In the UK, our laws provide protection against discrimination based on a number of different characteristics. For example, it protects people from being discriminated against because of their gender, race, disability, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, age, pregnancy and maternity status, or because they are married or in a civil partnership
When we use the term ‘equality’ at work, we mean making sure that everyone is treated fairly, given equal opportunities, and is protected from being discriminated against. This does not mean treating everyone the same but refers to giving everyone the best possible chance to succeed; whatever their background, special needs, or identity.
In other words, equality is about recognising the differences in our employees and meeting their diverse needs fairly and sensitively, ensuring that everyone is given the same opportunity for the same outcome. If we don’t take these differences into consideration, then we could be putting someone at a disadvantage and denying them equal opportunities – for example, a job opportunity or ability to access certain services.
It’s important to remember that ‘diversity’ is not just another word for equality, but refers to the necessity to recognise, respect, and value the differences in people. It’s about the things that make each of us unique, including our backgrounds, personality, life experiences, and beliefs.
Valuing difference and bearing diversity in mind when we approach our work environment will help us to support all our employees to reach their full potential. It will also help eliminate bullying, victimisation, harassment and discrimination – all areas which spell bad news for businesses, obviously.
Welcoming diversity as a workforce means that we will value each other, treat each other fairly, and ultimately work better together. In turn, this means that we will do a better job and provide the kinds of services that our customers want and have a right to expect.
What makes equality and diversity so important?
Equality and diversity are important factors that organisations need to prioritise in order to thrive and be successful.
This is because – along with equality and diversity – come strength and innovation. Tapping into the power of a diverse workforce can help organisations build a competitive edge since doing so brings different perspectives, communication-styles, and problem-solving skills to the table.
Additionally, promoting equality and diversity is good for business because it’s very likely your target market is made up of a diverse, non-homogenous, range of people. Employees from different cultures and backgrounds can help organisations access a wider range of consumers, ensuring their message is appropriate and appealing to all types of people with different backgrounds and beliefs.
More than this, however, who wouldn’t want to work with and for a company that promotes values such as fairness, respect, and tolerance? In this way, equality and diversity help organisations attract new and gifted talent, as well as retaining their top staff with a thriving, employee-focused company culture.
Equality and diversity are all about energising and empowering your workforce. They’re about creating balance that boosts performance, increases productivity, and nurtures an environment wherein people feel appreciated and valued.
When this happens, your employees are far more likely to stay with the company long-term (reducing recruitment and training costs), feel safe and happy (reducing turnover and sick leave), and bring their best selves to work every day.
What does a culture of equality and diversity look like?
Before we can assess our own equality and diversity cultures, it’s helpful to be able to recognise what success in this area looks like. Breaking down what behaviours, practices, and daily habits make up a solid culture of equality and diversity will help us to gauge the impact that work in this area can have.
It also helps us see clearly the tangible business benefits on offer for organisations that embrace equality and diversity for what it is: so much more than an annual box-ticking exercise.
A robust culture of equality and diversity begins with a bold and dedicated leadership team. This team are, themselves, diverse and inclusive – and are aware of their own potential to influence others through their own respectful and supportive behaviours.
Setting the right tone from the top cannot be overestimated when it comes to your management team; it’s perhaps the single most important element to get right. After all, your company’s leaders set the cultural tone, norms, and behavioural framework for the organisation at large.
Equality as standard
Within a culture of equality and diversity, business leaders understand the impact organisational systems, processes and cultures have upon staff and advocate for them, ensuring to meet their needs respectfully and responsively. They also take accountability for equality and diversity outcomes, understanding that – along with diversity – comes strength and innovation, helping to future proof the business. Unconscious bias training is given to all staff to help them recognise and mitigate how it could affect their judgements.
Inside a culture of equality and diversity, staff have access to the mandatory training they require, ensuring they understand and comply with the company’s and the law’s regulations. Understanding their rights under the Equality Act 2010, and the ways the legislation benefits and protects them, helps employees feel informed and empowered, and they’re able to spot and report red flags should they need to.
