Diversity is key to unlocking full potential and attracting best people into business

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In light of PepsiCo’s announcement that diversity in the workplace is “not just important but a business imperative”, what are the benefits of diversity in business and is legislation robust enough to protect employees from discrimination in the workplace?

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against anyone because of: age; being or becoming a transsexual person; being married or in a civil partnership; being pregnant or on maternity leave; disability; race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin; religion, belief or lack of religion/belief; sex; and sexual orientation

However, diversity in the workplace shouldn’t simply be seen as adhering to a legal requirement. A more diverse employee group can encourage new ways of thinking, reach out to a wider range of customers and help businesses grow. It can help employees learn from colleagues whose work style and attitude varies from their own.

The hard truth is that legislation alone cannot improve discrimination in the workplace; attitudes and practices must change to ensure successful diversity. If we do not change, it will affect the talent pool businesses will attract in future. A recent YouGov poll found 1 in 5 young women aged 13-22 said they would not work for a company which was not gender diverse.

In addition, increasing pressure on the Benefits System has led to more individuals with disabilities entering the workplace. Employers must be aware of an individual’s limitations as well as their potential, and be seen to seriously consider what adjustments could be made in the workplace to accommodate their needs. It is also important not to make any offer of employment conditional on the outcome of a pre-medical questionnaire.

For future planning, young people need to feel inspired by leading lights in Scottish businesses and captains of industry need to be made up of a diverse and talented pool of individuals there on merit alone. Alarmingly, in a recent survey, 41 per cent of women aged 13-22 said they felt their gender would negatively impact on their job prospects compared to 4 per cent of young men of the same age.

A report in October 2016 by The Equality and Human Rights Commission found British businesses are losing nearly £280 million per year as a result of women being forced out of their jobs by pregnancy and maternity discrimination. These costs are largely down to recruitment, training costs and lost productivity. However, they don’t take into account the lost revenue from reputational damage from Employment Tribunals.

The Government has been called on to extend the time to lodge an Employment Tribunal claim from three to six months for cases relating to pregnancy and maternity and ensure Tribunal fees are not a barrier to women pursuing claims. In addition the Equality and Human Rights Commission is working with leading British businesses to spearhead a new coalition called “Working Forward” which aims to inspire and support best practices in organisations, focusing specifically on retaining the talent and experience of female employees.

As a nation, especially given the economic uncertainty we face as we prepare for our departure from the European Union, we need to ensure we attract the best talent into our businesses… and what we know is that to be the best, diversity is key.

Chris Phillips is a Partner, Loch Employment Law, part of Loch Associates Group