What is workplace diversity, why is it important, and what are the benefits to businesses?

Workplace diversity is a term which relates to the people who work for an organisation. It is often spoken about with reference to equal opportunities, and the two are intrinsically linked, but have varying perspectives.

Providing equal opportunities means ensuring that no individual is treated less favourably on the basis of who they are – that all decisions taken in relation to them are based on fact and merit alone.

So what are the benefits of workplace diversity to a small business and how can you achieve it? This guide provides you with the necessary advice.

Recognising that people are different

Diversity is a recognition and celebration of the fact that people are different but all have unique contributions that they can bring to an organisation. Managing diversity can start even before employment starts, and can include recruitment exercises; offers of training and benefits; promotion opportunities and celebration of different cultures etc.

An organisation with diversity at its core could include a workforce made up of employees with differences in relation to gender; ethnicity; age; disability; religion/belief; sexual orientation etc., which are defined by anti-discrimination legislation. However, other factors such as family background and economic status may also be considered.

Workplace Diversity – Benefits to the Employee

Where individual employee differences are celebrated by an employer, employees are more likely to feel included and motivated, leading to a more productive and cohesive unit.

A commitment to diversity may also foster an ethos of fairness in an organisation, encouraging an employee’s increased feeling of worth and value.

Workplace Diversity – Benefits to the Employer

So what does the employer get from an investment of time and effort in diversity? The advantages are wide and varied and include the following:

1. Increased productivity

A happy workforce can be a more productive workforce. If employees feel valued and respected by their employers they will likely be more engaged at work, which may result in an increase in performance levels.

2. Positive reputation

People looking for a new job do their own research on prospective employers and are likely to be influenced by ‘an insider’s’ view of you as an employer. Additionally, other companies are likely to want to do business with others who have good reputations.

3. Increased adaptability

With a more diverse workforce comes the ability to provide a greater variety of solutions for both internal business processes and external client and/or customer expectations and needs. Employees from diverse backgrounds bring individual talents and experiences, which can help your business stay fresh, innovative and competitive within its industry.

4. Fewer grievances/tribunal claims

Where employees feel their differences are integral to their contribution to an organisation, and are not perceived by their employers as a barrier to their progression and development, there are likely to be fewer complaints of detrimental treatment based on those differences. Spending less time on employee grievances is good for everybody.

5. Lower recruitment costs

Employees who are happy in their work are less likely to look for another job. There are obviously several considerations to be factored into the assessment of an employee’s happiness, but their feeling of value and worth will be one of them. Fewer resignations means spending less time and money on finding a replacement.

How to achieve diversity in your business

An employer who wants to create a more diverse workforce could give consideration to the following points:

  • Challenge social stereotypes/perceptions;
  • Think about your recruitment process: assess how you can reach the widest possible audience for the post you are trying to fill;
  • Train your line managers and those with decision making authority on equal opportunities and all of the circumstances where the concept applies;
  • Raise your own awareness of cultural differences and how they can be accommodated in the working day;
  • Be flexible to individual needs;
  • Increase communication methods in order to promote openness and involvement;
  • Adopt a stance of zero tolerance towards unacceptable behaviour e.g. bullying or harassment

Having a diversity policy

Implementing and maintaining a diversity policy will show that you are committed to equality of opportunity and to providing a service and following practices which are free from unfair and unlawful discrimination.

The policy should carry the message that no applicant or member of staff receives less favourable treatment on the grounds of disability, age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, religion or belief, or is disadvantaged by conditions or requirements which cannot be shown to be relevant to performance. It should also seek to ensure that no person is victimised or subjected to any form of bullying or harassment.

The policy should cover all those who work for or provide work for you, including employees, workers or self-employed contractors whether part time, full time or temporary.

The implementation of this policy will mean that selection for employment, promotion, training, or any other benefit will be on the basis of aptitude and ability in order to encourage individuals to develop their full potential and the talents and resources of the workforce will be fully utilised to maximise the efficiency of the Company.

The policy should also let individuals know that any breaches of it will result in disciplinary action which could include dismissal in serious circumstances. Policies may not be treated seriously be the workforce unless they see that they are out into practice on an ongoing basis, and this includes ensuring that anyone who steps out of line is dealt with.

A diversity policy should, as with all policies, be kept under review in case it requires amendment to reflect the current position with applicable laws which may change, or any social changes.

For example, the significant increase in social media usage may mean that you need to add something to your policy to cover any ways that you may use social media that could add to or be affected by your intention to be a diverse workforce.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Peter Done, Managing Director of Peninsula Business Services – the UK’s leading specialist Employment Law, HR and Health & Safety service. Other employment guides Peter has written for ByteStart include;

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