Related posts:No related photos. Itis one thing to have a diversity policy but another to ensure it is correctlyobserved. Heather Falconer looks at suitable training methods to ensure itssubtletiesare understood by employeesAnemployee goes on holiday to Africa. He sends a postcard to colleagues back inthe office – it features bare-breasted black South African women, and on theback is written ‘South Africa’s answer to Mayfair’. On its routine circulationround the office, it lands on the desk of a black colleague, who takes offence.He brings a claim of racial harassment against his employer – and wins. Thecase highlights that employers are liable for a wide range of inappropriateacts and behaviour on the part of employees, unless they can show they havetaken all reasonable steps to prevent it. Havinga diversity policy in place will not meet that burden of proof – the employerin this case, Kent Constabulary, had such a policy, but the officer who sentthe postcard said he hadn’t seen it. The fact is diversity policies will nolonger stand up in court unless they are communicated to staff and followed upwith training.SaysJoanna Blackburn, employment law partner at Mishcon de Reya: “Where manycompanies still fall down in employment tribunals is in being unable to showthey have put otherwise good equal opportunities policies into practice.”Sodiversity training will not only help to stop complaints arising in the firstplace, but will be significant in helping employers defend claims.”Atribunal is far less likely to be impressed by a manager with no realunderstanding of discrimination laws than one who has been properlytrained,” Blackburn says.Thisbecomes increasingly important as discrimination law grows in both breadth andcomplexity. According to conciliation service Acas, discrimination complaintsto tribunals increased from 14,543 in 1999-2000 to 17,657 in 2000-01.InDecember, the Government issued an equality consultation paper putting forwardits plans to outlaw discrimination on grounds of religion, age and sexualorientation by 2003. Ofperhaps even greater significance is the new Race Relations Amendment Act,which for the first time imposes a legal duty on public sector organisationsnot just to prevent discrimination but to actively promote diversity. Clearly,the business case for promoting diversity is much wider than the need to complywith the law. The ‘war for talent’ and the need to show corporate socialresponsibility are strong motivators. But according to Pamela Elmes, associatedirector of global diversity at City firm Barclays Capital: “Litigation isthe biggest driver for managing diversity in the UK.” She cites manyothers: globalisation, consumer power and competition for talent to name a few.Focusingon legal compliance is a dangerous game, warns Robin Schneider, managingdirector of diversity consultant Schneider Ross: “Such a mindset drivesbehaviour underground as opposed to facing it and tackling it,” he says. “Idon’t think the kind of route that has been taken in the US, where peoplecannot crack a joke would fit well with British culture.”Butit is at the level of cracking jokes – along with engaging in banter, passingsaucy e-mails, making personal comments and other office ‘pastimes’ onceregarded as trivial – that employers need to focus their attention if they areto avoid damage to their purses and their reputations.Itis worth remembering how easy it is for employees to break the law. They neednot have any intention of harassing anyone; they need not even have anyone specificin mind. But if through remarks, jokes, comments or banter they cause offenceto someone they work with, the employer could be liable. It doesn’t matter ofthey perceive the behaviour as harmless fun – harassment is in the eye of theharassed. Thelegal profession has been quick to exploit these trends by offering an array ofseminars and training days outlining the law and helping employers understandthe issues. According to Martin Edwards, head of employment law at North Westlaw firm Mace & Jones: “The level of interest among an increasinglywide range of employers, generally led by HR, is quite strikingly higher thanit was two or three years ago.” Buta key objective for training and development specialists is to put in placeprogrammes that will challenge and, crucially, change the ingrained behavioursand attitudes that make employees who are not young, male and anglo-saxon feelintimidated or oppressed in the workplace, or even in the pub after hours.Clearly,this change cannot happen overnight – it requires a sustained and committedeffort from the very top of the organisation downwards.”Thingsare very much less black and white than people would like in this area,”says Robin Schneider. “What you cannot do with diversity training is tell peoplewhat to do and not to do. What you have to do is equip them to make thatassessment as they get involved in real situations. It is beyond motherhood –you need to illustrate the greyness and draw people into the debate.”Increasinglypopular is the use of interactive drama-based training. Done skillfully, thiskind of role-play can bring issues to life and illustrate the ambiguities,provoke discussion and exploration and allow participants to test solutions ina safe setting.Oneof the best known providers is Steps, formed in 1992 and with a solid clientbase ranging from blue chip companies to Whitehall departments. It has expandedits diversity workshops in line with developing trends over the past 10 years.”Youcan have the most wonderful diversity policies, but they come unstuck whenpeople on the shop floor have issues between themselves that expand andexplode,” director Richard Wilkes comments.Arecent typical workshop, for