Companies need to evolve in order to survive in the 21st Century and diversity in the workplace presents one of the biggest challenges. It requires a huge shift in the way companies run. Companies need to accept difference, respect difference, work with difference and live with difference.

The profile of the labour market is changing. Women now make up more that half of the workforce and 60% of families with children have both parents in employment. The structure of families is also changing. The arrangement for care of dependants are becoming more complex. Increasing numbers of employees are also caring for elderly relatives. These workers are often in the age range of 45-64 and may be your most experienced workforce. In today's rapidly changing world, providing terms and conditions, new working patterns and equality of opportunity as part of your employment package can enable you to manage your staff to achieve significant improvements in your business as well as adhere to employment law

Facts about diversity in the workplace

Disability

1. Over 6.2 million disabled people are of working age, representing 17% of the working population.
2. Less than 5% of people with disabilities use wheelchairs
3. Disabled people in employment tend to work in a similar range of jobs to non-disabled people and can offer employers exactly the same range of skills and talents as anyone else. They often have additional problem-solving skills developed from managing their everyday life. Yet unemployment rates among people with disabilities are around two-and-a-half times those for non-disabled people.
4. Disabled employees have the same aspirations and ambitions as anyone else in the workforce. They want jobs which are challenging and rewarding and are just as likely to want opportunities for career development and promotion.
5. One out of every four customers is disabled or has a disabled person within their immediate circle. The value of the disability market in the UK is estimated to be £40 billion per annum.

Age

1. Life expectancy increases by another year approximately every four years.
2. There are 1 million fewer people in their 20s than ten years ago.

Race

1. Minority ethnic groups now account for 10% of Britain's population.
2. 12% of the UK's university undergraduates are young people from black and other ethnic minorities communities
3. Ethnic minorities in the UK represent a younger, growing marketplace - 80% are under 25 years old

Importance of people

We now live in an era where the quality of a company's people has become the distinguishing feature of a successful organisation. People are the single sustainable sources of competitive advantage. Recruiters have a commitment to improve the contribution people make to business performance. To do this effectively we must address the issues of diversity in the workplace.

The diversity concept expands an organisation's horizons beyond equality issues covered by the law and builds on recognised approaches to equal opportunities. It adds new impetus to the development of equal opportunities and the creation of an environment in which enhanced contributions from all employees will work to the advantage of the business, people themselves and society in general.

For organisations to remain viable and competitive, nurturing high performance through the development of people is essential. To avoid wasting talent, every way of creating an efficient and effective workforce needs to be examined. The promotion of equal opportunities makes good business sense. Equal opportunities have been promoted as a key component of good management as well as being legally required, socially desirable and morally right.

Managing diversity offers an opportunity for organisations to develop a workforce to meet their business goals and to improve approaches to customer care. It builds on the understanding of the need for equal opportunity policies. Because of its systematic approach, it fits well with initiatives such as Investors In People (IIP) and Total Quality Management (TQM).

Managing diversity

What is managing diversity?

Managing diversity is based on the concept that people should be valued as individuals for reasons related to business interests, as well as for moral and social reasons. It recognises that people from different backgrounds can bring fresh ideas and perceptions which can make the way work is done more efficient and products and services better. It also allows for promoting diversity.

Managing diversity will successfully help organisations to nurture creativity and innovation, and thereby tap hidden capacity for growth and improved competitiveness.

What action does managing diversity require?

The management of diversity requires action to ensure organisations have an open workplace culture based on trust and mutual respect. In such a culture, people value each other and treat each other with dignity. Likewise, differences in personal backgrounds and characteristics do not prejudice decisions about the suitability of individuals for employment or training. Different views and ideas are welcomed.

Managing diversity, like equal opportunities requires organisation to ensure that all decisions about the employment and training of people are objective, based on merit, relate to individual personal development criteria and support business goals. This can be achieved through the continuous review of workplace policies, practices and behaviour to check that these are helping all employees to give their best.

How are equal opportunities activities moved on by managing diversity?
Managing diversity requires equality to be dealt with in a strategic, co-ordinated way. It broadens the concept of equal opportunities beyond the issues just covered by law. It welcomes the difference and seeks to avoid bias on the basis of issues which unfairly block personal development. It recognises that people have different abilities to contribute to organisational goals and performance and that action might be needed to give everyone a chance to compete on equal terms. It acknowledges that organisational cultures may need to become more flexible and adaptable in order to realise the full potential of a diverse workforce.

Managing diversity can help to counteract prejudice against a wide range of personal differences for example; academic or vocational qualification, accent, age, caring responsibilities, race, colour, marital status, physical and mental abilities, political affiliation, previous mental illness, religion, sexual, orientation, spent or irrelevant convictions and trade unions or non-trade union membership.

