Rhiannon Jenkins, an employment lawyer with law firm Blake Morgan, explains the benefits of recruiting a diverse workforce.

Diversity has been a talking point in the baking industry in recent months, with concerns raised about the all-male line-up of brand ambassadors for the Real Bread Campaign.

The campaign reacted swiftly to address these concerns, launching a review of the role of its ambassadors and pledging to look at the selection criteria if the ambassador role was maintained.

Taking steps to recruit a diverse workforce should be high on any organisation’s agenda. Crucially, diversity creates an ideal culture for attracting and retaining the most talented individuals, with many citing it as a priority when seeking employment.

Aside from the practical benefits a diverse workforce brings, the Equality Act 2010 protects those in employment and those in the recruitment process from discrimination, harassment and victimisation in relation to nine protected characteristics (age, disability, gender, gender re-assignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation).

Direct discrimination occurs where an employee or job applicant is treated less favourably because of their protected characteristic. Indirect discrimination occurs where a particular provision, criterion or practice is applied to everybody, but puts at a particular disadvantage people who have a certain protected characteristic.

It is therefore important to ensure recruitment processes are conducted fairly to identify the best candidate for the role, ensure diversity within the staff group and mitigate the risk of claims.

So what can companies do to help recruit a diverse workforce?

Many people will be familiar with the strands of discrimination outlined above. However, as an overarching priority, companies should take steps to alleviate unconscious bias from their recruitment practices when looking to diversify their staff population. Perhaps the most obvious of these is to increase awareness for staff involved in the recruitment process about the negative impact unconscious bias can have, giving them training in equal opportunities, diversity and employment law. 

Also, making sure at least two individuals conduct interviews and/or the shortlisting processes will help alleviate subjective opinions. ACAS notes decisions should not be rushed and should be kept on record in case of any future discrimination claims.

Another key consideration is how and where to advertise posts to ensure an appropriate pool of potential candidates is reached.

Employers should determine the skills, characteristics and behaviours required for the role in a neutral, yet thorough, way. This will help demonstrate objectivity throughout the process.

Employers should avoid using language that excludes certain groups of people, for example, “waitress” or “salesman”.

In the Northern Irish case of McCoy v McGregor & Sons Ltd, McCoy brought a successful age discrimination claim and reportedly received £70,000 in compensation after he was rejected from a sales rep role in favour of two younger but less experienced people following an advert stating “youthful enthusiasm” was required. 

Gender diversity within organisations and how to achieve it is often in the media. A recent 2017 report by recruitment firm Hays found that 79% of men progress their careers after having children, compared to only 39% of women, and that 32% of professionals believed men who take parental leave may be seen as less committed to their careers. Employers need to take steps to address the negative perception around parental leave and opting to work flexibly. Managers should also promote flexible working as an option for both genders.

Some employers have chosen to introduce blind recruitment, whereby names are removed from CVs so that they begin from a gender-neutral standpoint.

Having a diverse workforce makes good business sense and more employers are now acknowledging that this is good management practice. There is no quick fix to achieving a diverse workforce and no one-size-fits-all approach. But by taking some of the steps set out above, employers will be moving in the right direction to achieving a more diverse and, hopefully, more profitable organisation.