When it comes to diversity in the work environment, there is a lot more at stake than just ticking a box. It is one of those subjects that seems to come around every few years, and it causes a flurry of activity that helps to redress the balance and then sadly it often falls into the background of everyday working life. However, ensuring a diverse workplace can be a rewarding endeavour from several perspectives.
There is a legal requirement to ensure equality
One of the most obvious reasons for regularly refreshing how a workplace deals with a diverse workforce is that there is a legal requirement to ensure equality. While this is a very different thing to encouraging a diverse workforce, it is a starting point to ensure that your internal policies ensure equal treatment for the common areas. In a nutshell, because the practice of equality is not really what this article is about, you cannot discriminate by age, sexual orientation, gender, religion, gender reassignment, pregnancy, disability or whether someone is married or in a civil partnership. These are legal requirements, but they are really only there to ensure compliance with equality. Diversity can be more difficult because it is really not so up front. There is sometimes a mistake made that diversity is about a single approach to everyone. This is not only almost impossible, but it is actually likely to reduce the options for a diverse workforce. If we are not careful, it creates a sort of self-enclosing environment where the attempt to be equal actually results in discouraging some sectors of society. Rather than treating everyone the same, a strong, diverse workforce celebrates and embraces difference in its practices.
Many industries tend to show a gender bias, which is worrying, as several of these are also skills gap areas. It is certain that the companies within them do not discriminate against women; it is more that women do not go into those professions. Engineering, for example, is an area where there is a seemingly growing need for new blood, and yet in 2016, only 8% of engineers in the UK were women. When you consider that the European average is around 20% (which is probably still unacceptably low), we clearly need to make efforts in this direction. Somewhere between primary school and leaving education, women move away from certain professions. This is something we all need to address.
One of the biggest benefits of having a workplace that not only allows but encourages diversity is that the workforce has a wider range of skills and approaches. We are all forged by our upbringing and cultural backgrounds. As, for the most part, are our customers. While you would certainly not want to specifically employ from any one criterion of race or gender, for example, you may want to encourage the inclusion of team members who speak particular languages or understand the common culture of sections of our society. It is certainly well worth having different perspectives and approaches in any workforce because, as every employer knows, the less you have variety of approach, the fewer solutions.
In the end, diversity is not about a process of homogenisation where you magically mix everyone together and produce a single catch-all solution. It is about making sure that all sections of society have access to potential jobs and that all employees have access to a wider, more diverse, workforce. As this article shows, the perfect employee may only be a positive diversity search away.