Managing diversity needs to engage the Chief Executive and board members, line managers and individual employees as well as personnel practioners. Managing diversity needs to become a mainstream issue which influences all employment policies and working practices.

For example, business benefits can be gained by reducing the turnover rate of females employees. This can be achieved through having better maternity provisions and employment break opportunities. Likewise, employing ethnic minority workers and people with disabilities can help organisations to access rich pools of talent and to develop closer links with a broader customer base. Trust and commitment between employer and employees may also improve by successfully embedding improved diversity policies on a regular basis. This will in turn bring long term benefits to the business on a number of levels. Evidence indicates that organisations which are serious about diversity show better overall financial performance.

The needs of people, society and business are convergent. The willing contribution of responsibility, initiative and creativity depends on a fair and encouraging relationship between employer and all employees. But such relationships will not be realised in organisations which marginalise parts of their workforce by neglecting the diverse needs of employees.

The reasons why diversity matters in business can be sib-divided into six major areas:

1. Improving customer care and increasing market share.2. Developing organisational ethics and values.
3. Enhancing people management practices.
4. Reflecting changes in society and personal expectations.
5. Complying with legislation (The cost of legal damages for failing to comply with legislation can be high, especially no that there is no upper limits on the damages which can be awarded for discrimination cases).
6. Keeping up with best practice to attract and retain talent and enhance competitiveness.

Research diversity

'The Business of Diversity' Cabinet office research findings included:

72% of private sector companies saw a direct link between diversity and performance. Successful equality a policy on diversity in the workplace delivers significant business benefits including better recruitment, increased retention, improved understanding of markets and communities, and enhanced reputation and cost savings.

Sustained leadership commitment is crucial to the success of any equality and diversity strategy. Any cultural changes need to be led from the top and if an organisation is serious about it, diversity needs building into their statements of beliefs and values.

Everyone is different, and everyone is unique. Achieving diversity is about bringing together a rich mix of people with differing perspectives, from differing backgrounds to create an environment in which those differences are valued. This is the way to create a vibrant, open and creative culture; a culture in which ideas flourish, where people thrive, grow and have fun; where energy is released and business objectives are achieved.

In a competitive and changing world, employees, prospective employees and business partners of your business are demanding diversity, so do not disappoint them.

How to manage a diversity programme

Diversity is often mistakenly confused with old-style equal opportunities which refers to any differences between individuals like age, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, education and social background. Such differences can affect how people perform and interact with each other in the workplace, hence the need for a diversity management programme.

Where do I start?

The starting point of any programme is to communicate what diversity is, what the organisation hopes to achieve by managing it more effectively and its overall goals. These could be to recruit more women, to recruit more over 50s, to make it easier for working mums to leave early, to have faith days and prayer rooms and so on.

The following steps are good ways to communicate key messages and instil good behaviour:

1. Send senior and line managers on diversity training courses.
2. Brief all staff on discriminatory attitudes and behaviour and the disciplinary consequences, as well as how to raise a grievance.
3. Conduct diversity workshops.
4. Establish network support groups, which could be further bolstered by creating a diversity user group on the corporate intranet that can generate online discussions.
5. Remember, diversity management can take years to embed into the culture of a company. Sustained change will only occur if employees fully understand diversity, feel they have ownership of it and are receptive to change.

Furthermore, HR cannot do it alone so diversity champions and change agents need to be identified throughout the company.

Undertaking a diversity audit

Before writing a diversity management programme it is essential to assess current diversity levels. This will mean conducting a thorough diversity audit. This should include: the different kinds of diversity existing within your organisation, how many people there are, the effect this diversity is having on employees' ability to do their jobs, how such diversity is perceived by others at the company (for instance, what do colleagues think about staff who want to work at home one day a week due to family logistics?) and the effectiveness or otherwise of current diversity policies and procedures.

Writing your policy document

Once you have established your aims and assessed the current state of diversity, (or lack of it) you can start to identify the areas that need most attention. These might be policies and procedures, as well as perceptions and attitudes at both management and shop floor level. Include:
- An explanation of diversity.
- The advantages of managing it more effectively and why it is important to do so; remember to make a business case for it, linking it to better performance.
- Specific aims of your programme and how you can achieve them.

Remember five things

1. Most people in the workforce claim to be 'diverse'.
2. Equal opportunities is just one part of diversity.
3. HR can initiate diversity programmes but need company-wide support.
4. Regularly review diversity policies and ensure they are keep pace with legislation.
5. Detailed policies and procedures should be user-friendly.

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