Equal Opportunities Diversity

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Managing diversity and promoting equal opportunities for all is essential in the modern company for two main reasons: in order to avoid discrimination as required by law (penalty avoidance), and also to fully harness to capabilities of every employee for the positive pursuit of organisational benefits. In order to ensure that the company manages people in a manner that encourages diversity and avoids prejudicing against specific groups, several key areas must be discussed. It will be discussed in this paper why diversity is important in the modern workforce, and strategies to ensure equal opportunity will be suggested and evaluated. These will include recruitment and selection strategies, training and development, and also appropriate reward systems. Finally, the way these strategies are implemented through Human Resource Planning will be critically analysed. This should provide a framework which encompasses best practice when it comes to implementing an effective diverse workforce, of who no individual suffers inequality in treatment, opportunities or pay.

Diversity

The external business environment is constantly changing, so in order to have the best chance of maintaining competitive advantage, the full abilities of everyone involved in the business need to be harnessed. Diversity is inherent in the workforce currently employed at the firm, as the company is ethnically mixed as well as having roughly equal numbers of men and women employees. It is vital to manage this diversity in order to ensure that the state of the psychological contract is good between employees and the firm. Guest and Conway (2004) suggest the state of psychological contract is a key factor in encouraging employee engagement and well-being, and a positive approach to diversity where employees feel valued and respected is and important aspect of a healthy psychological contract.

In order to support and encourage diversity in the workforce, strategies need to be in place to encourage equal opportunities to all. First of all, as an employer, we have a legal obligation to treat people fairly and equally in the workplace and there are a number of Acts that directly address this issue such as:

  • The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA), making it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sex;
  • The Race Relations Act 1976 (RRA) as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) 2000 which gives a statutory general duty to promote race equality, eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote good relations between people from different racial groups;
  • The Equal Pay Act 1975 (EPA) , which gives an individual a right to the same contractual pay and benefits as a person of the opposite sex in the same employment (determined by several tests);
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA)

Any employee who feels they have been discriminated against in breach of one of these (or other) acts can make a claim to an employment tribunal. The legislative threat to our interests centres on adverse publicity we could receive, and also direct and indirect costs that a tribunal claim would involve.

It is not sufficient to simply state that we are an equal opportunities employer, the practice of equal opportunities we employ has to be supported by a range of training, policies and procedures that promote equal opportunities to all and also address behaviour that might be seen to threaten the underlying principle.

Implementing equal opportunities for staff is a continuing process that needs to be kept under constant review to ensure compliance with best practice specifically in areas such as recruitment and selection, promotion, retention and reward, flexible working; and finally behaviour in the workplace.

Recruitment

Avoiding discrimination in the workplace and ensuring diversity starts from the very moment a job is advertised. Recruitment must be tailored in a way that it fulfils its objective, of attracting a pool of candidates suitable for the job, but does not exclude or disadvantage any potential applicant from applying, for example through applying a criteria to a job description which will reduce the number of a specific type of group who can apply, known as indirect discrimination (unless the criteria is actually required for the job, known as a "genuine occupational requirement” (GOR)).

A new example illustrating this are the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations, brought into force on 1st October 2006, which specifies it is unlawful to specify an age when advertising a job (although not in an interview or application form). Some particular types of recruitment strategies are particularly prone to reducing the likelihood of offering the same opportunity to all. For example, when there is an opening, asking a high-quality performer to refer people they know who would make good job candidates (headhunting) often results in the individual recommending someone of similar age, with the same race and gender. Even though this is an effective recruitment strategy in terms of being fast and cheap, it will not ensure diversity in the company. The best way to ensure effective recruitment that offers equal opportunities to all is to prepare a wide-scope pre-qualified candidate pool of potential employees before a job becomes available, so relevant candidates are available as and when needed, and a fair cross-section of gender and ethnicities can be offered.

