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The promotion of equality and the fight against discrimination is rightly one of the top agenda items with regards to businesses’ approach to their employees, their customers and wider societal impact. It is increasingly necessary for employers to actively encourage equality, and businesses are recognising that workplace diversity can be highly beneficial in making for a more creative, consistent, and productive workforce.

Organisations across all industries are actively supporting individuals in their employ regardless of age, race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, beliefs or disability. And, by opening opportunities to individuals from different backgrounds both businesses and employees are seeing the value driven by an engaged and committed workforce, supported by the unique ideas and experiences that individuals from varied backgrounds can bring to the team.

Diversity drives creativity
Recent events in America and the resulting campaigning driven by the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked change across the globe and put increased pressure on businesses to confront their own equality practices and policies. Diversity can no longer be a tick box exercise; employers are asking themselves if they are doing enough to ensure diversity is at the forefront of their business and reflected in their workforce – that they actively recruit individuals with differing views and life experiences, with the genuine understanding of the value this provides for both parties. A business that includes different perspectives is better equipped to cope in difficult times and emerge stronger.

A team that consists largely of individuals from the same gender, background, or culture not only appears discriminatory but likely lacks a mix of ideas borne out of different experiences. While there may be concern that contrasting views can lead to conflict, it is more likely that – by creating an inclusive environment – teamwork and cooperation will thrive and lead to new, truly innovative ideas. We are living in a more open and inclusive society, where people should feel free to express themselves, and businesses should embrace this culture if they want to thrive in the long term. 

The end of the nine-to-five office
Campaigns for women on boards[1] and disability confident workplaces have previously highlighted the need for greater diversity but – as we emerge from the pandemic – there is likely to be increased opportunities for serious career progression for individuals who may have formerly been overlooked. This cultural shift is encouraging employers to consider how they set out work practices that will better support their team and consider everyone’s unique circumstances.

Despite causing major disruption, the pandemic has presented new possibilities for employees and employers alike, such as remote and flexible working which, at one stage, may have been considered challenges to tackle in the future, rather than opportunities to harness now. Whilst the benefits of working together in one place, shouldn’t be ignored, it will now be difficult for employers to argue about the negative impact of remote working per se if roles have been successfully fulfilled during this crisis. Many individuals, including parents, have had to juggle work and care commitments whilst being locked down at home and have demonstrated their ability to remain productive.

According to research conducted by video conferencing platform Whereby, 82% of businesses said they are now considering how they can allow more staff to work remotely on a permanent basis[2], indicating the traditional nine-to-five could be a thing of the past. Embracing this may allow many businesses to save significant costs by reducing office space and focusing on retaining their workforce. Considering the options for future recruitment, if businesses introduce policies that mean set hours and days are no longer required, they will also be able to recruit from further afield. If employees are no longer having to relocate for a new job, businesses can access a much greater pool of talent and this will naturally lead to a more diverse team.

Encouraging pay equality
Whilst we have already seen a focus on the Gender Pay Gap in the previous decade – which UK companies have been required to report on since April 2018 – the government consultation in respect to the Ethnicity Pay Gap reporting, which closed in January 2019, is yet to be actioned into policy.

According to the ONS 2018 report, white workers were paid 3.8% more than all other ethnic groups. In the UK, London has the largest pay gap, with ethnic minorities earning 21.7% less than white employees on average. The pay gap between White British and other ethnic groups is generally smaller for younger employees and is also shown to narrow once other factors like education and occupation are considered[3].

With equality high on the agenda in 2020, there is a greater pressure for businesses to focus on narrowing the ethnicity pay gap, with calls for employers to voluntarily report on their ethnicity pay gaps as a way of tackling the issue. While it is unlawful to discriminate because of race, nationality, or ethnicity, it is often difficult to prove such claims due to a lack of evidence. The current Gender Pay Gap Regulations mean employees have greater access to evidence of any pay disparity, and this has led to an increase in the number of equal pay claims. It wouldn’t be surprising if a similar pattern wasn’t followed re ethnicity differences.

While the gender and ethnicity pay gap are key areas of discussion within businesses and the media, it is also crucial that businesses consider the impacts on individuals across society including the LGBTQ+ community and those with disabilities. As of November 2019, TUC reported that the disability pay gap for all employees was 15.5%[4] and there has been very little progress made to close this gap in recent years. Last year, research by LinkedIn and UK Black Pride found that LGBTQ+ employees earn 16% less on average that their heterosexual peers.[5] Similarly to the ethnicity and gender pay gap, it is difficult to prove this is as a result of discrimination, though these are rather sobering figures in a society that is supposed to be more inclusive. This highlights there is much to be done to inspire equal opportunity for all, and to educate employers on the benefits of inclusivity within the workplace.

Change needs to start with education; the introduction of equality and diversity training to promote a wider understanding and acceptance of those from different ethnic backgrounds, the LGBTQ+ community, and those with disabilities. This will not only help individuals to understand the importance of a diverse workforce but will also help eliminate bias that may currently exist – consciously or not – to an extent. Though it is important to acknowledge that no change can be instant, businesses that actively promote diversity and equality make for a rewarding place to work and a more productive, creative, and loyal workforce.

Andrew Rayment, Employment and Human Resources partner at Walker Morris LLP

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