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A right royal checklist for the workplace

31 March 2021

The royal family’s recent diversity review has put the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives in the spotlight. But what are the best tools for achieving lasting change in this area?

This week I was shown a checklist for a physics GCSE test.  It’s on electromagnetism and it’s genius.  It doesn’t only tell you what you need to learn, it breaks down each component that should be learnt by the specific grade that a student is aiming for.  In one example, those trying for Grade 4 might have the aim “I can list some electromagnet devices”, for Grade 6 “I can describe the structure of an electromagnet in simple terms”, and for Grade 8 (and I think you’ve probably got the picture now), “I can explain the effect of an iron core on the strength of an electromagnet in terms of the magnetic field.”

It struck me that a plan like this could be useful for employers thinking about their diversity strategy.  Consider the royals and the recent news that they are thinking about appointing a "diversity tsar" because not enough progress has been made in this area.  Where to start?  A graded checklist around diversity could help.  The most basic grade might include policies on diversity, inclusion, anti-harassment and bullying, together with a commitment to roll out diversity training in the next six months.  Having a look at the 2020 EHRC guidance on preventing harassment at work could kick off the plan.  That could work for a start-up company, or one that realises they have rather woefully not (yet) paid any attention to diversity. 

The next grade up might include having a look at recruitment practices to see whether more steps can be taken to reduce the impact of unconscious bias, such as reviewing job specifications to encourage people from diverse groups to apply.  It might also add a Disability or LGBTQ+ champion, and look at specific training for leaders and managers so that they understand their role in preventing harassment in the workplace.  It is important to bear in mind the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal decision on the topic of diversity training, where a lack of action by managers who witnessed racist remarks in the workplace contributed to the employer’s inability to defend a harassment claim.  To successfully defend a claim the employer must show that “all reasonable steps” have been taken to prevent harassment.

For the employers aiming for the A** in terms of diversity, the highest tier might consider having targets for recruitment, number crunching to see if initiatives are actually working, having conversations with customers and clients or external suppliers about their diversity strategies, and reverse mentoring. 

There is a plethora of different tools available to employers.  HR professionals will know this, but they also know how difficult it can be to convince bosses to sign up to their ideas and strategies on diversity.  Setting them out in different grades, perhaps with different target dates for each grade, might make them feel more palatable and manageable.

For an employer who has had to face the same kind of reputational damage as the royals, that checklist is now bound to have something quite specific on race discrimination as a basic element, which makes it a living, breathing document that can be changed alongside altering priorities. For the royals, a listen and learn exercise might drop a grade or two and become the first thing they consider.  Or anti-racism training.  This way the employer can re-jig planned strategies in response to events rather than starting from scratch – surely a better approach than “we need to make more progress (but we’re not quite sure how)”.

For the students sitting their physics GCSE, as many parents around the country usually say at this time of year, it’s not about the grade you get in your exam, it’s about the effort that you put in.  In terms of diversity, can you honestly say that your company is putting in maximum effort and aiming for that top grade?  While you ponder that, I’m off to ask my 16-year-old to explain electromagnetism…


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