Time to hit inclusivity head-on
Year on year the scope of the Equality Act 2010 appears to widen as employees and the Tribunals begin to recognise more circumstances which fall under the ‘protected characteristic’ headings.
Most recently, the Tribunal has recognised the detriment faced by some employees with menopausal symptoms. Prior to this, we have seen the extension of the definition of gender as we become more familiar with classifications such as non-binary and gender fluidity.
The scope of employment law is constantly extending and HR professionals and managers may long for some respite, especially following 2020. But, if you are implementing other changes across the board with hybrid working, now could be the perfect time to review just how inclusive your business is and to make those small changes which could have a major impact on your internal culture and external reputation.
Great equality management is prevention rather than cure: if you have never encountered diversity issues within your business, we want it to stay that way. Our clients report more and more that potential recruits know their rights and are looking for evidence of inclusion and flexibility. Just as consumers are looking for retailers with high sustainability goals, employees are looking to partner with a great reputation and, for many, that will take into account how inclusive you are.
Further, in the worst case scenario, a Tribunal looking for evidence of your non-discriminatory culture will look, among other things, for your equal opportunities policy: whether you distributed it, whether the employee knew of its existence, whether you updated it and whether you truly implemented its principles.
But why should you take active steps and review your culture? Why fix what doesn’t appear to be broken?
The bold truth is, we have no idea what we may have to protect against. Employees don’t wear a sign listing their protected characteristics and, with employees also being able to claim discrimination by association, it is impossible to be certain that disputes or grievances will never arise.
Whether we like it or not, it is probably fair to say we also all have some level of unconscious bias. What’s important is that we recognise that and look to prevent that having adverse effects on others at work. Embracing inclusivity is, in fact, a win-win situation. With a diverse group of people offering their ideas at work, the different viewpoints can be enlightening. The external benefits can also be wide-ranging, improving reputation, innovation and understanding of your clients or customers, and ultimately financial reward.
Thankfully, the steps to a more inclusive culture can be simple and easily implemented, for example:
- Do you include an inclusivity statement on any adverts?
- Do you have a bias about the type of person suitable for your vacant role? Where does that come from? Is it truly accessible to all?
- Do you have an equal opportunities policy, is it up to date and have all staff been given a copy?
- Is your handbook gender neutral?
- Do any of your policies or practices negatively affect certain groups of employees? Can this be changed?
- Do you implement diversity training at all levels and at regular intervals?
- Have you considered holding a focus group where employees can make suggestions and share their experiences at your workplace?
Many businesses are in the process of reviewing their practices with a view to hybrid working. Now is as good a time as any to review your handbooks making them gender neutral and equal opportunities practices, particularly since hybrid working will impact people with different protected characteristics (and different personality types) differently.
Inclusivity, along with respect and diversity, is here to stay.
Clarke Willmott can assist you with updating your equal opportunities policy (and others) and providing gender neutral staff handbooks. We also offer diversity training for all levels. For further information, or a free contract and handbook review, please contact Paula Squire or Marc Long.