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Appreciation of diversity helping to reshape the world of work

Tech also driving change, enabling organisations to rethink all aspects of their workplace

Diversity has ‘resulted in a workplace that is more open to non-nationals, and to members of the LGBT community, and indeed celebrates them’. Photograph: iStock

Diversity has ‘resulted in a workplace that is more open to non-nationals, and to members of the LGBT community, and indeed celebrates them’. Photograph: iStock

 

Greater appreciation of the value of diversity has helped reshape the world of work.

Given that it’s only half a century since the marriage bar ended, and not just Ireland, it’s clear we’ve come a long way. Yet we still have a long way to go.

“One of the things that has driven change in the workplace has been diversity,” says Mary Connaughton, director of CIPD Ireland, the professional body for human resources practitioners.

It’s a drive that has resulted in a working environment that is much more open to people of all kinds and backgrounds including, though the figures are not yet at parity, women. “It has also resulted in a workplace that is more open to non-nationals, and to members of the LGBT community, and indeed celebrates them.”

Rigid

It has improved working conditions for a variety of employees. Employers however have taken longer to value it, particularly those in large-scale organisations which, by their nature, are relatively slow to change.

Many of these have their roots in a different time, when organisational structure was typified by rigid, pyramid-shaped hierarchies. “These traditional organisations with very traditional and hierarchical structures were designed for men supported by wives at home,” she says. “Changing that required not just organisational change but social change.”

Technology, and in particular digital technology, fuelled further change, enabling organisations to rethink all aspects of their workplace, including what even constitutes a workplace.

It’s both new, and a case of back to the future. “The concept of the organisation is not that old, maybe only 150 years. We may be seeing a move back to a more networked way of working, including working from home, in a way that goes back to the historical rural Ireland roots of the meitheal ,” she points out.

This emphasis on collaborative effort was in many ways bypassed by the advent of scientific man, which emerged from the industrial revolution and reduced humans to more cog status, the object of time and motion studies. “It was an attempt to impose scientific methods on how people worked, viewing productivity in relation to what a machine could do, and maybe with a view to replacing them.”

Automation

Of course the drive towards automation has continued. Indeed with the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning it has gathered pace.

But what has changed is that employers increasingly recognise the added value that humans bring as a route to greater competitiveness, innovation and, hopefully, profitability. In a (still) global economy, success requires a collaborative, agile approach from staff.

The result is that old concepts such as “cottage industry” are being reborn. “In the 1960s if you were selling something, you could only really expect to sell it to locals and tourists. The internet means you can establish a niche business and sell it to a customer base around the world,” says Connaughton.