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Are the aims of achieving Diversity and Equality the same?

I have been fortunate to attend a number of events recently promoting these extremely important objectives in the workplace. The mere fact that such events are becoming common place shows that progress, at least for women, is being made and there are few major workplaces that have not improved their gender balance in management and around their board table over the last decade.

"Martin
Martin Warren
Most recently I attended a very vibrant and inspiring launch of “Supporting Entrepreneurial Women in Wales” in Cardiff which evidenced the fact that more and more women are getting involved in business and are helping others to do so. However there were still stories of less enlightened behaviour in some industries based upon old fashioned stereotyping of women.

The main thrust of these events is to drive greater equality of opportunity for women but as I listened to the ideas for achieving this I couldn’t help thinking that they were a list of things that should be applied to everyone, whatever they may look like or wherever they may have come from.

Helping the individual feel comfortable, accepted and of equal worth, overcoming their lack of confidence and providing role models to show that people like them can succeed, are a universal basis for enabling anyone to succeed. So perhaps achieving Equality in business should be more focused upon general behaviour and practice in areas such as recruitment and business interaction rather than looking at one particular group of individuals.

Of course each group has specific issues to be addressed but ensuring all processes are designed to recognise the individual and make everyone feel included then surely we are more than half way there. Whilst this does not solve the thorny issue of in built or unconscious bias it might at least expose it more.

The emphasis at these events is very much focused upon the social case for Equality but all identify the importance of Diversity in the workplace to make it happen.

There is growing evidence that Diversity in management and amongst board membership makes for better decision making and therefore stronger businesses. Why? Because a broader church ensures narrow viewpoints are challenged and wider experience and understanding helps mould more workable and better solutions. Ironically the stereotyping of women as being more caring is used as an argument for this diversity and for gender balance.

The pressure is now being placed upon business to demonstrate Diversity and over the last year organisations have begun to produce Diversity Data. The gender pay gap, the balance of gender and ethnic origin in management and on the Board are all quantitative measures of Diversity but they are not qualitative. Yes of course there is a strong correlation between the numbers and actual diversity but if all the Board members or management team have come from a similar economic and educational background how much diversity do you really have?

So ticking boxes to show a good gender and ethnic balance is a step in the right direction but there is still a long way to go to achieve real Diversity of thought and input that businesses could fully benefit from.

Martin J Warren FCA
ICAEW Regional Director for Wales and the South West
martin.warren@icaew.com