Gaining benefits from a diverse workforce

Are you gaining benefits from a diverse workforce?

The business case for being positive about diversity at work is not just legal and financial, it is also closely linked to looking after your customers as well as your staff. Although many organisations are becoming more aware of the legal aspects of discrimination, a focus on the legislation will not change hearts and minds.

The psychological concepts important for diversity are based on ideas of stereotyping, group membership, prejudice and aspects of personality such as authoritarianism. Stereotyping (ideas held about other people based solely on their membership of particular groups or their physical characteristics) is a useful ‘survival instinct’ process, that evolved to help creatures to make quick decisions at time of danger. However, because humans have evolved complex cultures and have in many ways integrated, stereotyping is often no longer a useful reaction. The good news is people can learn how to reduce the level of stereotyping and to respond to others without prejudice.
But how can we truly engender a positive attitude towards difference?

  • The crucial thing is to start at the top – if senior directors are seen to be taking equality seriously, the rest will be more likely to follow. Monitor the language used – the wrong tone can have a huge impact.
  • The environment and culture of the organization is vital – stereotyping and prejudice are supported by interpersonal communication and public acceptance. All managers should have diversity as part of their objectives. Make sure diversity is not just something that belongs to your ethnic minorities or older workers.
  • Training and awareness in the organization is vital, and needs to allow people room to explore their own feelings and reactions. However, care should be taken here. There is evidence that much of the standard diversity training on offer risks making things worse not better. Again this is due to the psychological processes involved, people are made aware of their own biases and the unfairness experienced by others, yet this can make them feel an even stronger group membership and increase prejudice. Choose your training provider carefully.

We are increasingly being asked to run ‘remedial sessions’ for staff in situations where they and the organisation are at risk of discrimination claims. This is so sad, as research shows a truly positively diverse culture can lead to a more effective organisation. Don’t let it get to that stage – take positive steps now to gain the full business benefit.

Companies using only online applications may be guilty of age discrimination by excluding those unable to access the internet

Had this in from Personnel Today – highlighting that many homes still do not have internet access, and that there is still an age gap (although I suspect that is changing, I will check the data). All the same, if you insist people only apply online you are excluding some workers:

  • Companies using only online applications may be guilty of age discrimination by excluding those unable to access the internet: 22 October 2007 10:34
  • Companies who hire staff using only online application forms could be found guilty of age discrimination as they are excluding certain age groups unable to access the internet, a law firm has warned.
  • Many companies now use standardised web-based forms when recruiting to cut costs and reduce paperwork. Companies are also doing this to avoid the legal repercussions of candidates claiming age discrimination if they have stated their age on a CV and have not been put forward for an interview.

But law firm Wedlake Bell said this could backfire if the application forms are only accessible online as it precludes older age groups who may not have access to the internet or are not computer-literate.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2006, 55% of people aged 50 or over in the UK had not used a computer in the previous three months (compared to 13% of 16- to 30-year-olds).

Other figures show that only 61% of households currently have internet access.

David Israel, partner in the employment division at Wedlake Bell, said: “Companies who give job applicants the sole option of applying for a position through a standardised online form could find themselves challenged in a tribunal for being ageist.

“Companies should always offer, for example, to post application forms to people who are unable to download them.”

Age Discrimination