Sam Clark, Accenture’s Head of Diversity for the UK & Ireland looks at the diversity issue and explains why she believes HR Directors need to take the next step towards changing behaviours.
Last week, the UK Government published draft regulations to end discrimination in the workplace due to be enacted in October 2006. This means that forced retirement before the age of 65 and age discrimination in recruitment, promotion and training will be banned.
The age legislation forms part of a ream of diversity legislation coming from both the UK Government and Europe. The European Commission has produced two directives that mean from next year, all countries in the EU will have six strands to their anti-discrimination laws: sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age.
The issue is highly supported by UK business organisations. Digby Jones of the CBI believes that skills shortages and a need for social inclusion are underpinning the economic argument for greater workplace diversity.
Whether prompted by legislation, skills shortages or demographic change, employers increasingly have to respond to issues around diversity. How this is managed is the difference between simply making sure the boxes are ticked and having diversity embedded in the organisational culture.
Whilst there is an obvious moral case to be made for diversity there are multiple commercial benefits to be had from effectively linking diversity plans with business ambitions.
As a company, Accenture is committed to realising the benefits of diversity and we are working hard to encourage the benefits of an inclusive culture. Through a programme of proactive diversity and inclusion initiatives we aim to attract, retain and advance the best people.
For us it makes business sense; increasingly our clients and employees want to know more about our culture and values and by removing barriers and promoting a true meritocracy, we will enhance our reputation as a leading edge employer.
Feedback from our employees shows just how important diversity is to them. One employee recently said;
“Quite simply put, to achieve our business growth objectives, we need a diverse mix of the best and the brightest. Our culture must be one that attracts and retains the best and helps each individual achieve her or his potential. Our clients expect it and our people demand it.”
As an employer we have a key role to play in educating and raising awareness of issues around diversity and inclusive behaviour. In my experience, getting across corporate commitment on these issues works best through a combination of training and targeted events.
A comprehensive training programme shows a willingness to address attitudes and encourages employees to be sensitive and open minded in their views of others.
All our employees undergo diversity training and we hold both induction training and specialist workshops to raise awareness as well as providing practical knowledge which can be applied to day to day situations. Managers are updated regularly on new legislation that is soon to take effect and advised on how to manage an increasingly diverse workforce in an inclusive way.
One of the initiatives that we are most proud of at Accenture is our annual inclusion and diversity week – a five day series of events designed to take our diversity work forward and to try and break new ground in this area.
The events are planned to be as provocative, stimulating and involving as possible. The objective is to generate more discussion, create more awareness, encourage more feedback and engage more of our employees in our inclusion and diversity work. This year over 25 per cent of our 10,500 employees took part.
There has been a lot of discussion around the business case for diversity, but I would call for HR Directors to try and encourage their senior executives to move beyond this point and really focus on strategies that will change behaviours in organisations.
Let’s not be so hung up on putting a pound sign next to our diversity strategies.
At Accenture there is a tacit understanding that attracting, retaining and motivating a diverse group of employees is undoubtedly good for business and also good for morale.
More and more clients expect this commitment and it undoubtedly contributes to our ability to win work. There are other more intangible benefits where measurement is difficult but where business instinct prevails.
For us, it simply makes sense to have strategies in place which make people happier and feel positive about the company’s values. We also believe that by taking a progressive and confident approach to these issues we enhance our reputation in the marketplace and foster strong employee relations.
Developing and promoting a culture of inclusion and diversity that allows employees to reach their full potential is therefore key to Accenture’s success both now and in the future.
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