Investment in an inclusive and diverse workforce could unleash much more of the UK’s economic potential. Race equality alone in the UK could add £24 billion a year to the economy, according to Business in the Community (BITC), a charity promoting responsible business.
Also, if the employment rate of people aged 50-64 currently matched those aged 35-49, a further £88bn would be added, BITC’s Age in the Workplace report found.
Meanwhile a report for the charity Scope found that increasing the levels of employment among people with disabilities by just 5 percentage points would add £23bn to UK gross domestic product by 2030.
And closing gender gaps in work could add £150bn to UK GDP in 2025, according to management consultancy McKinsey & Co.
Much is already being invested in Scotland’s young people to prepare them for their working lives, with examples of industry supporting school and university students, as well as thriving apprenticeship programmes laying the foundations for the future strength of organisations – and ultimately the wealth of the economy.
People are living longer and the over-50s are expected to make up half the working age population by 2020. In Scotland, the population is ageing faster than anywhere else in the UK.
Alan Thornburrow, Scotland director at BITC, says: “We need to think about the implications of that for employers. One is that we are living longer and so we need to be able to finance that.
“The second is the way in which work is changing, such as the evolution of automation.”
As well as advances in technology, there are many barriers preventing older people from remaining in the workforce, including a lack of opportunities being offered to them by employers.
BITC is campaigning for business leaders to think about how it supports older people in employment.
“We are also encouraging employers to look at how to re-skill, how to enable career changes and how to be more inclusive later in life,” says Thornburrow.
A key issue that BITC’s campaign is looking at are caring responsibilities and how they can be accommodated in working careers.
A survey conducted by BITC at the end of last year found that 62 per cent of employees who are in their 50s had not been trained in the skills required for a digital economy.
Older people are less likely to participate in training or development and they are also less likely to be offered any by their employer.
However, with 1.1 million people in the UK working beyond state pension age, businesses need to develop a long-term approach for retaining and employing older employees, as well as managing an intergenerational workforce.
Dr Lesley Sawers, executive chair of GenAnalytics, a Glasgow specialist in analytical and market insights, and chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHCR) Scotland committee, agrees that businesses in Scotland need to adapt in order to benefit from the skills of older people.
“Age is really an important issue and we are probably where we were with gender 30 years ago,” she says.
“The demography in Scotland is changing and we need to be focusing on it in terms of how we support people as they need it in the workplace.
“We are going to have to adapt so that businesses are much more responsive to the needs of an ageing workforce and so that they see it as a positive as opposed to a negative.”
Sawers, who is also a former vice-principal for business, enterprise and innovation at Glasgow Caledonian University, says that it is widely believed among researchers that older people are the “talent pool of the future”.
However, the reason there are fewer training and development opportunities for older people is because of society’s attitudes to them.
“A survey we did at EHRC in 2015 shows that 21 per cent of people in Scotland feel that older people should retire to make way for younger people.
“So there are attitudes prevalent in society towards older people that we need to change and the definition of ageing can vary widely.
“The government uses a 50-plus definition, but that’s not the case for other sectors, particularly media. You don’t see a lot of images of older people on TV or older women holding senior jobs.
“In the fashion industry, ‘older’ starts to become ‘into your 20s’ and in the beauty industry we promote anti-ageing products for those in their 30s.”
To break down the barriers that are facing older people and employment in Scotland, Sawers believes there should be more options available to them, such as apprenticeships designed for people who are returning to work or people who want a change of career.
Similarly, BITC recommends that companies establish a system of supportive line management as well as paid-for “returnship” programmes.
There is a clear demand for such options because many older people want to work part-time but lack awareness of flexible working options, according to a report, Older People and Employment in Scotland, by the Scottish Government.
Some also fear that they might be discriminated against if they leave their job to look for a new one.
Disability is another key factor in the diversity equation. According to the Scottish Government’s Regional Employment Patterns in Scotland report, the employment rate of disabled people is 37 per cent lower than those who do not have disabilities and that gap increases with age.
Jamie Rutherford, head of employability at Enable Scotland, a charity which supports people who have learning disabilities and helps companies to make work accessible, says: “Levels of literacy and technical awareness are required to be able to apply for jobs now and 90 per cent of jobs in Scotland are recruited online.”
He believes it is very effective for managers to be able to work with different types of people to help them become good communicators.
“Often, a disabled person can have challenges and deviations from the normal way a manager might communicate, so it builds strength in your manager,” says Rutherford.
That also holds true for people with mental health issues.
BITC says that most line managers believe they need to be aware of mental health in the workplace. However, half of employees who report that they are struggling in the workplace end up in disciplinary situations.
Thornburrow says: “Somewhere between understanding and reality, there is a gulf. In terms of Scotland’s point of view, it is an area we really want to be looking at.
“We understand the state of the nation but we need to be looking at the things we should be doing to have a better outcome – we need to start to push much more for action rather than rhetoric.”
