Demographics, migration, globalisation and social trends all are drivers of increased diversity. Employers increasingly recognise that a diverse organisation reflecting the heterogeneity of its community and enabling it to attract and retain the best people makes business sense.
This is especially important now employers increasingly need to look outside their traditional recruitment pools to address skill shortages (see demographics). Some organisations in the US are reportedly now recruiting 14 and 15 year olds to address skills shortages in the fast-food sector.
This increased diversity is apparent in all walks of life in the UK, whether it be across the media, in leading sports teams or among our political leaders. But there is still a way to go. It is just over a century since women first gained the right to vote in the UK (1918) and just over 50 years since gay sex was legalised (1967). Discrimination laws were not enacted until the past half-century or so, with some appearing only during the last 20 years: sex discrimination (1975); race discrimination (1976); disability discrimination (1995); sexual orientation discrimination (2003); religion and belief discrimination (2003); and age discrimination (2006). The law continues to play a role in combating discrimination. Momentum is currently building, for example, to extend protection to those going through menopause. The law also has to grapple with issues of conflicting rights, such as between religious freedoms and sex or sexual orientation discrimination, and between gender-critical feminists and trans-activists.
The issue of homeworking creates risks of discrimination on grounds of sex, age and disability for employers who fail to take the necessary steps to avoid this (see Covid-19 – agile working; and emerging themes – flexibility).
As the trend continues in employment law to use transparency as a method of driving change, increased employee monitoring and reporting of various measures of diversity can be expected. The law will need to evolve and adapt to the drivers of change, not least the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence in making employment decisions - processes with which it is currently ill-equipped to cope (see technology – artificial intelligence). A further important aspect is that employment tribunals can prove prohibitively costly to be an effective enforcement forum (see emerging themes - regulation and enforcement).
Law is not the only driver of social change. Increased stakeholder scrutiny, whether from investors, employees, consumers or regulators, is prompting closer attention to equality, diversity and inclusion in the world of work (see sustainability – social concerns). So too is potential reputational damage. Many employers are responding by adopting new policies and approaches, aligned to their values and brand propositions, that go beyond current legal requirements in order to retain and attract employees and gain competitive advantage. Addressing discrimination in a positive and effective way will become even more important for organisations. Internal training programmes now include topics such as addressing unconscious bias as a matter of course. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to identify the reasons for an individual’s treatment (see emerging themes – regulation and enforcement), leading employers to pay greater attention to effective and rigorous early intervention programmes and investigation processes. Such steps are important when seeking to demonstrate an absence of bias and avoid inferences of discrimination being drawn.