For many organizations the diversity journey begins with legal compliance around EEO, bullying and harassment. The communication of policies and procedures that have been developed play a crucial role in guiding a workplace to being more respectful, however it is the knowledge and skills that are imparted to staff that are critical to ensuring an inclusive workplace that will be accepting of diversity in all its forms.
It is hard to believe that in 2011 organizations still weigh up the cost of skilling staff in the area of equal employment, bullying and against the likelihood of a claim occurring. As human beings we all have bias, both conscious and unconscious and as a result it is a fair assumption to make that at some point a negative opinion will be formed about someone or a group of people based upon race, religion, gender, age or disability without knowing all the facts, and inappropriate behaviour will result. It is never a question of if this behaviour is likely to occur; it is always a question of when this behaviour will occur.
Organizations need to be committed to developing the knowledge, understanding and skills of individuals across all levels of the organization. Often organizations opt for a quick and easy fix either in the form of a short online program that covers the key components of the legislation or a video for all new employees to watch during induction. This does not guarantee a deeper level of understanding around the core competencies of respect and equal opportunity. To ensure that organizations maximize their return on investment when implementing diversity and inclusion strategies, significant resources need to be allocated to this basic cornerstone of building an inclusive workplace.
Diversity@Work recommends the following approach:
1. Review existing policies and procedures
Reviewing your existing employment policies and procedures is an opportunity to identify any gaps and update according to the most recent legislative changes. It is important to have this review completed prior to any awareness campaign being implemented.
2. Start from the top down
All too often senior executives and indeed board and council members are not encouraged to develop and refresh their skills and knowledge in this area. Employers are responsible for ensuring that the working environment is free from destructive and unethical behaviour. A presentation to senior and executive managers is an opportunity to discuss, illustrate and emphasize the importance of respect in the workplace. In particular the role of the law and the protection it offers needs to be covered in relation to the creation of a happy, safe and compliant work environment. This is an opportunity for Executive Leadership Teams to hear first-hand how organizations and their employees benefit from a proactive approach to EEO, bullying and harassment. This can also be used as an opportunity to address appropriate professional behaviours and the existing workplace culture.
3. Build a proactive culture
It is not unusual for organizations to see a spike in activity around claims and reports immediately following the launch of the campaign. Anyone within the organization that holds responsibility for staff must know the law and possess the skills to interpret and apply it properly. It is critical that managers are familiar with the law and best practice. In order to manage risk as well as develop a proactive approach to equal opportunity, bullying and harassment, managers need to be equipped with the tools to resolve complaints effectively.
4. Invest in a supportive structure
Contact Officers are an important element of the support structure within organizations and often need an upgrade of their skills and knowledge within the EEO arena. Training will further shore up and improve confidence to support internal staff in recognizing and dealing with internal issues around EEO.
5. Ensure questions can be asked
An investment in effective face to face training for all staff ensures that participants are not only able to respond effectively and confidently to Equal Opportunity legislation requirements and related workplace behavioural issues but also ask questions to clarify their own interpretations. Face to face facilitation provides the opportunity to learn through case studies, observation and most importantly the sharing of experiences to reinforce knowledge.
About the author
Written by Donna de Zwart, General Manager, Diversity@Work. For more information please visit our website www.diversityatwork.com.au