Improving diversity and equality in the workplace will help make Scotland fairer and kinder but also boost the economy – Pamela Stewart

Representation matters in every aspect of public life. From more diverse leading roles in Hollywood movies to women occupying the highest offices in the land, if greater equality is evident at the top then that can trigger positive change everywhere else.
The Workplace Equality Fund is designed to help employers improve diversity in the workplace (Picture: Menahem Hakana/AFP via Getty Images)The Workplace Equality Fund is designed to help employers improve diversity in the workplace (Picture: Menahem Hakana/AFP via Getty Images)
The Workplace Equality Fund is designed to help employers improve diversity in the workplace (Picture: Menahem Hakana/AFP via Getty Images)

The work to increase representation must also accelerate in our own workplaces here in Scotland. Employment rates, pay gaps, occupational segregation and workplace discrimination are all too evident in many sectors.

For too many, progression opportunities still appear to be influenced by skin colour, gender, disability status or age. That’s why Advice Direct Scotland, with the support of Scottish government funding, is seeking to do something about it.

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The Workplace Equality Fund will make £800,000 available this year for employers across a range of sectors to address these long-standing barriers. Charities, third sector and public sector organisations, and private businesses can all apply for up to £75,000 to help carry out activities which will improve diversity in the workplace.

That funding will be used to focus on one or more priority groups including women, ethnic minority workers, disabled people and those aged 50 and over.

People who have experienced gender-based violence, workers going through social isolation and women experiencing symptoms of the menopause will also be included as part of this major project.

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So too will military veterans and their spouses, who have given up so much for their country but often struggle to thrive once they depart the armed forces. They are owed so much more.

It isn’t just a case of getting these people into workplaces in numbers.

It’s about showing others who face the same challenges that succeeding in a career of their choice is possible, indeed natural, and the proof is there in front of them.

That’s what this funding is designed to do and, as Scotland’s national advice service, we are proud to be administering it.

The scheme was first launched in 2018 by the First Minister and already has a track record of success.

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One example came through the charity Age Scotland, which helped support other employers to get older people on board and into the heart of their organisations.

It involved encouraging those businesses and organisations to think about the challenges someone who is over 50 might face in starting a new career or switching to a different place of work.

And it’s about so much more than simply a number.

For instance, many older people also happen to be carers and that could require employers to be flexible and understanding.

We often talk about employer flexibility in relation to younger workers and their requirements for childcare, something most organisations are serious about facilitating.

That’s because they see the benefit in being supportive and loyal to talented staff who will repay that with dedication and commitment which will last many years.

The same goes for the older generation, and a fund like this enables exactly that sort of flexibility from bosses. Even without the support, it makes sense for employers to be more open-minded about hiring those reaching the later stages of their careers.

Scotland’s population is ageing and people are living longer and they are therefore open-minded about extending their working life.

That increases the pool of talent, experience and wisdom for businesses who want a truly diverse make-up of employees.

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What employer wouldn’t want to call on the expertise of someone whose career has been enriched by so many different roles and responsibilities? They add value and substance to your work, and also help along younger members of the team.

Even during the Covid pandemic – with all the various challenges that brought for people and the economy – Scotland didn’t let up on efforts to support diversity.

Losing ground as a result of the public health emergency would have been hugely regrettable, and fortunately the fund was able to offer immediate support to ensure the promoting and embedding of equality could continue, even if it was done under the shadow of necessary restrictions.

The last thing these many groups could afford was to be further disadvantaged by the pandemic. Now that there is some light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to Covid, we must ramp up efforts again.

In some ways, with businesses gradually returning to normality and many new opportunities arising, there has never been a better time to promote the value of diversity.

What is so crucial to remember is that this campaign should not be looked at simply as a charitable act to help those who have faced barriers.

The wider aim is to prove that having more representation in your workplace is of benefit to everyone.

As Richard Lochhead, the minister for employment and fair work, said while helping to launch the scheme that “tackling inequality within the labour market is essential to the sustained, long-term prosperity of the Scottish economy”.

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It brings people together, encourages learning about other cultures and challenges, and provides valuable social links when we’ve never needed them more.

Yes, those who have faced so many obstacles through no fault of their own must be given more support. But the benefits that brings to those who provide it will come back with interest.

And it is all part of creating a fairer Scotland while bringing kindness, sustainability and prosperity to Scotland’s economy.

Pamela Stewart is deputy chief executive of Advice Direct Scotland. Organisations and businesses that wish to apply for the Workplace Equality Fund should visit Applications are open until April 11.

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