Diversity in the workplace, and in society in general, has been much debated and discussed across all sectors of society over a number of years now. Its benefits and strengths increased in the public consciousness and reach a zenith prior to, during and immediately after the London 2012 games. The government and other key politicians, decision makers, and opinion formers were basking in the glow of a diverse nation at ease with itself. A year on though, it looks like we are back to where, I believe, we have always been. For many, particularly employers across all sectors, Diversity has always been something of an "add-on"and an "after-thought" to be included at the last minute, and as a desperate measure to fix a staffing "problem". From my experience, It has always been left to the "Diversity Officer" to get on with it, and to be the spokesperson for the organisation on diversity and equality issues, while other managers and staff get on with their "work priorities". I always have this feeling that Diversity is only seen as positive when it is about pictures showing faces of many colours, about diverse foods and cultural events. In real terms, these cosmetic initiatives have had no real impact in improving real opportunities for minorities or created access for women at top-level boardroom positions and have not increased equal job opportunities for disabled people. In the current economic situation, Diversity is seen by many organisations, particularly in the cash-strapped voluntary sector, as even more of a luxury than a necessity, as I have personally experienced myself, with the loss of my job as an Equality and Diversity Manager in May this year.
After many years of well-intentioned initiatives by many organisations in the public, voluntary and corporate sector, there are still real questions about how really diverse the workplace is. It is not just about the number of faces that are black, brown or yellow, but about how much real opportunities ethnic minorities, working class people, women and disabled people actually have access to, in improving their career chances and worklife balance within the workplace. According to the Race and Gender Benchmarking survey 2013, less than 1 in 15 ethnic minorities hold a management position. Also, it is still the case that a disproportionate number of women and ethnic minorities are still far more likely to take a claim for discrimination to an employment tribunal than their male and white counterparts. Diversity workplace issues, from my experience, has taken a "back seat", with economic constraints and public sector funding cuts used as a convenient excuse to water down or, worse, get rid of progressive and meaningful diversity initiatives. Although procedures and policies are in place in a lot of organisations, they do not seem translate into purposeful action, in terms of changing the culture of ignorance and neglect of practical and meaningful positive action to promote diversity in the workplace. It is a case of diversity not really doing what it says on the tin!
So what next for Equality and Diversity in the workplace? I think the key issue at stake is how much leadership commitment organisations are prepared to invest in championing
and sustaining diversity. Leadership is critical to positive action on diversity. My experience is that there is a sense of fear, certainly among mainstream charity organisations, of not wanting to be seen as "politically correct" in the current political environment that is hostile to issues around diversity, human rights and immigration. Senior Management Teams, Trustees and Executive Boards must be representative of a diverse workforce and society, and should pay less "lip-service" and instead, be seen and heard to be publicly advocating for increased equality, inclusion and diversity in the workplace and in society. Diversity enhances an organisation's core mission and values, which is strongly linked with its key strategic objectives. It also increases brand profile, and helps creates a healthy and inclusive workforce that is motivated to succeed. Much of these positive statements are not news to senior managers and decision-makers in organisations and institutions across all sectors. What is really required is the will to actively "make it real", and be prepared to be accountable by providing evidence of where change is occurring in terms of improving diversity.
According to Professor Marilyn Davidson of Manchester Business School, it would take 27 years to achieve equality in the UK Civil Service, and another 200 years to achieve equal number of women in Parliament! Judging from these dire predictions, there is certainly no room for complacency about diversity in the workplace, and indeed in society.
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