Diversity in the workplace is about recruiting and maintaining a workforce drawn from all sectors of society based on ability rather than irrelevant characteristics like age, gender, race and so on. At its heart, diversity is about embracing and respecting differences, recognising the contribution people can make because of their differences and creating an environment which allows different people to work together positively.
Businesses want to develop and grow. To do that they need to recruit the best people and create an atmosphere where those people feel valued and respected so that they will stay. It then needs to ensure that the environment is one that encourages innovation and creativity. It is the mix of backgrounds, experience and personality types that will allow the best ideas to be generated.
Bringing about diversity in the workplace can be difficult. Detailed equal opportunities and dignity at work policies are a good starting place but companies needs to ensure that these go to the heart of their culture and take active steps to create a tolerant and understanding workplace. At the same time companies need to review their recruitment, assessment and promotion activities to ensure that they are following these ideals at every level.
The biggest hurdle many companies need to overcome is the unrecognised bias held in determining what makes an ideal candidate for any given position or promotion. Apart from the general belief that extroverts are better than introverts, people unconsciously look to recruit someone like themselves or like their mental picture of the post holder. This can often be seen at higher levels of organisations which become less diverse the higher up you go and creates the general criticism that Board directors are all the same. Recognising and challenging this approach is one of the most important steps in changing it.
The other issue companies need to address is to ensure that it, and its staff, behave in a way that is considerate and sensitive of others. Companies need to look at what they are doing and see if they are making sure that the atmosphere feels inclusive. Is it sensitive and respectful? When catering does it recognise the dietary restrictions of different beliefs? Does it recognise the major festivals of all religions or just one? Where companies actively take steps to promote a culture of tolerance, respect and understanding then diversity in the workplace becomes easier to achieve and maintain.
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