The Equality Bill passed its final Parliamentary stage on Tuesday night and will now become law, taking effect in the autumn. Les Venus, Board Member of UK Council for Access and Equality (UKCAE) is calling for HR professionals to look beyond the changes necessary to comply with the Act and see equality as an opportunity to support business growth.

“You could paper the walls of good sized office block with the amount of misinformation that has printed about the Equality Bill. But the UK’s workforce, and its customer base, is changing. Organisations that want to maintain a competitive edge need to respond, by creating a diverse and equal workforce. This isn’t just a moral or compliance issue. It’s a business issue.” commented Venus.

The facts really do speak for themselves. Only 20 percent of the working population is white, able bodied, male and below the age of 45. Combine this with the fact that one in five of the workforce (6.9 million people) have some form of disability or impairment; and three million workers of retirement age expect that they will continue to work beyond 65 – and you have a clear requirement for a change in traditional business practice.

Those organisations that have a customer-facing workforce that reflects the demographic and ethnic mix of customers will have a clear advantage in terms of customer service, customer satisfaction and loyalty. Secondly, attracting and hiring the very best people in a changing employment market requires organisations to spread their nets as wide as possible. It really is necessary to recruit from the widest pool possible.

“The usual question I get asked is – OK, how do I move my organisation’s culture from where it is now to one that includes all types and profiles of worker and treats them as equals?”

“Let’s start with what won’t work. Hiring an equality manager and implementing a programme that is perceived as ‘box ticking’ will not address the issue.
“Achieving equality requires a fundamental change in attitude and culture to run through the core of an organisation. If equality and inclusion are to provide a competitive edge they must be seen as positive rather than a hindrance” added Venus.

Organisations need to understand what equality means to them. This requires the management to have a real understanding of what aspects of the business’ performance can be improved by a more diverse and equal workforce. The starting point for this analysis is often the customer.

Look at customers from a different perspective. This requires you to leave behind the old and rather tired socio-economic based categorisations and consider customers in terms of what they want from your business. This will provide you with insights that will impact many other aspects of your organisation’s operations.
This information can inform future recruitment plans, product development, communications and the buildings from which organisations operate.

If equal and diverse workforce is to be a reality senior management organisation needs to accept that creating equality at work is crucial for the future success of the organisation. While you can appeal to them to do the ‘right thing’, UKCAE’s experience is that the analysis of the business issues – a changing recruitment pool, the opportunities for revenue from new customer groups, and alternative product and service development – normally hits the spot.

Having got buy-in, the next decision is how to implement the cultural and operational change necessary for equality at work. There a wide range of external suppliers to choose from as well as the in-house option.

If an organisation decides to use an external supplier it is crucial to understand whether the process is designed to deliver business benefits rather than create policy and processes, and if it is independently audited so that progress can be objectively measured. An effective equality framework will be delivered both face-to-face and online, allowing everyone involved with the organisation to work though it no matter what their location.

With just months until the new Equality Act comes into force it really is the ideal time for HR professionals to grab the opportunity think business not compliance and start embracing equality at work and the associated benefits now.