New diversity and inclusivity standard launched
Diversity and inclusivity should be values that employers pride themselves on, but for many organisations the incorporation of protected characteristics within a legal framework means a ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’ workforce has simply become a matter of protocol.
Last month, a new British standard was launched, which seeks to go beyond legislation and encourage employers to recognise the intrinsic value of all people. Valuing people through diversity and inclusion (BS76005) stipulates that organisations seeking to meet the standard should improve internal practice, and extend the principles of diversity and inclusivity to encompass supply chains, customers and clients, and the wider community.
How can it be made meaningful for employers?
Some requirements are guaranteed to be incorporated, such as securing tone at the top and the need for continuous improvement through ongoing training. Other aspects, however, are less clear. Will there be a method of measurement? Can these principles mean different things to different organisations? How does it align with the realities of business?
If the standard is to go beyond legislation, this needs to be reflected within its attainment criteria. It should be flexible enough for employers to decide their own routes, and cannot be reduced to being another tick-box exercise. Instead, it should encourage employers to see beyond a person as a collection of physical characteristics, and prioritise the behaviours and values they could contribute. Perhaps more importantly, the standard should indicate that diversity does not necessarily equate to inclusivity. As such, it should have a focus on ensuring that everyone within an organisation genuinely feels supported and respected.
So how can organisations prove that they strive to ensure this? The standard should place a higher value on initiatives that are embedded within company culture, than on a clearly cut method of measurement. Organisations that have implemented a dignity-at-work programme, for example, demonstrate that they actively promote workplace respect. This is a precedent established from the outset – not a reactive programme – and is therefore more meaningful than jumping through hoops just to gain an accreditation certificate. What inclusivity looks like should not be dictated, and the standard should leave the path open for employers to decide what steps they want to implement to get there.
Not just a box-ticking exercise
Avoiding a prescriptive approach is also important in the supply chain element of the standard. Employers should be able to look for similar examples of inclusivity programmes in supplier companies, rather than suppliers having to conform to strict criteria. Smaller suppliers will not possess the same resources to tick the same boxes as their larger counterparts. This criterion may be dependent upon a variety of factors beyond that supplier’s control, such as what market they’re in or their geographical location.
This could deter some employers from meeting the standard, and create an exclusive policy rather than an inclusive one, by reducing the circle of suppliers. Greater flexibility in what an inclusive supplier could look like is the more pragmatic approach, because recognition of the context in which smaller businesses operate will ensure buy-in from these companies.
Business size should also be factored into the expectations set for establishing diversity in the community. The standard cannot set the bar so high that it is unattainable for smaller businesses with fewer resources at their disposal. In reality, however, smaller businesses probably do more for the community on a regular basis, because they are more entrenched in their local areas than big international organisations. Rather than hinging on a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ criteria, the standard should encompass a sliding scale of community activity, which is relative to company size.
The new standard is a welcome addition to the existing anti-discriminatory legislation. Ultimately, a workforce that feels equally valued and respected will result in greater productivity and success. However, for the standard to have real meaning and value, it needs to be flexible enough for employers to align themselves with – both internally and externally.
This article first appeared at PeopleManagement.com and is reproduced with kind permission.