Selection

Selection is a naturally discriminatory process, but employers should only discriminate between applicants on the basis of ability and suitability for the job, as it is unlawful to offer any individual an opportunity not offered to another on the basis of gender, race or disability etc. (unless it is an GOR). When shortlisting candidates from application forms, it is important to have more than one person carrying out the shortlisting, to reduce the risk of prejudice or bias, and when interviewing there should be, if possible, a cross section of demographics on committees to represent the diverse workforce we aim to employ, and also to reduce the subjectivity of the process. Assessment centres offer a much more reliable and valid picture of a potential recruit, and are a much more effective way of ensuring equal opportunities due to the objectivity of test scores, and also the anonymity that can be given to candidates through point-scored tests.

Training & Development

Training and development plays a major part in the promotion of equal opportunity for employees already at the firm. There is a need to concentrate on developing skills such as more effective communication between employees, and better understanding in the workforce. It is important to provide appropriate equal opportunity training for all new staff, preferably at the induction stage, with appropriate refresher training available for all staff. There are two main types of diversity training, awareness based training (which makes people aware of their prejudices) and skills based training, which builds on the basics set out by awareness based training. It is important that all members of staff take part in this type of training exercise in order to manage diversity properly. Finally, it is of utmost importance in ensuring equal opportunities for staff who are involved in selection, recruitment or promotion boards to have undertaken suitable board training beforehand, in order to eliminate or reduce prejudice in these areas.

Appropriate reward strategies & pay

The basic principle behind reward strategies should be that they allow us to recruit, retain and motivate enough staff of the right calibre to run the organisation successfully. We must ensure that any reward strategies we adopt are equitable, transparent and suitable in attracting, motivating and retaining a satisfactory workforce.

It is important that our reward strategy is equitable in order to avoid pay gaps between groups, such as the gender pay gap that has plagued UK firms. The current UK average gender pay gap in full time work is 17.2%, but since 1975, when the Equal Pay Act came into effect, the full-time pay gap has closed considerably, from 29.5% to 20.2% in 1996 and from 20.7% in 1997 to 17.2% in 2006 (womenandequality.com). In order to ensure there is no such gap in our organisation, we can carry out a simple pay systems healthcheck: 1. Look at the share of total pay bill going to men and women 2. Compare it to the proportion of men and women employed. 3. If there is a clear imbalance, investigate why and attempt to re-dress the balance.

There should not be a difference in pay between men and women who are in the same pay grades, and also even if pay levels are in line, the dispersal of bonuses and other benefits should also be equal and fair between genders.

Reward strategies should also be transparent so everyone employed can see the fairness of the system. This should reduce concerns employees have about being considered unequal with each other, although it can increase tensions as some employees may become dissatisfied that others are paid more than them.

An example of a pay system the company could adopt is a competence-related job evaluation. This pay scheme is a contemporary method that analyses job roles and the competencies required to undertake the role. The salary amount is then calculated from the competencies required to perform the role, and different weightings can be allocated for different competencies. If performed effectively, this should offer a fair pay system that is truly equitable regardless of race, age, or gender, and employees are paid solely on the basis of the competencies they bring to the organisation.

Promotion & progression

Promotion criteria must be transparent in order for all employees to feel equally treated and that they are not passed over for promotion because of gender/race etc. It has been noticed that in this company there are more men in middle and senior management positions than women, which may indicate the presence of a glass ceiling - a concept that women can only get promoted to certain levels. However, it is worth noting that this is not just a company-specific problem, it is common throughout the UK. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) carried out its second Sex and Power: Who runs Britain? survey in 2006, which pointed out women had made only marginal progress in filling more top jobs in public life and business in 2006. The survey shows that women make up just 9% of the senior judiciary, 10% of senior police officers, and 13% of editors of national newspapers. However, just because this is still common throughout the UK, it does not mean we do not need to try to re-dress the balance in the company.

