Diversity of race and gender can enrich the knowledge bank of your business

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Marks and Spencer’s commitment to employing people with disabilities and health conditions, with the roll-out of the Marks & Starts scheme to logistics at the new Castle Donington e-commerce distribution centre, is to be welcomed, especially after a recent survey by HR magazine found employers wanting when it comes to diversity.

Only half of the 217 HR directors we surveyed had a diversity strategy in place, while one in 10 said diversity was not a business imperative and a shocking 8% said it was unimportant. This comes at a time when female representation on the board is on the Government’s agenda a Work and Pensions Committee report on the Youth Contract last month found that unemployment among some black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups to be disproportionately high (50% of young black men are unemployed, for example), and there are 1.3 million disabled people in the UK who are available for, and want to, work.

In our survey, 16% were doing nothing to address age equality in their business, 46% were not addressing sexual orientation, 37% were not addressing ethnic origin, 18% were not implementing gender-equality measures and one in five did not have any disability initiatives.

However, many businesses think it’s “political correctness gone mad” and a tick-box exercise. As a Deloitte report put it: “There appears to be more head nodding about the business case than a rolling-up of the sleeves to take action.”

Several studies prove the bottom-line benefit. In 2009, research by Professor Cedric Herring of the University of Illinois of more than 500 businesses found organisations with greater racial and gender diversity had better sales revenues, customer numbers and market share.

Diversity is not about “visible” differences but rather about individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, experiences and beliefs. In other words, diversity of thought. As Deloitte says, this shifts the focus from “how can increasing gender and racial diversity help us improve business outcomes?” to “how rich is our knowledge bank? Do we have the variety of perspectives necessary to deal with complex problems and create innovative solutions? And are we fully valuing and leveraging the potential of all our employees?”

Now that’s the business case for diversity.

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