example, tackled issues around race, religion,class, disability, sexual orientation and gender, and examined them fromseveral different angles – of the manager, employee, colleague – to unearth theassumptions and stereotyping that can lead to problems.Scenariosincluded a member of staff of ethnic minority origin making inappropriatecomments to a colleague about a visiting delegation from Bangladesh –participants were asked to advise the colleague on how to respond to theremarks. In another situation, an employee suffering harassment after tellingcolleagues she was a lesbian sought participants’ help on how to pursue herconcerns with her manager, while the manager was advised on how to treat herconcerns seriously (another crucial part of an employer’s defence intribunals). Techniquesinclude freeze-framing the scenario at given points and asking delegates ‘Whatdo you think I should do?’ Role players then put suggestions into practice,often asking the audience for exact words and phrases to use, and carry themthrough to a conclusion.Anotheris putting particular protagonists on the spot during a break in the action andallowing delegates to directly question them about their underlying beliefs andmotivations in taking a certain line. Theeffectiveness of the training lies in its ability to engage participants andencourage them to give voice to underlying and often unrecognised assumptions.Rather than seeking to control the discussion, actors allow it to developorganically and are often pushed by delegates in unexpected directions. Wilkespoints out that subtle class distinctions, for example, were so often raised bydelegates as an issue that eventually Steps started including class issues inits workshops. Inthe right hands, these techniques can elicit responses and break downinhibitions amazingly fast, as Lucy Moy-Thomas, staff development and trainingmanager at Barking College, can testify: “Diversity has a lot of greyareas, so we deliberately chose scenarios that were ambiguous so as to provokecomment and discussion. Almost immediately participants were shouting outsuggestions and laughing.”TheBarking sessions were part of a programme to develop a code of practice to helpthe college reach a wider cross-section of the local community.”Moreneeds to be done, but we feel the atmosphere has already changed following thesessions,” says Moy-Thomas. “This approach leaps across boundariesand we found it a very powerful way of bringing home the messages.”Anothercompany offering drama-based diversity training is Management in Action, whichbegan its interactive role play training oil drillers in health and safety forcompanies such as BP. Now it runs diversity programmes for those same clientsand others such as the Department for Education and Science.Thetechniques it uses are similar to those of Steps, but unlike Steps, it does notnecessarily use professional actors. “This is seat-of-the-pants stuff –some of our people have very little drama training but plenty of lifeexperience that they can bring to the scenarios,” says director ChasThomason. “Wealways stress that we are a training company that uses drama and not the otherway around. There are plenty of out-of-work actors out there who decide to do abit of training – but our trainers are qualified to the hilt.”Thomasonsays the company’s work is “sixty per cent research, talking to trainingmanagers and staff and getting a really good picture of the issues theorganisation wants to address”.Thisis crucial, says Tess Finch Lees, a consultant at Schneider Ross who attended arecent Steps event. “You need to know what the diversity issues are andthen recreate them subtly so the penny is dropping in people’s minds without itbeing in their faces.”RobinSchneider identifies three types of effectiveness measures for diversitytraining: short-term measures – questionnaires before and after a workshop totest whether it has communicated key messages; medium term measures – perhapsthree months down the line asking what people are doing differently as a result,which can be achieved through random calls or focus groups and correlated withfeedback from managers; longer term measures such as employee and customeropinion surveys which can help to ascertain changes in organisational culture. Atthis stage, says Schneider, “it is a no-brainer to try to separate out thecontribution of diversity training. It is an enabler, not an end initself”.Inthe context of legal compliance, however, return on investment becomes mucheasier to demonstrate. Research by the CBI shows tribunal costs have risenoverall by 50 per cent in two years, from £426m in 1999 to £633m in 2001. Thisis based on government estimates that each tribunal application costs a company£2,000 in the legal and management expenses needed to prepare a defence to aclaim.Theaverage cost of recruiting a new employee is £3,500, which the CBI estimates tobe necessary in at least 75 per cent of cases. Compensation for discrimination(which is not capped) is also increasing, and according to the TUC, awards forsex discrimination almost doubled in the past year to an average £17,000. Withthe pressure on training departments to demonstrate returns on investment in ajittery economic climate, diversity training can have proven benefits in savingorganisations many thousands of pounds, not only in helping them defenddiscrimination claims, but as a way of avoiding costly complaints arising inthe first place.ContactsSteps020 7403 9000Managementin Action 0191 284 9900SchneiderRoss 01264 882400Mace& Jones 0151 236 8989Mishconde Reya 020 7440 7162 Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Best BehaviourOn 1 Feb 2002 in Personnel Today
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