Focus: People Management - Charities urged to modernise their policies on race

The revised Code of Practice on Racial Equality in Employment offers advice on avoiding discrimination, writes Graham Willgoss.

Charities should use the Commission for Racial Equality's latest employment code of practice to create policies that make themselves attractive to prospective employees in lieu of being able to pay high wages, advises a CRE commissioner.

The revised Code of Practice on Racial Equality in Employment outlines employers' legal obligations under the Race Relations Act 1976, and contains general advice on developing policies to avoid racial discrimination and harassment.

The code, which takes effect on 6 April, recommends that every employer implements an equal opportunities policy, covering all areas of employment, from recruitment to dismissal.

Ian Barr, a commissioner at the CRE, says the guidelines have been designed to help employers feel comfortable and confident about meeting their legal requirements under the Race Relations Act. "A lot has changed since the last code was published in 1984, including amendments to the Act," he says. "Legislation on race equality is more complex now, and employers have to find a way to navigate it."

Barr says the code applies more to the voluntary and private sectors, because the public sector is required by law to do some of the things the code lists as being 'good practice'.

"The voluntary sector is competing for the best people in the marketplace," he says. "If it can't compete in terms of money, organisations can demonstrate they have created a culture that respects difference and diversity."

"However, although a number of large national charities are beginning to demonstrate that their value system in dealing with beneficiaries is socially responsible, when they look internally and ask 'how well are we doing?', they will find that they're probably not doing so well at senior levels in the racial diversity of their workforce."

Barr's view is supported by last week's Third Sector research into the leaders of the top 50 fundraising charities, which found that only one, Daleep Mukarji, chief executive of Christian Aid, is non-white (Third Sector, 22 March).

Maria Aguilar, principal HR consultant at human resources consultancy HR Services Partnership, says larger charities suffer from 'oil tanker syndrome', in which changing anything is time-consuming and costly. "Sometimes organisations struggle to practise what they preach, and others fall into the trap of treating staff as if they were beneficiaries," she says. "I believe a happy medium is possible. The sector is largely made up of smaller organisations that just need a few basic employment procedures."

She believes they should think of the code as supporting good employment practice as well as guidance on issues of race in employment.

"The sector is working to equalise and make fairer the society we live in, and all the equality legislation, including this particular code of practice, supports this ethos," she says. "Charities should work on aligning their internal employment policies and practices with their ethos and external work."

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