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Workplace equality

Why Formal Equality Policies Aren't Necessarily Diversity Best Practice

Narinder Hammond

gaveldocs

We dig into whether a formal equality policy establishes a workplace centered around equality and fairness or is simply a set of empty promises.

The government’s equality and diversity policies have been established in order to ensure that organisations are as open and transparent as possible – they also change frequently.

It’s vital that all companies remain up-to-date on current legislation and stick to the rules, not only to stay within the scope of the law, but also to ensure employees are as happy, motivated and productive as possible.

Every community, whether it’s a neighbourhood, a school or an office, must take steps to ensure that people of all genders, backgrounds, and sexual preferences feel comfortable.

Within the workplace, companies will often draft an equality policy (detailed here by the Equality and Human Rights Commission) to legally guarantee the right of all employees to receive the same benefits, disciplinary treatments and access to the same resources.

A Reflection of Values

Though every company’s equality policy will be different, they’re all crafted with the same intent: to foster a work environment where every employee feels capable of doing his or her best work in a warm and welcoming atmosphere – one where all decisions are based on merit, rather than the social or physical characteristics of an individual.

Moreover, they must outline exactly how the plan will be put into place, along with the steps and disciplinary actions that will be taken should any of the policy’s terms be infringed upon.

On the positive side, these policies enable diversity to flourish within a work community – as a result, workers will be far more likely to remain motivated and happy in their roles than they would be in a homogeneous environment. What’s more, employees will feel safer knowing that it’s OK to be themselves, and that there are hard-line rules that have been put in place to protect them.

Avoiding Lawful Laziness

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However, like any formal policy in the workplace, there are a number of issues surrounding the implementation of a diversity or equality policy – at least in the traditional sense of the word.

Historically speaking, equality policies have often been characterised by empty language and “legalese,” which can give them an impersonal, impractical feel.

Perhaps one of the reasons many organisations spend so little time crafting these documents is that they feel it’s merely a formality – something that should be distributed amongst staff when they are onboarded as a formal document in order to cover their bases from a legal perspective. It serves as part of the “starter pack,” along with things like terms of employment, policies on sick leave and holiday, maternity/paternity conditions and bonus structures.

Many of these documents will be read once by incoming employees and then will get buried at the bottom of a drawer, where they’ll remain until the employee needs them again for reference (such as in the case of a discrimination claim, long-term sickness or if they need to request leave).

Not only can such policies be unengaging to read (and not fully-digested, as a result), but this writing style could also enable potential offenders to escape via a poorly worded loophole. Moreover, it’s very easy for employees to sign a form stating that they will adhere to an established code of conduct, then turn around and go right back to their previous behaviour, which will undoubtedly result in disciplinary action being taken at the time and expense of HR staff.

This kind of passivity is no longer tolerable, and could easily result in the victim of the discrimination case feeling pressured to leave the company, which would have a knock-on impact on your reputation as an employer.

Taking active steps in order to ensure workplace equality will not only make for a more comfortable work environment, but will give a boost to financial success as well. In fact, recent research reported in Equality Magazines indicates that companies that make an effort to hire and advance lesser represented demographics statistically perform at a level two and a half times higher than their competitors who do not.

How to Make a Change

In order to actually enact a culture of diversity and progress, it’s important to move beyond sterile, legal documents. While it’s obviously important that your company have a set doctrine in place, you need to ensure that your policies are permeating through the organisation on an interpersonal level.

This process should begin long before you start advertising for vacancies. Your employer brand must be clearly communicated at all times (whether you’re hiring or not) and your inclusive policies should be clearly communicated through all aspects of the recruitment process. This means your company careers pages, the About Us page on your organisation’s website and across all social media channels, content or public communications.

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Ensuring the candidate experience reflects your company values and culture is also key. The entire process should be accessible for people of all backgrounds, cultures, abilities and sexes in order to promote that crucial, all-inclusive philosophy.

When hiring, make an effort to bring in workers who will uphold these values and company culture that you’ve already established. While taking a candidate’s prior work experience and education into account is obviously important, it will serve you far better to recruit qualified individuals who fit into your company brand and work atmosphere.

Keep in mind that one of the best ways to establish a company culture is to actually talk to your employees. Find out what’s important to them and make an effort to communicate these values to your target audience. By building a culture of openness that thrives on an ongoing, actual conversation, you will be well on the right track.

Fostering equality and diversity within the workplace requires building it into your existing company culture, incorporating those values into your employer brand and then broadcasting them through a solid recruitment strategy.

Once it’s in motion, the cycle simply perpetuates itself – incoming, right-fit hires will bring these values into the organisation, which will in turn attract more candidates that are looking for that kind of work environment. If you can get all of these things right, your company itself will become its own living, breathing equality policy.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that words will always be open for misinterpretation, but actions are seldom ignored.

(Main image credit: Beth Cortez-Neavel/flickr)

Narinder Hammond

A talented sales and relationship director within the recruitment industry with over 20 years experience within the Recruitment and Technology space.