The business case for equality, diversity and inclusion is stronger than ever. Time and again studies have shown that diverse and inclusive businesses deliver higher revenues, demonstrate greater readiness to innovate, have an increased ability to recruit talent and enjoy significantly higher employee retention. A recent report by McKinsey ‘Diversity Wins’ highlights that the dynamics around inclusion are a critical differentiator for companies particularly around talent retention, with recent data also demonstrating an increasingly clear link between board diversity and business performance.
The data also shows that an emphasis on representation across the workforce must be bolstered by efforts to strengthen inclusion. Inclusion requires creating an environment where everyone feels welcomed and valued regardless of their appearance, background, identity or belief. And in the workplace, it’s about people from every background perceiving and experiencing equality and fairness of opportunity.
As organisations continue to invest in dedicated diversity and inclusion teams and strategies, the key to a culture of inclusion will be education; an understanding at every level of the workforce that everyone has a part to play. Improving understanding and awareness across the workforce about key issues such as recognising and responding to discrimination or harassment, and how to engage effectively in tough conversations will be important in breaking down barriers to workplace inclusion.
In a recent report by AssessFirst, 97% of senior leaders agreed that diversity, equality and inclusion is a strategic priority, however the report highlights a huge gap in the education and training around diversity, equality and inclusion in the workplace, with at least one in five HR leaders not properly trained in this area.
The legal case for high quality training in these areas is also strong. In the recent case of Allay (UK) Ltd v Gehlen, the Employment Appeal Tribunal reminded employers that if they wish to seek to defend claims of discrimination on the basis that they have taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent their employees from committing acts of unlawful discrimination, they cannot rely on just an Equal Opportunities policy and stale training that had not been refreshed. It is clear that an employer’s policies should be refreshed to ensure that they are relevant and up-to-date, and training should be delivered regularly to employees to ensure that employees are engaged with the issues and that the messages do not go stale.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission Code of Practice on Employment comments that an equality policy should be more than a statement of good intentions and that there should be a plan for its implementation, including regular training. The Code says that training may include the following:
- An outline of the law covering all protected characteristics and prohibited conduct
- Why the policy has been introduced and how it will be put into practice
- What is and is not acceptable conduct in the workplace
- The risk of condoning or seeming to approve inappropriate behaviour and personal liability
- How prejudice can affect the way an employer functions and the impact that generalisations, stereotypes, bias or inappropriate language in day-to-day operations can have on people’s chances of obtaining work, promotion, recognition or respect
- The equality monitoring process to find out whether the policy is working
If equality, diversity and inclusion is a priority for a business, then engaging and educating all employees is an essential part of that strategy. The most effective businesses in this area will be the ones who bridge the gap between training that pays lip-service to the legal obligations and training that encourages employees to take positive steps to change the workplace and to challenge non-inclusive behaviour.
Rena Magdani, is a Partner and National Head of Employment, Pensions & Immigration at Freeths the top 50 law firm. She has over 24 years’ of experience providing commercial, pragmatic employment advice to clients on range of matters including discrimination, equal pay, unfair dismissal, TUPE, redundancy and business restructures. Rena is a Recommended & Leading Lawyer in The Legal 500 and is ranked a Leading Individual in Chambers & Partners. Matt McBride is an employment partner at Freeths. Freeths has developed Creating Inclusive Workplaces, an easy to navigate and embed Diversity and Inclusion eLearning course, which allows you to effectively train staff wherever they happen to be.