Flexible working

It is not always easy for employees to balance work and private life, and when effectively managing diversity ways to help employees maintain this balance is vital. Employees with young (under 6) or disabled (under 18) children have the legal right to request flexible working conditions, therefore it is an important when managing the diversity in our workforce that we are able to offer single parents or employees who have care responsibilities flexible working conditions. This can range from changing hours, times and location of work, and in many cases this will not only result in a better psychological contract between the employee and the firm, but also an improvement in productivity on the part of the employee. The company can also make cost savings if an employee works from home, there will be continuity benefits as members of staff who might have left the organisation stay on, and we will also be able to attract a higher level of skills because we can attract and retain a more diverse workforce.

Target setting and reporting

In order to assess the effectiveness of equal opportunity policies the company puts in place, there need to be clear achievable targets set and the state of progress to these targets must be regularly assessed. We must regularly audit, review and evaluate progress and keep qualitative data to chart progress and show business benefits. Also, we can use employee surveys to evaluate initiatives, to find out if policies are working for everyone, and to provide a platform for improvement. It is important to track actions to see if they have had the intended results and make appropriate changes if necessary. A good incentive for employees to recognise the policies put in place is to include diversity objectives in job descriptions and appraisals, and recognise and reward achievement.

Implementing the diversity strategies using human resource planning (HRP)

The effective resourcing of an organisation relies on the identification and definition of human resource requirements, which can be greatly helped by human resource planning.

Human resource planning is a process which anticipates and maps out the consequences of business strategy on an organisation's human resources and also involves forecasting future human resource needs as well as managing the current employees in the organisation. An important part of the human resource planning process is the comparison of the workforce's diversity against that of the local population, as this will give an indication of the diversity levels that should be aimed for at the company. If we are to attempt to implement the proposed changes in recruitment, selection, training, reward and promotion to manage diversity and promote equal opportunities it is important to bear in mind the affect this is going to have on our human resources.

In order to effectively implement HRP we need to investigate and analyse the internal and external environment with regards to the strategies we are attempting to implement. For example, obtaining internal measurements through staff profiles will give information on age; gender and ethnicity distribution in the company, which can be used as guidelines to see if new equal opportunities policies are having effect when the profiles are repeated in, say, a years time.

By integrating HRP into the human resources progress at the firm, we will experience benefits such as establishing objectives or standards that can be used in controlling activities. The process of HRP reduces uncertainty by forcing managers to look ahead, anticipate change, consider the impact of change, and develop appropriate responses. This is particularly appropriate to us as we should be looking to implement change with the new equal opportunity policies.

Conclusion

Overall, it is important to ensure that we are an employer that offers equal opportunities to all in order to avoid breaching any employment acts by discriminating directly or indirectly against members of our workforce. This can be avoided through careful monitoring of recruitment and selection strategies, equal opportunity awareness training, reward strategy monitoring and promotion and progression monitoring. Through the setting of targets and regular reporting the effectiveness of these strategies can be reviewed.

It is also vital for continued success to appropriately manage diversity in the firm so that the state of the psychological contract between the firm and the employees remains good, and we can fully harness the abilities of all employees to increase productivity and responsiveness to the external environment.

Through effective human resource planning, changes in personnel and practices can be predicted and managed to maintain the optimum level of individual and organisational performance.

References

Bland, A. Chase, P and Worman, D. (2005) Managing diversity: people make the difference at work - but everyone is different. CIPD Available at: http://www.cipd.co.uk/guides

Dick, P. & Nadin, S. (2006) Reproducing gender inequalities? Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology Vol. 79, pp481-498

Equal Opportunities Commission (2006) Sex and Power: Who runs Britain? Available at [http://www.eoc.org.uk/Default.aspx?page=18190]

Guest, D. E. & Conway, N. (2004) Employee well being and the psychological contract, a report for the CIPD, Research report, London, CIPD.

http://www.kingsmillreview.gov.uk/bestpractice.cfm Accessed on 22/11/06

Leopold, J. Harris, L. and Watson, T. (1999) Strategic Human Resourcing, Principles, Perspectives and Practices

Pilbeam, S and Corbridge, M (2006) People Resourcing, Contemporary HRM in Practice

http://www.womenandequalityunit.gov.uk/pay/pay_facts.htm Accessed on 24/11/06

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