In business, as in life, there is no “one size fits all”. Your employees are all uniquely different, and their contributions to your enterprise reflect this. So should your attitude to them as an employer, with opportunities for advancement, progress and reward available to all. And in your corporate culture, workers should be encouraged and expected to value themselves, and each other – without prejudice or favour.
Giving Human Nature a Push
Sadly, it’s not enough to expect “the natural order of things” to sort out tensions and misunderstandings between workers. Ignorance of the other person’s experience or point of view is often the source of this friction.
And training in equality and diversity can be the key to dispelling ignorance, and the problems it produces.
Equality Rules – Diversity, Too
Your workforce presents a full spectrum of ages, genders, educational and personal backgrounds, ethnicities, and levels of physical and mental health. All of these combine within an individual to create their specific style of working.
Not everyone is the same – but all should be given an equal opportunity to fulfil their potential through development and advancement, in the workplace. Equality and Diversity training may be instrumental in this, by helping to create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable being themselves, and knows that they’re valued by their colleagues, and the organisation.
Benefits of Training
As an enterprise, your reputation and image will benefit from there being an active and ongoing effort to promote diversity and equality – both in the form of training schemes, and as an established policy of your business.
Customers and the general public will view your company in a positive light, if it’s known that equality of opportunity and diversity within the workforce are actively encouraged. This will also affect the quality of new candidates attracted to join your organisation – a real boon to recruitment, and help in maintaining employee loyalty.
A workforce consisting of people from a range of ages, ethnicities, outlooks and skill sets represents a meeting of a multitude of minds. This diversity leads to greater productivity, appeals to a broader range of customers, and the development of better services and products. And more money, of course.
There are also legal requirements which can and must be met (see below). But regulatory compliance shouldn’t be the main driver of your equality and diversity efforts. Avoiding lawsuits and legal fees is fine, but your emphasis should always be on providing workers with equitable pay and equal access to training and development – in an atmosphere free of discrimination and harassment.
Deeds, Not Words
The principles of equality and diversity need to part of your everyday operations, not just the stuff of exercises and workshops. If your corporate culture doesn’t actually promote it in practice, the time, money, and resources spent on training will have been a waste.
Establishing the Training Platform
Displaying your company logo and other branding on all training materials is a first signal to your workers that your organisation is committed to practising what it preaches.
A balance should be struck between instructor-led or facilitated content and self-study courses. Learning Management Systems (LMSs) and eLearning resources are both cost-effective and appropriate.
Keeping learners engaged in the process is key, and material should be presented in bite-sized modules, to encourage participation and retention of what has been covered.
The thing to avoid is the “all or nothing” final written exam approach, for which learners may simply study the bare minimum points necessary to scrape through the assessment, without taking anything on board.
Setting Course Objectives
Equality and Diversity training will need to consider aspects of ethnicity and culture, gender issues, age, religion and beliefs, sexual orientation, and physical disability.
There’s a lot to cover, so it may benefit you more to provide targeted training for groups and departments for whom certain issues are more relevant. For instance, Human Resources and senior management may be required to cover all aspects, while other staff may receive a subset of the training, more pertinent to their specific roles.
In the U.K. the Equality Act of 2010 is the overall legislative framework providing protection against discrimination to individuals, based on their membership of nine protected characteristics (Age, Disability, Gender reassignment, Pregnancy and maternity, Marriage and civil partnership, Race, Religion or belief, Sex, and Sexual orientation).
In the U.S., the Equal Employment Opportunity Act defines federal laws promoting equality, and prohibiting discrimination in the workplace.
Equality and Diversity training can help ensure that companies remain in compliance with the legal frameworks of their host country, and avoid potentially damaging court actions and fines, for non-compliance.
Some Best Practices
- Draw up an Equality and Diversity policy document, stating your firm’s commitment to the principles, and how they are to be upheld. Be sure to circulate it, for general consumption.
- Use your knowledge of the operating environment of your market sector or discipline, to determine how best to implement equality and diversity strategies.
- Develop a corporate culture in which equality and diversity are part of its DNA – and not tacked on, for regulatory compliance.
- Monitor and evaluate your progress in achieving your equality and diversity objectives.
And keep in mind that it’s an ongoing process, and not a one-off exercise. A process that will benefit you organisationally and financially, in the long run.