Let’s start by clarifying something. Diversity is not the same thing as equality. Equal opportunities are enshrined in law, and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) have very clear guidelines that all employers should follow. As the name suggests, and to paraphrase a very complicated subject, the equal opportunities law is there to enforce equal treatment for all, regardless of any pre-conceived views or prejudices. One way to consider it is to say it is about making sure that the right person gets the job, without bias.
Where the EOC is all about fairness, a good diversity policy is all about advantage. Diversity is not necessarily a result of equal opportunities; it is a result of actively encouraging and embracing a method of ensuring that a workplace is as diverse as is appropriate for the business.
All of that is a very fancy way of saying as well as getting the right person for the job in terms of their suitability; a strong, diverse workplace considers the nature of the person as well.
There are many advantages to having a more diverse workforce, and a number of studies have shown that it can encourage creativity and productivity in the team.
- Encouraging a diverse workforce shrinks the skills gap. There was a recent, much quoted and rather worrying report for Hewlett Packard that suggested that women will apply for a job if they are 100% qualified and men will happily apply at 60%. This is worrying because, assuming it is accurate, it is perpetuating the gender gap in an industry that desperately needs more skilled workers. Secondly, by inference, it seems to also testify to an increased likelihood of a bad hire.
- Different cultural perspectives bring a new set of eyes to a problem. The way we are raised and the world and culture we are immersed in forge how we approach problems and see the world. I doubt any employer would suggest that narrowing the range of options is a good idea.
- Diversity says the business is committed to its workforce. When a potential employee sees a wide base of people working for a business, it sends the message that the employer is open and inclusive.
- The more you understand your customers, the more your service will improve and therefore the more diverse your employee base, the better they will understand the customers. This will be both through a shared cultural background and a better cultural understanding of each other.
Small, simple changes
As with most good things, a diverse employment policy requires a little effort and thought to make it viable. Simple and often small changes can reach out to new potential employees.
- Actively reaching out to minority communities is always a good start. Ask your recruitment partner if they have a policy on this.
- Lessen the impact of possible gender bias when applying by reviewing what you consider must-have skills and desirable skills. Is there a happy medium that would encourage more female applicants?
- Honestly approach unconscious employment bias and look for echo chamber environments. We all tend to develop a view of the ‘average candidate’ for a particular job whether we intend to or not. It is easy when you see a similar group of people working in a role to allow that to affect your judgement on an unconscious level. Echo chamber employment tends to build up when are expectations of applicants are reinforced by the workplace team. Awareness of this though soon negates it.
- Beware of going too far though in your efforts. Actively seeking to employ someone who is a native speaker of a particular language, for example, is perfectly acceptable if the role warrants it. Actively seeking to employ someone of a particular gender, race or religion to prove your diversity is counterproductive if they lack the skills for the job.
As with most employment approaches, it is all about getting the right skill set first. An approach that encourages a diverse workforce will bring a wider pool of candidates that have those skills.
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