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Diversity: It’s not just about avoiding discrimination

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Diverse workforceTim Holden outlines a few ideas to ensure you benefit from a diverse workforce, thereby strengthening your brand and helping you to become an employer of choice.


“But we operate in a sector with skills shortages.”

“Agencies try their best but they don’t have people on their books who want to work here.”

“Adverts just don’t work any more.”

These are excuses we hear a lot, often from employers offering the national minimum wage. We often use the following retort: “So give us the numbers – what is your employee split for gender, age, ethnicity and disability?”

Most employers are aware that there are not enough young, able-bodied, white men to meet all available vacancies. But few are measuring the numbers, whilst even fewer are doing anything proactive to attract under-represented groups.

The benefits of a diverse workforce

  • A diverse workforce brings a variety of talents into the workplace, which can enhance the ability of a business to innovate to acquire a competitive edge.

  • A diverse workforce promotes a positive image across the local community, helping to strengthen the employer brand.

  • A diverse workforce is more able to attract a wide customer base, recognising potential new markets and tailoring the service to meet individual needs.

Migrant workers

Immigration is a real political hot potato, yet the debate is often ill-informed. The TUC recently found that migrant workers pay more in taxes than the value of the public services received.

“Few employers are measuring the numbers, whilst even fewer are doing anything proactive to attract under-represented groups.”

Migrant workers allow the resident population to consume different and cheaper goods and services – such as Lebanese cuisine and affordable childcare. Complementary skills can make businesses more productive: Filipino nurses allow British doctors to provide more patients with better care. Adding diversity and dynamism, stimulating innovation, enterprise and productivity, on the whole, migrant workers help grow the economy and raise living standards for everyone.

Every business depends on low-skilled, often migrant workers such as temporary labourers and taxi drivers. Many low-skilled services cannot be mechanised or imported, and demand for them is rising as we get older and richer. The Institute for Employment Research forecasts that by the Olympics in 2012, a quarter of the workforce will be in low-skilled jobs and the fastest-growing sector is set to be the care of the elderly.

Many British-born workers without formal qualifications do not want to do low-skilled jobs, yet people are needed to clean toilets, collect rubbish and meet the demand for casual labour. If immigrants do not take up these jobs, Britons will want to be paid more to do them – pushing up prices and inflation, straining public and private finances and lowering overall living standards.

Increasing diversity

The simple solutions are often the most effective; in the last year we have advised three clients to add a Polish section to the ‘vacancies’ section of their website. Other ideas include:

  • Write a diversity policy: Incredibly most organisations in the UK do not have one. Yours should link to the achievement of quality standards such as those achieved by the ‘Best Companies to Work For’.

  • Offer flexibility: Diversity is promoted by enabling people to shift their hours to fit with diverse needs, such as religious commitments, sporting interests, child and elder care.

  • Top level support: Buy-in is needed from the very top of the organisation. Without the whole-hearted commitment from the chief executive and board members, effective change will not occur. Guidelines should be issued to line managers as they are the true agents of change.

  • Design transparent and consistent appraisal and performance management processes: Part-timers, those caring for elderly relatives, parents with young children and older workers not seeking additional responsibilities can have different aspirations. It is important to have clear career paths including promotion and training opportunities for all employees.

  • Undertake an equality audit: There needs to be careful communication about what is being asked, why and how it will be used for employees to feel confident in giving information.

  • Take care with job advertisements: When drafting and placing advertisements avoid inadvertent discrimination and stereotyping through language and images. Indicate if any genuine occupational requirements apply.

  • “Without the whole-hearted commitment from the chief executive and board members, effective change will not occur.”


  • Assign responsibility to a suitable individual: Provide training for a key member of staff to drive forward diversity issues and allocate appropriate resources.

  • Remain at the cutting edge of technology: Organisations must be prepared to devote more resources to IT training, especially up-skilling older workers.

  • Introduce succession planning programmes that improve gender diversity at senior levels: More women at a senior level will set role models that will encourage ambitious females to apply, attend the interview, accept the job offer, stay within the business, return after childbirth and talk positively about the organisation – all of which are vital to becoming an employer of choice.

  • Focus on fairness and inclusion: Ensure that merit, competence and potential are the basis for all decisions about recruitment and development.

  • Highlight the impact on sales: Many local authorities and an increasing number of private sector businesses stipulate that suppliers need to meet minimum criteria with respect to diversity.

  • Design a zero-tolerance bullying and harassment policy: A focus on respect and dignity is needed with examples of desirable behaviours. It needs to be communicated that every employee has a personal responsibility and disciplinary action needs to be seen to be taken against transgressors.

  • Link diversity with corporate social responsibility: CSR is often seen as a way of aiding retention and attraction, but it also includes employing people with strong links to the local community such as part-time youth workers or magistrates.

  • Shout about your diverse workforce: Once you achieve a diverse workforce, let everyone know. The mix needs to be linked in to the employer brand and ambassadors need to reach out to schools and colleges, and appear on the website.

The benefits of a diverse workforce are becoming clearer and organisations that do not conform are becoming increasingly more obvious.


Tim Holden is managing director of HR consultancy Fluid

One Response

  1. White men need not apply?
    Tim,

    Despite the one line summary I agree with much of what you say but why is it always necessary to make references such as

    “Most employers are aware that there are not enough young, able-bodied, white men to meet all available vacancies. But few are measuring the numbers, whilst even fewer are doing anything proactive to attract under-represented groups.”

    or

    “Introduce succession planning programmes that improve gender diversity at senior levels: More women at a senior level will set role models that will encourage ambitious females to apply, attend the interview, accept the job offer, stay within the business, return after childbirth and talk positively about the organisation – all of which are vital to becoming an employer of choice.”

    Once again it is “men” and “white men” in particular that are targeted by so called diversity initiatives. Where are the references to the very significant under representation of men in the public sector – for example in teaching where 75 / 80% of the staff are women or nursing or Local Government where men are equally under represented? The civil service / NHS and Local Goverment employ millions of people between them and the under representation of men is a national disgrace. What about other roles where men are significantly under represented – including secretarial and clerical roles?

    This failure to point out that “men” including “white men” are also negatively affected by diversity issues is unhelpful, diversity needs to be inclusive and for the benefit of all not just women and ethnic minotities.

    Women / ethnic minorities / disabled people / older people have all suffered in the past and continue to do so (though hopefully things have improved) but it is time to put men on the agenda as well. Men suffer more unemployment than women and diversity initiatives are making it difficult for men to progress in their careers as targets tend to favour women. Diversity targets in the public sector have seen an increase in the turnover of male staff who can no longer see a future as the cards are stacked against them – just as they were for women / ethnic minorities in the past.

    Are your staff happy with your views? My advice to any men that you employ is to look elsewhere for a future because “succession planning programmes that improve gender diversity” sounds like code for “jobs for the girls” and a call for positive discrimination which is fine for those at the top but a blow to hard working men trying to carve out a career.

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