Equal footing

Small businesses have a lot to gain by having a diverse workforce, writes Les Venus, board member at the UK Council for Access and Equality.

The Equality Act will come into force in October, which will make it unlawful to ask candidates questions on their health before they have been offered a job and will force larger companies to report on pay according to gender.

As a manager of a small business you may be thinking: so what?  Equality is an issue that only impacts big companies. All I need to do is make sure that we comply with the law and get on with running the business.

But by taking this attitude you’ll be missing out on the commercial benefits associated with putting an equality policy into practice.

Move with the times

The UK’s workforce is changing. Only a fifth of the working population is white, able bodied, male and below the age of 45. One in five has some form of disability or impairment, and three million workers of retirement age expect to work beyond 65. And out of the next two million jobs to be created, 80 per cent will be taken by women.

Companies that have a workforce selected for their ability to do the best job possible irrespective of ethnicity, gender or age will be the ones best positioned to best meet customer demand – which will be as diverse as the workforce itself.

Owner-managers will therefore need to look beyond the usual talent pool and cast their nets as wide as possible to attract a diverse range of quality employees.

Managing a changing workforce will require a commitment from businesses to treat all staff equally and accept that the traditional way of doing things may have to change for the company to thrive.

For example, if you are employing more working mothers, or employees that have long commutes, they may require flexible working. You will need to introduce systems that allow staff to balance the demands of work and home and adapt the traditional attitude that ‘if they are not in the office they are not working’.

By championing equality at work, you will not only be setting good examples, but driving a change in the company’s culture and values.

See also: Is diversity too big an issue for small businesses? – The benefits of a diverse workforce are clear to see. But if the opportunity for diversity doesn’t present itself, can it be an unrealistic goal for a small business owner?

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