Diversity & Inclusion

D&I Don’ts: overlooking the power of positive action

Dhruv Patel

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace has become such a high profile topic in our world today. Despite the UK workforce being much more diverse than it was in the past, there is still a way to go for the majority of organisations in reaching representative diversity in the workplace.

There is a lack of equality and diversity in employment

Statistics from the GOV website found that in 2018 the highest rates of employment were found in the White British and Other White ethnic groups, at 77% and 82% respectively. In the same year, 77% of white people of working age were in employment, compared with 65% of people from all other ethnic groups combined. And that disparity can be seen across all levels of seniority.

Diversity in leadership: identifying the imbalance

Despite making up approximately 15% of the population and 13% of the workforce, people of colour only hold 6% of senior roles in the UK. This is also aligned with our research, finding representation at management and C-Suite level to be very low and, in some organisations, a barrier to progression.

McKinsey research shows that ethnic minorities account for 20% of those aged 24 or under. By 2051, they could account for one in five of the UK population. Their contribution to society and the economy will become even more important, so their representation and inclusion at a professional level will be key. This leads us to the main question organisations want an answer to when it comes to D&I:

“How can we become a more diverse and inclusive organisation at all levels?” 

Pushing for diversity is complicated. Under UK law, positive discrimination – the practice of favouring individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against – is not permitted. That means ‘quick fixes’ are not an option, when it comes to hiring practices.  But we can still help those under-represented groups through the use of positive action.

What is positive action?

Positive action is the deliberate introduction of measures to eliminate or reduce discrimination or its ‘effects’. It’s about encouraging people from demonstrably under-represented groups to apply for jobs. Two forms of positive action are permitted under the Equality Act 2010:

  • General positive action: which includes reserving places for a protected group on training courses, or providing mentoring for a particular group to increase their representation at senior levels
  • Positive action related to recruitment and promotion: also known as the ‘tie-break provision’, employers can take an individual’s protected characteristic into account in recruitment or promotion for diversity reasons, if they and other candidates are equally suited for the role

Taking a positive action is a choice the employer makes – and the action must always be proportional to the need, which the employer should demonstrate. They must have at least a year’s worth of data indicating that particular groups of people are under-represented in a particular area of work. Both the need for, and the purpose of, the initiative must be clearly communicated.

Positive action: examples from major organisations

Positive action has already been used by organisations as large as the BBC – who introduced a traineeship targeting ethnic minorities last year. Other examples include offering mentoring or targeted networking opportunities to certain demographics, and inviting students from groups whose participation in the workplace is disproportionately low to spend a day at the company.

The consulting firm McKinsey & company has demonstrated commitment to gender diversity by organizing networking events and career-focused initiatives designed specifically for women. Also in place are policies to accommodate female employees in balancing careers and family.

Positive actions you can take, for a more diverse organisation:

  • Blind application processes to avoid any unconscious bias
  • Host an open day specifically for under-represented groups to encourage them to get into a particular field or industry
  • Place job adverts/ use recruiters that target specific groups, in order to increase application numbers from that group
  • Review all job advertisements for inherent bias
  • Include statements in recruitment adverts stating that the employer welcomes applications from a particular group e.g. men at a nursery where the workforce is 80% female
  • Offer pre-application training where this meets a need e.g. CV development and leadership training skills
  • Offer training or internships to help certain groups get opportunities or progress at work
  • Offer shadowing or mentoring to groups with particular needs
  • Review your promotions process for structural bias
  • Engage employees in unconscious bias and inclusion training programmes
  • Commit to taking an ethical approach as a business extending this as far as the suppliers you use or the organisations you work with

Why should you take positive action?

The benefits of implementing successful positive action initiatives helps us achieve our goal of greater diversity in the workplace through greater representation of traditionally under-represented groups.

Coming from an ethnic minority group, I can confidently say that the last thing people want is to be awarded a promotion or a job due to the colour of their skin – instead, people would like to feel confident that they are the best candidate for the role. I firmly believe everybody should be given a fair opportunity and that includes those from backgrounds who have traditionally had the system on their side.

The problem is much deeper than just workplace representation, and the steps we take must acknowledge this. For things to really change, structural changes need to be made, as diversity issues are rooted in systemic social inequality that we still see and experience today. And taking positive action is one way to start making those changes.

It’s time to start the conversation

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