blunkett, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Monty Panesar, Stephen Fry