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All things being equal

Are equal opportunity polices getting left behind due to coronavirus?

Equal opportunity policies are key to any business to create a team with a diverse set of skills, experiences, backgrounds and opinions.

Equal opportunity policies are key to any business to create a team with a diverse set of skills, experiences, backgrounds and opinions.

 

As the world starts to open back up, and the workplace gets “back to normal”, initiatives such as equal opportunity policies – that may have had to have taken a back seat during these unprecedented times as employers were stretched to the limit – are creeping their way back up the priority list. Are companies doing enough to ensure that equal opportunities initiatives are being properly implemented and have the desired effect, or are they even needed in 2021?

Why do businesses need equal opportunity policies?

Liz Buckley, HR director of Mazars says: “Creating policies within a firm to promote equal opportunities for everyone is one part of a larger programme in equalising the workplace to create an equal playing field for everyone – a true meritocracy.

“Many companies focus on equality because it’s the right thing to do, which it is, but there are significant benefits for any company in creating a culture where you are valued on merit and not just on stereotype.

“There is a huge correlation between diversity and company performance with McKinsey research suggesting that companies financially outperform their competitors between 25 per cent and 36 per cent with higher gender and ethnic diversity respectively.”

Setting the bar

Equal opportunity policies are vital for the business to create a workplace of employees with a diverse set of skills, experiences, backgrounds, and opinions, agrees Laura O’Connell, global head of HR at Waystone. “They also set a precedent for how employees should treat one another at work and they also ensure that our people are valued and have the same access to opportunities whatever their differences.

“These policies can be implemented in a number of ways, not only by issuing and training employees about the policies themselves but also in our everyday activities such as ensuring that open roles, seminars, job shadowing and mentoring are available to everyone.”

How to implement effective policies

A policy document “is a starting point and statement of intent in outlining a firm’s direction in promoting diversity, inclusivity and equal opportunities but that alone is not enough”, says Buckley.

“To implement a programme and create a level playing field we must look first at ‘equality of means’ – is access really equal? At a basic level, this could be looking at the process of selecting candidates for an interview or promotion. Did everyone who wanted to apply have the same opportunity, are they rated fairly and equally across the board?”

After that, “you need to look at ‘equality of chances’. With the recruitment or promotion scenario, did everyone have the same chance to reach the point of being considered? Does the pool you are choosing from all look the same or are all from the same university? Do those not fitting the same mould feel they had the same chance?”

Lidl senior project manager Sorcha Hynes: Equal opportunity policies “are a chance for companies to set out their commitment to ensuring that equitable practices are adopted within the workplace beyond their legal obligations”.
Lidl senior project manager Sorcha Hynes: Equal opportunity policies “are a chance for companies to set out their commitment to ensuring that equitable practices are adopted within the workplace beyond their legal obligations”.

Then, look at barriers to access. “In implementing policies, we’ve tried to move beyond just making things equal but to proactively provide access to groups under-represented in our returnship programmes or gender-proofing job descriptions to remove gendered language which may have served as a barrier to employment.”

How are these policies received?

Equal opportunity policies tend to be well-received, Buckley says. “Pushback generally only happens when there is a lack of understanding about the business case for inclusion or the benefits of a diverse workforce or if individuals aren’t aware of bias.” To make sure that this culture is embedded within the company, “we’ve had a senior leadership committee responsible and accountable for creating a culture of inclusion”.

Covid-19 effect

O’Connell says that Covid-19 definitely put additional strains on the equality and diversity measures but “We have all had to adapt and implement new ways of achieving the benefits we once experienced in the office, namely: support teamwork and collaboration remotely via tech instead of face to face.”

Additionally they “continued to promote our open roles and equal growth opportunities using more tech-savvy ways such as LinkedIn, virtual referral rewards and weekly communications to all employees globally”.

Buckley says, “The effects of coronavirus have been far-reaching in terms of mental health, from isolation to burnout, and we have seen in many cases the return to traditional roles within the home. It’s vitally important that all firms reassess using the three questions above. Does everyone still have the means to access opportunity? Are the chances still available for those now home working for example? And are the barriers removed for someone who struggled during the pandemic?”

On the ground experience

Sorcha Hynes is a senior project manager/warehouse construction at Lidl with “mostly male” colleagues. She hasn’t felt held back by being a woman, saying she’s “been encouraged throughout my time in Lidl to develop and challenge myself” by taking on different roles, opportunities and projects in the construction department.

She feels equal opportunity policies “are a chance for companies to set out their commitment to ensuring that equitable practices are adopted within the workplace beyond their legal obligations.

“A written policy also holds them accountable to the measures and goals set out within it. I think they are not only advantageous but necessary as they communicate the commitment and expectations to all colleagues which raises awareness, boosts morale and, hopefully decreases any negative incidences. I think there is an expectation among many employees today that companies have policies in place that demonstrate a focus on equality and diversity.”