Breaking down the barriers

Previous Article Next Article Breaking down the barriersOn 1 Mar 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. New laws and business pressures meanthat organisations must attend to diversity issues. Elaine Essery looks at apan-European project that helps to get the relevant training off to a flyingstartAs managing diversity moves higherup the list of priorities at many organisations, an ambitious new project seeksto turn the rhetoric into reality.Sheffield Hallam University BusinessSchool has secured funding from the European Commission to develop a DiversityEnabling Framework in partnership with organisations in Italy, Spain andSweden. The year-long project aims toproduce a practical toolkit to help employers tackle diversity by drawing oncurrent good practice and sharing the knowledge and experiences oftransnational partners. It seeks to build a consensus on how to tackle commonproblems within the European Union, whilst promoting cumulative learning. The initiative is the brainchild ofDr Nav Khera, an expert in managing diversity and consultant to the EuropeanCommission who served on both the Euro- pean anti-discrimination directivesadopted in the last year within the Amsterdam Treaty. Khera is passionate about the needfor social inclusion and about empowering organisations to manage diversity.“If you want to enforce anti-discrimination laws you’ve got to start poolingknowledge and action,” he says. “Many organisations are in a deficitmodel not because of sinister designs on exclusion, but because they simplydon’t know what to do. I want to teach organisations to fish, not just give thema fish.” Massive distinctionKhera wants to see the term“managing diversity” used as common parlance and is keen to distinguish it fromequal opportunities. “The distinction is a massive one,” he stresses.“Equal opportunities is aboutletting people in, but managing diversity is about what you do with them onceyou’ve let them in.” “Basically, it’s about getting fromour employees the best they’ve got to offer and, if we do it well, giving themthe best we have to offer. That’s the definition of good management.” The project will take anacross-the-board or “horizontal” approach, looking principally at race,disability, age and sexual orientation in a bid to combat discrimination ondifferent grounds. Sheffield-based project leader,Jacqui Yates, explains, “We need to recognise that things don’t happen inpigeon holes. People are sometimes badly treated for a number of reasons. Theydon’t always get discriminated against because they’re black, for example: it’smuch more complex and holistic.” The project is needed becausecosmetic approaches have not worked, says Yates. “A lot of organisations claimto be committed to equal opportunities and have policies and glossy documents.”Issues not addressed “But whether that translates intothe way people are recruited, trained and managed, the way the organisationworks with its customers and evaluates what it does in the area of managingdiversity – all those issues are not addressed,” she says. Her view is borne out by thefindings of a recent survey carried out by the Industrial Society. Two out of three respondents saidthat diversity was a high priority and 77 per cent expect it to become evenmore important to their organisation over the next couple of years. But the survey showed that less thanhalf had relevant strategies in place. Falling foul of the law is just one ofthe damaging effects of failing to match good intentions with commitment inpractice. Over 40 per cent of respondents saidthey had been involved in tribunal cases regarding diversity/equality issues.Increasing legislation and regulation is one of the drivers which will promptaction. Diana Worman is diversity adviserwith the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development and is involved withthe Sheffield Hallam project. She says, “Most people will only start to thinkabout the issues if they’ve got pressure to make them do that. “There’s a lot more legislationcoming out of Europe, in particular in the field of human rights, and we’rewaiting to see what the impact of that will be.”Looking out for law “Because there’s so much regulationaround, the challenge to HR is to think, ‘What is around? What law can I becaught out by?’ and so on.” There is also a sound business case.Because organisations are now operating in a very competitive globalmarketplace, they are having to look for new ways and new solutions to thechallenges of dealing with the world the way it is. And it is a world that is changingmore quickly than we might appreciate, with intensive travel, improved communicationstechnology, demographic changes and different social expectations all impactingon the business environment. “The war for talent and newresourcing practices will force more HR activity,” Worman believes. “There are a lot of arguments aboutthe business case – and what competitors are doing and why they are real moversfor systemic change. “The more people understand thevarious levers, the more they’re likely to make the waves that need to happen,because it’s all about change management.” There is a clear need to get thediversity message out of the HR box. Respondents to the Industrial Societysurvey said that the attitude of line managers (42 per cent) and businesspressures on line managers (41 per cent) were among the main barriers toachieving progress in diversity. Understanding relevance“How you influence and help the lineto understand why it’s relevant to what they’re doing is very hard because HRpeople have been grappling to get things right in their own area ofresponsibility,” says Worman. “It’s a question of trying to get asmany people as possible to understand more of the issues.” The starting point for the partners,led by Sheffield Hallam, is to find out what has been done in otherorganisations and other cities, draw it together and put it into a format thatis manageable and accessible. A comprehensive modularised toolkitwill be the result, which people can use to meet their own needs.