Equality is the current term for 'Equal Opportunities'. It is based on the legal obligation to comply with anti-discrimination legislation. Equality protects people from being discriminated against on the grounds of group membership i.e. sex, race disability, sexual orientation, religion, belief, or age.
Diversity implies a wide range of conditions and characteristics. In terms of businesses and their workforces it is about valuing and reaping the benefits of a varied workforce that makes the best of people's talents whatever their backgrounds. Diversity encompasses visible and non-visible individual differences. It can be seen in the makeup of your workforce in terms of gender, ethnic minorities, disabled people etc., about where those people are in terms of management positions, job opportunities, terms and conditions in the workplace.
Diversity is about respecting individual differences, and people's differences can be many and varied:
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Embracing equality and diversity brings to an organisation a wide range of experience, ideas and creativity whilst giving the individual employee a feeling of being enabled to work to their full potential.
Combined together, equality and diversity drive an organisation to comply with anti-discrimination legislation as well as emphasising the positive benefits of diversity such as drawing on a wider pool of talent, positively motivating all employees and meeting the needs of a wider customer base.
Employers are now encouraged to deepen and enrich their "equal opportunities" policies and strategies into an encompassing Equality and Diversity policy with a strategy and action plans that managers, workers and other stakeholders can contribute to and benefit from.
What is the difference between direct and indirect discrimination?
Direct discrimination is treating someone less favourably than others in a similar situation because of their gender, ethnicity or other features covered by the legislation. Indirect discrimination is including conditions within jobs, or procedures that lead, deliberately or otherwise, to certain categories of people being excluded from jobs or opportunities open to others in similar situations.
In 1995 the Equal Opportunities commission launched a campaign to highlight the business case for equal opportunities. The aim was to demonstrate that, in economic terms, equality made good business sense. A leaflet produced at the time outlines the 'Benefits of Equality' and 'Costs of Inequality'. The benefits of equality include:
best use of human resources;
flexible workforce to aid restructuring;
workforce representative of the local community;
improved corporate image with potential employees and customers;
attracting ethical investors;
managers can integrate equality into corporate objectives;
new business ideas from a diverse workforce.
The costs of inequality include:
inefficiency in use of human resources (high staff turnover, low productivity and restricted pool of talent);
inflexible workforce, limiting organisational change;
poor corporate image with prospective employees and customers;
management time spent on grievances;
losing an industrial tribunal case.
Changes in the composition of the UK's working population and employment patterns have resulted in considerably greater diversity in the economically active workforce compared with only 20 years ago (Mavin and Girling, 2000). Jamieson and O'Mara (1991) observe that these changes, combined with labour shortages and the increasing purchasing power of 'minority' consumer markets, have led to the emergence of a business case argument for greater workforce diversity. Its essential rationale is that recognising people's differences in organisational practices can bring HR and marketing related business benefits through maximising available talent, creating business opportunities by drawing on wider perspectives and having the capability to thrive in different cultures (Robinson and Dechant, 1997).
The suggestion is that employers that promote an image of the organisation as an
'inclusive' place to work by encouraging applications from 'diverse' individuals position
themselves to become 'employers of choice'. This enhances their ability to recruit the most
talented/skilled applicants (Cox and Blake, 1991). A well-publicised example of such an
approach is the DIY retailer B&Q, which attributes part of its business success to a policy
Always on Time
Marked to Standard
of employing older frontline workers who are more likely to be skilled in offering DIY
advice to customers than younger staff (B&Q, 2004).
"At BT we will only be able to deliver innovation, ensure excellent service and provide the range of products that will drive our business forward if we have a workforce that is every bit as diverse as the customers we serve."
Ben Verwaayen, Chief
Executive Officer, BT Group
Why equality and diversity is a key issue in today's workplace?
Equality and diversity has become a key issue in today's workplace and there are three main arguments that apply. They are the demographic change, the social justice argument, and the business case.
"Employers recognize the importance of demographic change as a driver for diversity and equal opportunities. In the UK, for example, the 2001 census predicted that by 2011 only 20% of the workforce will be male, white, able-bodies, and aged under 45. The proportion of the working population aged between 50 and 64 will be at its highest level since the 1970s. The ratio between people aged 65 and over and children under 16 will increase from 81:100 in 2003 to 136:100 in 2031 (ONS 2005). In 2001 the UK government stated that, in order to 'become a high performance workplace in the twenty-first century with a flexible, highly skilled workforce, adaptable to change and able to compete in the global marketplace, employers need to be fishing in the widest possible talent pool to ensure they have access to the breadth and depth of skills available, which meet their business need' (DTI 2001) The demographic time bomb created by falling birth rates and longer life spans means that fewer younger (employed) people will provide the taxes to support an aging population. Whilst we are witnessing changes in retirement ages, enabling people to have the right to work longer in many circumstances, and also greater levels of immigration, the statistics predict that fewer people will be working in the future in proportion to those not working.
The social justice argument for diversity and equal opportunities is based upon the belief that everyone should have the right to equal access to employment, and when employed should have equal pay and equal access to training and development, as well as being free from any direct or indirect discrimination, and harassment or bullying (CIPD 2006e). This is often viewed as the moral argument for treating people with fairness and dignity - if decisions are made free from prejudice and stereotyping, then there will be a lower risk of one person being treated less fairly than another. Critics of the social justice case argue that fairness is not the prime concern of business; the goals of managers are profit and efficiency, rather than morality. If social justice guided decision-making, it could have a detrimental effect on the operation of the business and ultimately profits (Kitson, Martin and Wilkinson 2000). Indeed, one can pay lip service to this case by adopting the stance of legal compliance and 'procedural justice' (such as complaint and disciplinary systems), where one has created procedures that comply with the law but that do little more to promote fairness at work.
The business case for diversity and equal opportunities has become increasingly prominent. According to the CIPD (2006e), there are three main reason for going beyond what is required by legislation and introducing diversity policies: people issues, market competitiveness, and corporate reputation:
1. People issues
2. Market competitiveness
3. Corporate reputation
Arguable, the social justice and business cases for diversity are complementary, because, unless people are treated fairly at work, they will feel less committed and may under-perform. But diversity takes equality forward, and the evidence indicates that organizations who take diversity seriously have a better financial performance (CIPD 2006f)." (Gilmore and Williams 2009)
Unfortunately many can suffer - for years sometimes - without being able to overcome this problem, and even more worrying is that employers are not trained to be aware of the types of issues that can make people feel undervalued and ineffective." Says Stephen Williams, Head of the Equality and Diversity Unit at Acas.
"This has been the main driver behind Acas devising a series of equality and diversity e-learning tools designed to help both employers and employees recognise relevant issues and be able to address them." (ACAS)
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