Legal advice | 5 steps HR can take to address inequality at work

5 steps HR can take to address inequality at work

The past few months have shone a significant light on the importance of equality following the death of George Floyd in the US and the protests around the Black Lives Matter movement.

With this in mind, how exactly should HR be working to improve equality in the workplace, particularly as recent statistics have indicated that ethnic minority and female employees are not as supported as their co-workers?

For example, research shared by Druthers discovered that people with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani-sounding names are 28% less likely to be invited to an interview than candidates with English-sounding names, while 78% of large UK companies pay men more than women.

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Due to this, Natasha Adom, Senior Counsel at specialist employment law firm GQ|Littler, has shared with HR Grapevine five key things that the people function should consider to address inequality in the workplace:

1. Recruitment

Despite evidence suggesting that ethnically diverse companies perform significantly better financially, according to McKinsey’s report Delivering through Diversity, many businesses still struggle to recruit Black employees. To try and bridge the gap to improve hiring efforts, Adom suggested that HR professionals should consider using recruitment agencies to network with a wider talent pool, train interviewers in unconscious bias and anonymise candidates’ names before assessing applications.

2. Retention and promotion

Adom wants all HR teams to think about whether Black employees are under-represented at senior levels, advising that if this is the case they should think about whether these employees have equal opportunities to meet the criteria needed to be promoted.

She also added that employers should ensure that the career progression ladder is transparent for everyone and encouraged guarding against unconscious bias in the workplace. She explained: “An example might be where employee ‘A’ (who is Black) is deemed ‘not quite ready’ for a promotion, whereas Employee B (a comparable non-Black employee of equal performance) is promoted and given ‘an opportunity to prove themselves’.”

3. During employment

According to Adom, employers must be objective when it comes to grievances raised by colleagues. She continued: “Often discrimination at work can be unintentional and can arise from unconscious bias. Behaviour seen as assertive in Employee B (our non-Black employee) may be seen as aggressive in Employee A (who is Black). Before taking action, employers should challenge themselves – would they view the behaviour the same way if Employee B had done the same thing?”

Due to this she advised that HR should review its internal processes for dealing with concerns or complaints of discrimination and ask whether they are followed in practice.

4. Training 

While many employers may have in place extensive anti-discrimination training, Adom asked if this is effective. She advised: “It is important to invest in doing this well. Firstly, to show existing staff you are genuinely committed to redressing inequality. Secondly, to help equip your staff with the tools to avoid unintentionally discriminating against others.”

5. Leadership

Lastly, without strong leadership driving the change for inequality in a business, it is unlikely that change will happen. This is supported by Adom who concluded: “It is vital that someone senior in the business has ownership for driving this work. This will speak volumes about your commitment to racial equality and will help keep it on the agenda even when BLM is no longer trending.”

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