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The Pod cast "The Business Case for equal Opportunities" is based on the "The Business Case for Equal Opportunities: An Econometric Investigation" that was prepared by a team at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. It aims at identifying whether Equal Opportunities policies and practices affect business performance and, specifically, whether such policies and practices affect productivity or profits. Their findings do not discover direct cause or effect link between businesses having Equal Opportunities Policies and having higher productivity and profits, but it ascertains the reverse is certainly not the case too. (http://podcast.plain-sense.co.uk/2008/04/15/news-no-simple-business-case-for-equal-opportunities/)
An equal opportunities policy can be defined as "â€¦a statement of organizational procedures and practices which provide genuine equality of opportunity for all employees, regardless of gender, age, ethnic origin, marriage, religion, or disability. Its remit goes beyond strict compliance with the law and ensures the effective use of all human resources within the organization. Such a policy should focus on preventing discriminatory or harassing behavior in the workplace and achieving equal access to training, job and promotion opportunities" (Free Library).
The development of formal approaches to organizational equal opportunity policies and practices in Britain dates back to 1970s and has been strongly influenced by the anti-sex and race discrimination legislation of that time and since then is trying to ensure that the employer stays within the law when applying that practices. (Kirton et al, 2007) According to Liff (1999), applying equal opportunity practices may bring economic and social benefits for the organization and for the employees reduce social inequality and can also impact the business performance. For instance, staff commitment may be improved, leading to reduction in absenteeism and turnover and increased output. They could ease recruitment shortages and cut recruitment costs; hence, increase improving the quality and productivity of the workforce. (Riley et al, 2008)
Additional benefits proposed by Kirton et al (2007) suggest that Equal opportunities practices enable differences among employees to be recognized, at the same time treating people equally. By doing the latter, the employees can promote new sources of ideas, creativity, problem-solving and build in brand loyalty among the customers and distinctiveness by valuing all its employees and customers. However, the Pod cast states that it is likely that some employers will gain some benefits from implementing Equal Opportunities policies and practices, while others will feel disadvantageous. Yet, these practices may have the opposite effect by adding administrative and training costs thus reduce profit.
However, these policies and practices vary in the degree to which they are implemented and affect equality of opportunity. They also vary in the extent to which they could affect the business performance of the organizations implementing them. As suggested above, the Equal opportunity practices could incur costs, as well as produce benefits. Yet, the net benefit to an organisation may be positive or negative, depending on the certain practices and the organisation's characteristics. Additionally, the course by which an Equal Opportunities policy or practice in an organization can affect business performance may be direct or indirect. (Riley et al, 2008)
One of the potential business benefits of implementing equal opportunities and practices suggested in the Pod cast include improved recruitment process. Discrimination in recruitment reduces the quality of the work force, due to rejection of suitable candidates. Therefore, it is assumed that discrimination can lead to poorer match between the particular job requirements and the recruits' competences. This could cause recruitment difficulties and skill shortages of the organization. Thus, higher quality workers can be recruited if the organization does not discriminate the potential employees. Lack of discrimination may result in increased number of applicants, which enlarges the pool of candidates who are regarded as suitable. Most importantly, improved labour quality and lower labour costs can be achieved. (Riley et al, 2008)
Second benefit from equal opportunity polices, proposed by the research is the better utilisation of staff resources, achieved in provision of training and development opportunities and allocating staff n specific jobs. (Riley et al, 2008)
Equal Opportunities policies and practices as well as family-friendly working practices are "â€¦purported to improve employee morale and commitment and therefore, to provide business benefits. Good morale and commitment have been associated with:
â€¢ lower levels of stress and psychosomatic illness and increased psychological well-being;
â€¢ lower staff turnover;
â€¢ fewer grievances;
â€¢ higher job performance, increased work quality and greater 'organisational citizenship'
â€¢ lower absenteeism.
However, the extent of benefit to the organization due to morale improvements will vary with the different characteristics of businesses." (Riley et al, 2008) Ultimately, if staff turnover is too high, a reduction in it will be beneficial, whereas costs may incur if the turnover becomes too low. Additionally, the benefits for the organization may be minimal if the production costs are low (Liff and Cameron, 1997: 41).
