Direct discrimination is, of course, illegal.

There are protected characteristics that are listed in the Equality Act 2010.

These make it clear that to discriminate on the basis of any of these will likely result in legal action being taken. The company will always lose. 

But indirect and unconscious discrimination is more pervasive.

There is a popular thought stream. This is that many organisations and companies in the UK are making great progress in their understanding and application of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Also, that this was, slowly, becoming a less contentious issue.  

However, the statistics suggest otherwise:

  • A survey showed that privately educated people make up the majority of judges. Plus 43% of news media and 34% of chief executives of PR firms. This is despite the fact that only 7% of the population went to an independent school
  • 1 in 8 UK companies are still reluctant to employ women they thought might become pregnant [2]
  • 63% of the time, men are offered higher salaries than women for the same job title at the same company
  • 14% of UK companies still took into account whether a woman was pregnant or had young children when making decisions about career progression and promotion [2]
  • Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) young adults continue to be at a greater risk of being unemployed than White young adults.
  • Disabled people have an employment rate that is 28.1 percentage points lower than that of people who are not disabled.

There is much bias still, both direct and indirect

People with their hands in a circle

Thirty years ago, I attended an interview. I was asked directly if I was thinking about having children, as the interviewer (a man) couldn’t afford to have a woman go off and not come back. 

The introduction of legislation designed to give either parent the right to maternity and paternity and parental leave is a good step forward.

But we aren’t anywhere close yet to the standards of Scandinavian countries. It’s normal for a woman to return to work if she is the higher wage earner and the father to stay at home. 

There’s far less macho angst than there would be in Britain if this country were to adopt those laws. This seems unlikely to change in the near future.

But in the long-term future?  It’s a chicken and egg thing. Do more men want to stay at home with a new baby to bring about a change in the law?  

If the law changes to allow a father to spend a year at home with his new child with 70% of his pay, would that change attitudes in the UK?  I’m not sure. 

Getting company numbers up

In our Equality and Diversity in the workplace, article we referred to a case study. This is of a young Asian woman who was promoted by her company but wasn’t comfortable. 

And the reason for this leads to the core of the problem. The company she worked for promoted her to “get their numbers up”.  

In other words, there was no commitment to diversity and inclusion. The commitment was to be seen in a way that appeared to support the issue, so that the company could talk about this in its promotional activity. 

In our more recent article on Making Reasonable Adjustments, we talked about there being “no one size fits all”.  This is just picking up an issue and running with it because it might have worked elsewhere does not address the issue. 

In looking at genuinely wanting to ensure diversity and inclusion each company should:

  • Act for itself
  • Look at its own workforce and policies
  • Decide if it can be better within its own context
  • Decide how this can be achieved

Where to start with diversity and inclusion

Basic measuring and monitoring is a good place

First, gather your current information. For example: 

  • What is the ratio of men to women in your company? 
  • How many men hold senior positions as compared to women?
  • How many BAME staff are there in your organisation and does this reflect your local community balance?
  • Of those in senior positions, how many are BAME staff?
  • If there are BAME staff in senior positions, were they recruited or did they gain their positions through experience and merit?
  • Look at the most recent 5 hires.  Who was the hiring manager? What was the range of applications? And the outcome? 

So, what next?

Review the results of your initial survey/information gathering.

If you find that your senior staff are all white men and your junior staff are all women and BAME people, then what message are you giving to both your existing and new staff?  That you may say that you value diversity and inclusion, but you don’t practice it. 

Back to the story of Nisha from our earlier article who felt that she had gained her promotion to make up numbers, not because of her experience. That company lost a highly qualified and experienced member of staff because their commitment was only skin deep. 

Office workers sat in a circle with their hands in

It’s all about individual experience

The next step on from gathering information is to ask staff the following.

“What do you think, see, feel and experience about the diversity and inclusion of your workforce?

Make the survey private, with no names revealed. The company will be able to gather information about:

  • The experience of LGBT+ staff
  • How they feel they are treated
  • If they have been able to work comfortably with other staff knowing that they are LGBT+
  • Much more

The value of the information gained in individual responses cannot be underestimated. 

If the company finds that it has a culture of anti-gay behaviour, then this is sufficiently serious to review the entire culture and decide how to make changes. 

And making changes based on all the information received is the final part of the review. 

As we all know, long term sustainable change isn’t easy.

But if the company can bear in mind that it is probably losing valuable staff due to lack of necessary change. These staff are taking their expertise to other competitor companies

Surely, that alone is worth spending some time on. Check on whether it is sufficiently diverse and inclusive to attract the best staff in the first place. 

What are some of the remedies?  

Training and education are the most obvious.  But for staff to understand why this is necessary they should see the outcome of the information gathering.  And getting their input could be helpful in determining what kind of training/education should first be tackled.   

Maybe they will make suggestions about how they can improve day-today D&I issues through focus groups and other managed open discussion. And the changes to come from the review shouldn’t just be about training staff.  There are also the issues of policies and procedures, attitudes of leadership and values. 

The HS2 project has seen some interesting challenges in diversity and inclusion.  There is a wide perception that engineers and rail workers will be men. Therefore, the hiring decision was to remove CVs and application forms and replace them with an anonymous skills-based assessment.  This approach increased the diversity of applicants at shortlisting stage. The statistics went from 17% to 47% for women and from 14% to 50% for BAME groups! [3] 

The current legal requirement to report on the gender pay gap only refers to companies with more than 250 staff. However, it’s an annual requirement and there will come a time when that number decreases. 

Our recommendation

It’s worth taking a look now at how pay is decided upon. Look at if there are gaps between the pay of men and women performing the same job, that cannot be in any way justified. 

But in the end, it comes back down to the attitudes and experiences of the individual.  And listening to what they have to say is the only place to start.

Learn more

Equality Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Top Tips to Ensure a Fair Redundancy Selection Criteria

How to Embrace Ramadan During Lockdown

Champions of Gender Equality – International Women’s Day

Get in touch

0203 667 7270

[1] People Management September 2019

[2] Youngwomen’ 2017

[3] CIPD Case Study People Management Sep 2019