The issues surrounding diversity in business become even more pronounced when you drill down into the statistics and look at the number of disabled women or people with disabilities from ethnic backgrounds, according to Sawers.
“In most sectors, there’s not representation from ethnic backgrounds in Scotland,” she says. “There are a number of barriers and they again include the attitude of employers and issues with people not being given the opportunities.”
As the BITC figures show, race equality in the UK could have enormous economic benefits and some companies are taking action.
In February, Lloyds Banking Group became the first FTSE 100 company to set a formal target to improve ethnic diversity among its top executives.
It plans to raise the proportion of senior management staff from black, Asian and minority ethnicities (BAME) backgrounds by 8 percentage points.
Of the group’s 75,000 employees, 8.3 per cent come from a BAME background, as do 5.6 per cent of its 7,500 senior managers.
Business is also tapping into the power of young people.
Young Enterprise Scotland (YES) is equipping young people from all backgrounds with business skills.
“You don’t need to be well off to be enterprising,” says Geoff Leask, the organisation’s chief executive.
“What we are trying to do is improve the enterprise skills of young people so they have a better understanding of being in business and to improve their entrepreneurial thought processes. If you get those right, young people will be better for the workplace, whether that is working for themselves or an employer.”
The organisation’s newly launched three-year strategy, Enterprise for All, is about inclusion and enterprise being an enabler for all.
A key aim is to have enterprise programmes available in every school in Scotland.
“It’s about giving a taste of work,” says Leask, who has more than 15 years’ experience in youth enterprise.
“We run events, hair and beauty courses, sports and it is all about engaging those people.
“They are young people who are trying to get back on track and sometimes they are forgotten about by potential employers because they are hard to get into the workforce, but they offer huge benefits to any organisation.”
Leask says that the skills needed for successful business are resilience, communication, problem solving and adaptability.
“People, I think, wrongly refer to top skills as soft skills,” he says.
He cites a study carried out by Google called Project Oxygen, which analysed the technology company’s managers with an aim to find out what makes a successful leader.
It found that, among the most important qualities of Google’s bosses, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) expertise is the least important and the top seven characteristics are all soft skills. These includes communication, being supportive and being a good critical thinker.
YES runs programmes for young people in primary, secondary and tertiary education, including the All Company Programme in partnership with Strathclyde University Business School and the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship.
Through that programme, which has a focus on learning by doing, 2,000 young people from all backgrounds have set up 200 businesses.
Similarly, its Bridge 2 Business programme offers college students the chance to apply for grants to turn their business idea into reality.
Leask believes that the more diverse and inclusive a team is, the more productive it will be.
“We are drilling down into what we need to do to make enterprise available to all, be it minority groups in terms of race, sexuality, learning ability or physical ability.”
To ensure that businesses are aware of diversity and are being fully inclusive, BITC is also running a Good Work for All campaign.
It is focused on job security, rights and fair income and offers a work plan for employers to follow.
Thornburrow says: “We know Scotland is relatively well-placed in terms of a living wage point of view but we should be pushing harder.
“We need to thrive in our rapidly changing world and be enabling change through strong leadership, workforce insight, better communication and management.
“We are now challenging employers to be bolder around backed-up research and analysis on what the state of the nation is.”
Flexible approach narrows gap
Despite accounting for 20 per cent of Scotland’s population, people with disabilities only represent 11 per cent of the private sector workforce.
Companies who have larger employment rates of people with disabilities tend to have higher returns and a stronger customer base.
However, people with learning disabilities often struggle to apply for jobs and rarely succeed in interviews because the format is not accessible and there is an unconscious bias among employers.
Jamie Rutherford, head of employability at Enable Scotland, says: “There has been a disability gap in Scotland of around 40 per cent and it has been about that level for many years now and that includes people with all kinds of disabilities.
“The percentage of people with learning disabilities in Scotland who are in work is around 7 per cent; that is incredibly low and they are the lowest represented.”
Increasing the levels of employment among people with disabilities would also benefit the economy.
For companies to remain successful against future uncertainties such as Brexit and an ageing workforce, employers need to start exploring different demographics.
Rutherford says: “It is about looking at different groups and tapping into the skills that disabled people have, which is a massively underused pool of talent.”
That can be done easily and without a large expense.
In addition to making jobs more accessible in terms of applications and interviews, employers can go to organisations such as Enable Scotland, who provide in-work modifications.
“For someone with a disability, it is often just about rearranging the working practice slightly,” says Rutherford, who also sits on the boards of the Scottish Training Federation and the Scottish Union of Supported Employment.
“It might be that they start later and leave earlier and employers might need to look at the way training is done to make sure that it is very systematic in the way that it is delivered.”
Only 41.7 per cent of disabled Scots aged 16-64 are in employment, compared with more than 81 per cent of people without disabilities.
Rutherford says: “It’s just good management and you can actually – through employing a disabled person – really develop the skills of your team, the skills of your team leaders and the skills of your managers in being effective communicators.”
This article appears in the Spring 2018 edition of Vision Scotland. Further information about Vision Scotland here.