The most important finding from the Pod cast suggests that Equal opportunities and policies distribute greater employee diversity. Therefore, if the labour market includes groups previously discriminated against, equality of opportunity may increase the diversity of the workforce. Again, "The Business Case for Equal Opportunities: An Econometric Investigation" supplements the latter with the statement that increase diversity brings three additional benefits for the organization:
better service to diverse customer groups
First, "customer approval is assumed to enhance sales. It is supposed to be derived through diversity in two ways: firstly, it is assumed that customers support equality and disapprove of discrimination and therefore, tend to approve more of organizations with a diverse workforceâ€¦and secondly, it is assumed that customers wish to see a workforce which includes people like them (i.e. ethnic minorities wish to see ethnic minority employees, women, female employees, etc.; this tends to be a benefit cited by retail organizations, amongst others)." (Riley et al, 2008)
However, when implementing Equal practices and policies, one has to be aware of the possible development costs and continuing expenses of training and dissemination that may incur in the future.
There are plenty of examples of how these practices and policies are implemented and affect people. For instance, the Government of Uganda is trying to pass the law prohibiting homosexuality. The law, or rather, the attitude of Ugandans to the issue of homosexuality concentrated in this law, will not be something new to the Ugandan homosexuals, who have been experiencing mistreatment in all aspects of their lives: "What is clear is that homosexuals are often isolated, discriminated against at work and in AIDS treatment clinics, and sometimes even lynched" (The Economist, November 12, 2009).
No matter whether the government of the country supports homosexuals, or radically goes against them, as in case with Uganda, the discrimination DOES exist at working places. Even in Great Britain, where the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations were adopted as far as 2003, in some sectors of business life it's virtually impossible to work for a homosexual: "â€¦ a big shock awaited me when I crossed the marble lobby into the world of investment banking. I discovered that homophobic bullying was systemic and a widely accepted part of the macho trading-floor culture. I stuck at it for nine months but left feeling drained, angry and demoralized" (Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, 2009).
The author of these words has been facing the problem of discrimination in the past decade, when he himself was a graduate looking for a job. In spite of admitting that Great Britain, as well as other European countries, has gone quite far in the direction of protection of people against discrimination at work, in practice, at real working places of specific employers it still exists. However, the achievements in reducing negative consequences of experiencing discrimination at one's working place are still on-going. A lot is being done for young people trying to find a place where they will feel safe and encouraged regardless of their sexual preferences: "A great starting place for finding employers who are committed to ensuring they have gay-friendly workplaces is the Stonewall Starting out Recruitment Guide. Now in its fifth year, this national guide features almost 400 employers from the private and public sector, who understand that gay people want a working environment free from fear and discrimination and where people are valued as individuals" (Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, 2009). However, the issue of homosexuality is still so much controversial for society, that there can be no doubt that it continues to create a lot of difficulties, mistreatment for the people in working environment. And yet, as mentioned in the beginning, my opinion is that the source of the credo is not the attitude you adopt - homosexuality or heterosexuality - but rather the attitude of people around you, people at helm of the company you work for to the issue of discrimination in general. Why some employees are awarded bigger bonuses than the others for an equally valuable work? This is specifically applicable to the financial sector. Studies show that in Great Britain women working in the finance sector receive in average 60% less than their male counterparts. Add to this some examples of women having received smaller bonuses because they were pregnant or on maternity leave, and you will receive a complete discrimination picture. Though, every employer knows that "it is unlawful to use bonuses to discriminate against an employee because of their sex, race, age, disability or religion. Performance should be the only satisfactory basis for an employer to justify any differences" (Philip Landau, 2009).
On the other hand, some companies now practice the approach of hiring people, which are very much equal opportunities oriented, even at the stage of recruitment: "London borough council that we work with has engaged in a policy of opening up opportunities for potential employment within their organization. Support is provided to people looking for work via equal opportunities for all. Job seekers complete the guarantee program which is a scheme that helps tailor career aspirations and goals with specific training and eventually interview opportunities", - says Adam Tucker, Partner at Construction Consultants John Rowan and Partners (Kerry Ann Eustice, 2009).
