By Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce
The Equality Act 2010 brought together various pieces of legislation, and provided for nine ‘protected characteristics’, namely pregnancy and maternity; marriage and civil partnership; sexual orientation; sex; religion or belief; race; gender reassignment; disability; and age..
When the Act was in its infancy there was much advice dished out to employers. Much of it was defensive. Was this too much ‘power to the people’?
Nowadays we’re more positive and see the benefits of equality and diversity. Employers with a diverse workforce have a wider talent pool to draw on. A mix of ages creates a team that blends youthful thinking with seasoned experience. A balance of genders creates a more informed workforce with male and female opinions represented. A diverse corporate culture has a positive effect on morale; people like working for an aware company.
The benefits of a diverse culture are particularly important in West Norfolk where we have many smaller businesses. A flexible workforce, the stimulation of ideas from a mix of backgrounds all contribute to a vibrant working atmosphere. Is there though a problem in the small business sector in that they suffer from a lack of role models? It’s not universally true of course but when the media want examples of glass ceilings and class divides it seems that our big and established institutions are often profiled. I would like to see our smaller businesses’ good practice more visible as an example to others and to West Norfolk’.
It’s not legislation but the culture we need to consider. The cost of looking after working parents’ children is much discussed. But the concept of greater flexibility in working hours is something that could help parent, child and employer. An experienced person is available for work, the employer benefits from that, and family life is easier arranged whether looking after young people or elderly relations.
Are there experienced workers out there who are, probably unintentionally, discriminated against because they need a bit more flexibility in the times they could start and finish work?
Embracing cultural change will lead to fair play. And that will lead to better work and ultimately a stronger West Norfolk economy.