• pam loch
  • 18 November 2016

The importance of diversity in the workplace

In light of the announcement this month from PepsiCo that diversity in the workplace should “not just be important but a business imperative,” Pam Loch, Managing Partner of Loch Employment Law, reflects on the benefits of diversity in business and whether our legislative structure is robust enough to protect employees from discrimination in the workplace.

The Equality Act
The Equality Act 2010 states that it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of:

  • age;
  • being or becoming a transsexual person;
  • being married or in a civil partnership;
  • being pregnant or on maternity leave;
  • disability;
  • race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin;
  • religion, belief or lack of religion/belief;
  • sex; and/or
  • sexual orientation.

However, diversity in the workplace should not simply be seen as adhering to the legal requirements of the Equality Act; it adds immeasurable value to our working environment. A diverse employee base can foster new ways of thinking, reach out to a wider range of customers and help the growth of a business. In addition to the obvious benefits such as the range of skills, social and demographic knowledge and experiences a broad employee base brings, a diverse workplace permits employees to learn from colleagues whose work styles vary and whose attitudes about work varies from their own. This is particularly true for employees within multigenerational work environments. 

The hard truth is that legislation alone cannot improve discrimination in the workplace – attitudes and practices at work must change to ensure successful diversity. If we do not make this change, it will affect the talent pool that our businesses will attract in the future.

A recent poll by You Gov found that one in five young women aged 13-22 years said that if a company was not gender diverse, they would not work there.

The increasing pressure on the benefits system has led to many more individuals with disabilities entering the workplace. It is critical that employers are aware of an individual’s limitations and be seen to seriously consider what adjustments could be made in the workplace to accommodate their needs. It is also important that employers do not make any offer of employment reliant on the results of a pre-medical questionnaire (with certain exceptional roles).

A recent comment from the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, stated that she would not hire someone wearing a Niqab. Whilst she stressed that the Government would not restrict people from practising their religion at work, she said
that “You can do what you want in your time off, but in the workplace it is a given we want to see each other's faces.” The message she has put out does not inspire diversity and tolerance in Norway’s workforce.

For future planning, young people need to feel inspired by the leading lights in UK businesses and these chiefs of industry need to be made up of a diverse and talented pool of individuals that are the best in their field and are in no way prevented from securing these roles due to discrimination. Alarmingly, 41% of women aged 13-22 years said they felt their gender would negatively impact on their job prospects in comparison to 4% of young men of the same age.

Case study: The cost to UK employers of pregnancy and maternity discrimination
A report in October 2016 by The Equality and Human Rights Commission has found that British businesses are losing nearly £280m per year as a result of women being forced out of their jobs by pregnancy and maternity discrimination. These costs are largely down to recruitment, training costs and lost productivity, but do not take into account the lost revenue from reputational risk and Employment Tribunals.

The Government has been called on to extend the time to lodge an Employment Tribunal claim from three to six months for cases relating to pregnancy and maternity and ensure Tribunal fees are not a barrier to women pursuing claims. 

In addition, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently working with leading British businesses spearheading a new coalition called ‘Working Forward’, which aims to inspire and support best practices in organisations, focusing specifically on retaining the talent and experience of female employees.

The time to act is NOW
As a nation, especially given the economic uncertainty we face as we prepare for our departure from the European Union, we need to ensure we attract the best talent into our businesses… and what we know is that to be the best, diversity is key.