If we look at the situation in the States, one of the most acute problems for American working environment is probably the issue of discrimination of African-Americans both in their job search and later in their career. In the New York Times they have placed an article "In job hunt college degree can not close the racial gap" (Michael Luo, 2009), clearly describing the hardships of African-American job candidates trying to get a job. Personally for me the facts laid out in the article were a bit surprising. I did believe that Obama's election would put an end to possible remaining sings of racial discrimination in the American society. But apparently not: "There is resentment toward his presidency among some because of his race," - said Edward Verner, a Morehouse alumnus from New Jersey who was laid off as a regional sales manager and has been able to find only part-time work. - "This has affected well-educated, African-American job seekers" (Michael Luo, 2009).
And what is even a bigger paradox - the most affected by the recession of the labor market appeared to be African-American graduates of the prestigious business schools, while their counterparts without diplomas seem to be relatively unaffected: "Black joblessness has long far outstripped that of whites. And strikingly, the disparity for the first 10 months of this year, as the recession has dragged on, has been even more pronounced for those with college degrees, compared with those without. Education, it seems, does not level the playing field - in fact, it appears to have made it more uneven" (Michael Luo, 2009).
But the picture is not that bad. Australian Human Rights Commission seems to work hard on the issue of encouraging equal opportunity policies and practices among Australian employers. According to the Commission's homepage, there is a list of Acts that the employer shall be governed by when providing a working place for the employees: "Age Discrimination Act 2004, Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Sex Discrimination Act 1984, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986" (Australian Human Rights Commission). A good thing is that they do not only provide a theoretical support of what one should experience at a working place and what you should not, but also deal with complaints. Another organization working fruitfully in the direction of ensuring equal opportunities in the working place is Equal Opportunities Commission of Hong Kong. It covers all stages of an employee's life - hiring, terms and conditions of employment, pay scales, benefits of employment, training, promotion, transfers, dismissal, redundancy and termination of employment (Raymond Tang, 2007). However, the nature of activity and the challenges in front of such organizations in this part of the world are somewhat different than those of their western counterparts due to the difference in social life. It is doubtful whether the problem of discrimination on the grounds of racism or sexual preferences is that acute in Asia, as it is in Great Britain. To much bigger extent Asian employees face the problem of working long hours and experiencing the disadvantages of family hostile labor legislation: "It is a fact that workers in Hong Kong toil long hours, and many surveys have shown the high social costs that the community pays for the lack of family time and health risks that individuals suffer. Over the past few years, a growing community concern over the lack of work-family balance has called for a more family-friendly working environment in Hong Kong to help reduce stress for employees" (Raymond Tang, 2007). In order to deal with this challenge the Equal Opportunities Commission launched Family-friendly Employment Policies & Practices (FEPPs) aims at identifying the gaps in understanding that a good employer should care about the family balance of the employees working for his/her company.
In western democracies this understanding among employees is quite firm, and very often it plays a decisive role in the employees' job preferences. So, if an employer wants to have "the best brains", he/she understands he/she should be flexible while approaching the employees. In Sweden, for example "paternity leave" for at least a 2-month period is none of a novelty. In Great Britain IT professional can work from home, as long as the specific of their work allows it. Unfortunately, all these examples are applicable to western countries. The majority of Eastern Europe countries like Russia or Ukraine are still in the Stone Age when it comes to introducing, let alone further implementing equal opportunities policies.
Whether equal opportunity policies and practices are good for business or not? - They certainly are. Whether practicing equal opportunity policies in business environment can reduce disadvantage in the working place or not? - It certainly can. As Liff (1995) says, "Ensuring that everyone is treated equally is a worthwhile aim in itself and is considered good employment practice; however, it does not guarantee fair and equal outcomes and does not always recognize difference. " The activity of the above-mentioned organizations, the activity of similar organizations not mentioned here does help employees around the globe to enjoy healthy working life regardless of what they are - men or women, old or young, black or white, heterosexual or homosexual. However, there are still much more victims of unfair treatment at work. Probably, this is because it's quite difficult to register and document the cases of such mistreatment, as one should be very courageous to file a complaint and fight for his/her rights. And the farther from the west, the more acute the problem is. One could only hope for the better. Let's hope that one day people will start treating each other unbiased not because there are new legally binding acts and provisions from the governmental authority, but because they just feel it is right.