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Diversity code has power to transform management thinking

A new code of practice to facilitate fairness and dignity at work, developed by academics at Alliance MBS in collaboration with a range of experts and business practitioners, has the potential to help transform management thinking and improve diversity.

Speaking at the University of Manchester launch of the new British Standard BS 76005 entitled ‘Valuing people through Diversity and Inclusion’, Dr Anne McBride, Senior Lecturer in Employment Studies at Alliance MBS, said the aim was for the code to be applied “to any organisation at any time”.

“This is for anyone involved in managing and developing people. We want top management to seize the day and say ‘this makes sense for our business strategy’. The code is about saying that no-one is excluded because of difference. It is about moving from exclusion to inclusion.”

Helge Hoel, Professor in Organisational Behaviour at Alliance MBS, said the code was the culmination of two year’s work. “We have produced a really strong standard, the first of its kind, and are proud that the BSI chose Alliance MBS to launch this standard. This is not about positive discrimination. It is about giving people who may be disadvantaged the chance to compete – not to get a job but to have the chance to get a job or the chance to be promoted.”

Omar Khan, Director of race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said the standard had particular benefits for promoting increased diversity in the workplace. In particular he said businesses were “waking up” to the issue given that the black minority ethnic (BME) population was set to rise to 27% of the UK population by 2051.

However because most company bosses today were brought up during a time when BME accounted for just a fraction of the UK population – as little as 2.4% in 1971 - this can continue to have a bearing when it came to making senior appointments. Today just one in 16 top management positions are filled by the BME population.

He said this can be down to both unconscious and “fairly conscious” bias too. “People running companies today did not know many black people when they were growing up. We need to keep that in mind. Being brought up in the 1970s was a very different experience to today.”

He added: “Something is going wrong and we have a big challenge in terms of race equality. In order to change perceptions we need to see black people in a wider range of jobs to break down stereotypes.”

Khan said one solution could be to build standards such as BS76005 into management appraisals and progression. “If you made it a performance target for a manager to get more BME staff into their company this would quite quickly improve things.”

Dr Wilson Wong from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said the new standard signalled the need to look far more seriously at diversity and inclusion. “What kind of Britain do we want? Employers have an incredible influence in this country.”

He said although the standard was principles led it was also evidence-based. “Getting the University of Manchester involved in this code was very important. Whatever was included in the standard needed to be evidence-based.” He added that the key now was for managers to start using and sharing the code, and the commitment of business leaders was essential. “This is the beginning of a progressive journey.”

The conference heard that the code was as applicable for small companies as well as large, while it also offered help and advice to companies on how to deal with modern working practices such as flexible working.

The new Standard - BS 76005 Valuing people through Diversity and Inclusion – is a code of practice for organisations intended to facilitate fairness and dignity at work.

With initial input from a range of academic experts within University of Manchester’s Fairness at Work Centre (FairWRC), and developed in collaboration with a range of business diversity and inclusion practitioners and specialists, it provides a framework of recommendations for reviewing, assessing and undertaking a competent and principled approach to diversity and inclusion.

The standard forms part of wider set of BSI standards which provides a framework for valuing people. For instance, BS 76000 enables organisations to assess the extent to which their HR policies and practices promote long term effectiveness.