“The Diversity Enabling Frameworkwon’t be a prescription of what you ought to do,” says Yates. “It will be someoptions, some ways of thinking, some schemes that others have used that peoplemight find useful and prompt them to think about their own organisation – howit interacts with the community and how it treats its staff.” That way the important principle ofsubsidiarity within the EU will be maintained, whereby member states willcontinue to have their own say and adapt things in a local context. Initially the toolkit will be usedby the people involved in the project. They will be trained in its use by staffat Sheffield Hallam so that they can act as change agents by training trainershow to implement it in other organisations. But its impact will become muchgreater. In December Sheffield Hallam will present its final report on theproject to Brussels. Rolling out frameworkThe university will then focus onrolling out the framework within Britain and will work with the CIPD inpromoting its use among HR and training professionals. Transnational partners will do thesame in their countries, as it is to be translated into Italian, Spanish andSwedish. Longer term, Yates wants to see itdeveloped as a dynamic resource for a wider population. “I would see it assomething which gradually keeps evolving as things go out of date and new ideascome in,” she says. Use of a “diversity” symbol isproposed for those organisations that participate in the Diversity EnablingFramework, though the project leaders and management board have yet to work outthe detail of how such a kitemark would be awarded.Committed to the concept “To have a kitemark woulddemonstrate that an organisation was committed to the concept behind theframework and was taking forward its plans to implement it,” Yates explains. “It will be an important signal toemployees and customers, so I think it’s going to be an attractive thing fororganisations to have.” Sheffield City Council leader, PeterMoore, agrees. “If you can put the logo on your headed notepaper it’s like IIP– it shows that you’re a good, forward-thinking employer. These sort of thingsalways add value to a business.” Since diversity is an inclusiveconcept, active involvement of stakeholders, including those groups affected bydiscrimination, is key to the management of the project. Two major employers in the area –Sheffield City Council and Central Sheffield Universities Hospital Trust – areparticipants. So are bodies such as the BlackCommunity Forum and the Council’s Disability Consultative Committee. Christine Barton is part of that committee.“We want to ensure that whatever enabling framework is produced it’s one thatdisabled people can sign up to. “In the timescale we hope that theinitiative will bring best practice to people’s perspective across a fairlywide audience and, what’s more, it will be good practice that we – disabledpeople – have identified,” Barton said.The transnational aspect of theproject is of great interest to Barton. “There are enormous differences inperspectives across Europe, particularly between somewhere like Sweden andsomewhere like Italy and that’s a debate that needs to be entered into,” shesays. Starting debate“Perhaps another outcome of thisproject would be that it allows us to some extent to start that debate.” Participating employers see a rangeof benefits from the project, both in terms of their staff and the widercommunity. “We already do a lot of training inequal opportunities, but recognise that we still have a long way to go. Thetoolkit could be the way in which we achieve our aim of raising awareness ofdiversity issues throughout the whole organisation,” says senior personnelmanager at Central Sheffield Universities Hospital Trust John Friend.“One of the main benefits we want tosee is better recruitment and retention which is a problem with particularstaff groups. “Other benefits are a little lesstangible. They’re about being an even better employer and fitting in right withthe local community.” Moore believes that having thetoolkit to help tackle diversity within the organisation has to be of benefitto the council as an employer of 19,000 people. Carrot to employersBut its chief benefit is acting as acarrot to the potential new employers and investors Sheffield is trying toattract. “It’s another string to our bow,” he says. “We will be able to givethem the means to tackle diversity – because the legislation is there thatneeds to be adhered to. “Most employers want to be equalopportunity employers and it’s one more good thing we can offer potentialemployers and investors in the City.” The road to managing diversity is along one, but the journey is essential for business growth. “We have to learnbetter that it doesn’t matter what a person looks like or acts like,” saysKhera. “More important is how they deliverthe job outcomes necessary to achieve the organisation’s goals. “Imperative to progress is that weunderstand that neither our staff nor our customers are homogeneous in anyconceivable way.” Khera does not underestimate the enormityof the challenge and how it can overwhelm employers. His message to them is reassuring:“Help is at hand. Here’s what we’re giving you and we’re teaching you how touse it. “You can integrate this into yourown practices and it will help you manage your business better.” This article reflects the author’sviews. The European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made ofthe information contained hereinManagingdiversity The business benefits are:– Attracting and retaining the best people– Maximising employee contribution – Boosting morale – Reducing absenteeism– Complying with EU legislation suchas the Human rights Act and the directive on Race which has to be implementedby 2003– Avoiding legal costs – Enhancing company image – Improving customer relations – Accessing new markets – Increasing competitivenessManagingdiversity – the Swedish viewDiversity is high on the politicalagenda in Sweden, according to Gunilla Jansson, development manager with the FireBrigade in Malmö, one of the transnational partners. “About 40 per cent of the populationin Malmö is from abroad. There’s a lot of social discussion and problems aboutimmigration, so the project is particularly relevant to our city,” saysJansson. She sees the need for the workforceto reflect the diversity of the population. “When you’re used to working with aparticular kind of people, you have to look around you and see that there areother groups of people you can work with. “We need those people in ourorganisations who can talk to, inform and educate others,” she says. “A project like this is interestingbecause it can open your eyes to things you need to do. It gives us anopportunity to discuss with other countries and share knowledge – it’s alearning experience.” Jansson says the project partnerswill be able to learn something about equality in the workplace from Sweden,especially from her own organisation.“The fire brigade here in Malmö isvery good at training and education and that’s why this project is veryinteresting because it concentrates on training. I think we can give yousomething there,” she adds. Related posts:No related photos. read more