Staff also have equal access to other non-mandatory training resources, e.g., for career development or succession planning, and enjoy company benefits which reflect the needs of all staff members (examples may include flexible and/or remote working, enhanced parental leave, wellness programs, and healthcare insurance).
A united front
A strong and inclusive culture of equality and diversity motivates employees to engage with the business, since they aren’t treated as ‘outsiders’ and so don’t feel emotionally distant from the organisation. Regular employee updates further enhance this interaction, helping to build trust and encourage two-way communication between departments and staff at differing levels of seniority.
Employees, whilst diverse and each bringing different skillsets to the table, work from a shared vision, towards the same goals, and with a clear roadmap of expectations and values laid out before them.
A true culture of equality and diversity takes a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination or harassment of any kind. All employers have a duty of care to their employees and offering staff access to training materials to understand their rights, and setting out clear procedures for reporting any concerns (in the company’s code of conduct, e.g.), is the first step in protecting your employees’ health, safety, and wellbeing.
Additionally, the organisation must stand by its convictions when it comes to reports of discrimination or harassment, listening to concerned members of staff, taking complaints seriously, and actioning appropriate disciplinary procedures against perpetrators.
3 steps you can take now to improve your equality and diversity culture
Apart from simply being the right thing to do, we know by now that companies with strong cultures of equality and diversity are more likely to be innovative, have high-performing, well-motivated teams, and yield higher financial returns.
1. Create a sense of belonging at work
All human beings desire a sense of belonging to a group. Social connection is in our DNA and – when we feel like we belong – we’re likely to enjoy a more meaningful life and reach our full potential personally and professionally.
In order to create a sense of belonging for all employees, business leaders can look out for opportunities to be an ally, particularly to groups typically underrepresented and potentially facing injustice. Allyship means managers and senior staff helping to promote inclusivity and equality by building supportive relationships and engaging in public acts of advocacy. The aim of these actions is to drive systemic improvements to corporate policies, practices, and cultures – reshaping them so they benefit and speak for everyone.
2. Examine recruitment processes
It’s a good idea to keep a critical eye on your recruitment processes and challenge any non-diverse shortlists honestly, with an open mind.
It’s also important that recruitment managers have undergone unconscious bias training and can understand and spot all types of hiring biases, including confirmation bias (60% of interviewers will make a decision about a candidate’s suitability within 15 minutes of first meeting), and expectation anchoring (when one piece of information about a candidate influences or ‘anchors’ the entire hiring process, making it unfair). An example of expectation anchoring might be believing a younger candidate can do the job better than an older candidate, or favouring an interviewee because they attended one university over another.
3. Offer ongoing training
Organisations should never approach equality and diversity training as a ‘once and done’ exercise that simply ticks a legislative box. Indeed, companies that view equality and diversity as simply a legal ‘obligation’ and nothing more, might well be left wondering why their employees seem disengaged or disillusioned about the concept. Their staff may also appear distant from the company’s vision and goals and show signs of discontent themselves. The staff churn-rate is also likely to be high in such an environment.
It helps to approach mandatory training as the framework for your equality and diversity culture. As such, its job is to teach employees about their rights under the law, enhance awareness and understanding about the value of an inclusive workplace, and lay out best practices for diversity and inclusion practices.
However, once this framework is built, it’s a good idea to investigate more comprehensive, ongoing initiatives to engage employees with equality and diversity; think scenario-led, problem-solving exercises (this can be done digitally through immersive eLearning formats if preferred) aimed at uncovering/challenging workplace prejudice and unconscious bias.
Indeed, training ought to be part of a wider solution, including leaders that take the issue seriously, review their culture and turnover regularly with a critical eye, and model anti-discrimination behaviours themselves.
If you’re interested in furthering your equality and diversity training, please feel free to get in touch with our friendly team or why not check out our range of Diversity and Inclusion eLearning courses to arrange a free trial? We’re happy to help!