Diversity in the workplace - what's the role of HR?

Written by
Changeboard Team

10 May 2010

10 May 2010 • by Changeboard Team

The role of diversity at work

Race diversity isn't just a moral issue. The business case for diversity shows that companies can benefit greatly from opting for a more diverse workforce.

Not only by simply better understanding the demographic of the marketplace that they serve, diversity in the workplace allows companies to secure a competitive advantage, as markets become increasingly global, whilst enabling them to discover untapped opportunities in new customers and products or services.

How can HR help promote diversity?

Diversity in the workplace also gives companies the opportunity to ensure a head start on identifying new trends by having a workforce which is representative of its customers and it acts as a key motivating factor for staff, reducing absenteeism and low productivity levels by creating an inclusive environment that values diversity.

HR has an important part to play in fostering and promoting diversity. Its key role in diversity management and leadership is to create and empower an organisational culture that fosters a respectful, inclusive environment where each employee has the opportunity to learn, grow and contribute to the organisation's success.

How can HR monitor diversity?

Unlike gender diversity, it's often hard to get a clear picture of the situation as a large majority of employees are still not monitoring their workforce profile.

HR teams should be responsible for carrying out annual monitoring and diversity audits not only for current employees, but in recruitment for prospective employees, so the racial profile of their organisation is known and progress can be measured effectively.

Widening the talent pool through recruitment

HR teams should be committed to increasing the diversity of their workforce actively through recruitment or development. This can be via internal or external partnerships with schools, charities and other organisations.

An example of a company that has done this particularly well is Pearson with its Diversity Summer Internship Programme. This programme is a paid summer internship aimed at increasing diversity within Pearson and the wider publishing industry. It's particularly effective and innovative in recognising the Challenges that many underrepresented groups face when entering the media industry in particular and ensures interns are paid a training allowance of £1,100 monthly to facilitate their participation.

Promoting diversity through mentoring

HR teams should ensure their organisations have support groups and mentoring initiatives. Mentoring can be internal or part of a community scheme with schools or local youth groups. It's important to foster talent early and ensure ethnic minority individuals are aware of the right choices to make to reach their career goals.

An example of a company that has been successful in providing an effective mentoring service is the Deloitte programme 'Leadership - volunteering and mentoring'. Deloitte became involved with the Tower Hamlets College Business Mentoring Programme and have provided the college with some of their most dynamic and hands-on mentors who have helped support students to achieve their goals by providing invaluable guidance and advice. The scheme has been so successful that 94% of students said that they could make more informed choices about their futures following it.

Progression & leadership in creating diversity

HR teams should commit to initiatives that help to aid progression and leadership for ethnic minorities. This area remains one of the most challenging for employers in the UK and without action, ethnic minorities will continue to be under-represented at management level. These initiatives need to ensure the organisational culture enables talent to flourish and progress and individuals’ skills and talents to be recognised and harnessed to ensure they are reaching their full potential.

IBM’s Blue Talent Programme does just that as it is aimed at IBM’s top cadre of BAME managers who are recognised by their Senior Leadership Team as having the potential and ability to contribute strongly to the business’s future success. The scheme is a 12-18 month rotation that enables individuals to develop and manage their own career by having activities such as external professional training and authentic leadership programmes on the agenda. This programme is effective as it helps to build the confidence of the participants and raises their profiles within the organisation.

Supply chain diversity

HR teams should aim for good practice in supplier chain diversity in their company. A report released by Race for Opportunity in 2009 showed that not only is it vital to ensure that the diversity of your supply chain reflects your consumer base, but also that there is a business case for supply chain diversity.

The report showed that there are an estimated 275,000 black and minority ethnic (BAME) SMEs in the UK, contributing an estimated £20 billion to the UK economy per year - 5% of the total SME GVA (£369bn). Also, BAME businesses make up 6% of all SMEs in the UK, across a diverse range of industries. Therefore, Britain’s growing ethnic minority communities are a driving force in small business development.

Many companies need to significantly change the way they procure goods and services and adopt a supply chain diversity policy as part of their corporate social responsibility. ASDA did this by working with ethnic minority suppliers to increase their ethnic food ranges and expand their ethnic minority supplier base. Innovatively, rather than simply buying out failing franchises, ASDA has helped small ethnic minority suppliers to expand and thrive to meet the needs of ASDA’s growing customer base. As a result ASDA has experienced incremental sales and profit across ethnic categories with 118% sales growth.

The future of diversity

It's clear that HR is pivotal to increasing diversity in any company and the steps mentioned are the best way to approach this. With the equality bill being passed, it will mean companies will not only have to start thinking about making these changes to recruitment, but they will have to implement them as soon as possible.

Although this is a positive move in recruitment, other areas such as mentoring, supplier chain diversity and progression and leadership still need to be focused on to ensure companies are aiding ethnic minority progression within their organisations.

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