OPINION: Thinkpiece - Staff diversity is essential in organisations

AMIT POPAT, diversity officer at NCVO

Compliance with equal opportunities employment legislation has been the main driver of diversity initiatives across all sectors. Yet the voluntary sector has a high rate of employment tribunals compared with the private and public sectors.

In order to promote good diversity practice, we must first define exactly what the real benefits of diversity in the voluntary sector are.

Many will already be familiar with arguments which sight good employment practice, enhanced public image and commitment from staff plus much more.

However, there are constantly new challenges to add to this list.

As the sector moves towards an enhanced role in the delivery of public services, a business case can be made for diversity too. The recent introduction of the Race Relations Amendment Act requires all public authorities to implement anti-racist strategies. This will mean that voluntary-sector organisations with evidence of good diversity practice are more likely to secure contracts.

So, once we have accepted that diversity is a priority issue for voluntary organisations, how do we proceed? This was one of the main topics of debate at NCVO's recent Diversity Conference. A good start to developing good diversity practice, and many voluntary organisations are already doing this, is a diversity audit. Although off-the-shelf systems can be useful, hiring an experienced consultant can work better and help ensure objectivity.

However, diversity audits are only the start of the process.

If delegates took one firm idea away with them from the Diversity Conference, I hope it was that diversity audits and the appointment of diversity officers do not go far enough. Diversity strategies must be driven from the top and not treated as a bolted on initiative. Chief executives and chairs need to actively promote diversity and work on their own gaps in knowledge, skills and experience.

A commitment to diversity means a commitment to organisational and cultural change. The aim is to create a culture where all members feel they can be themselves, rather than having to assimilate to organisational norms.

You do not need to be an expert in all areas of diversity in order to work towards it. You just need a high level of honesty and a strong desire for change.

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