EU law is forcing many companies to adopt better employment practices, says Zoe Campbell

Diversity in the workforce has been the buzzword for many industries for a while now, yet it is surprising how embryonic it is in the insurance industry if indeed it exists at all. With new EU employment legislation looming, it is imperative the issue is not just addressed, but embraced. Yet it seems that many companies regard it as something not relevant to them. EU employment legislation affects all UK businesses, whether a FTSE 100 company or a small provincial broker. It encompasses age, race and sex discrimination. If you are hoping to duck under the legislative radar think again. Even if your employees do not understand the concept of 'diversity' they will no doubt understand that if someone makes a derogatory comment to them they stand a good chance of making a small fortune from an out-of-court settlement. In the UK last year there were two high profile awards. One of £1.4m and one of £900,000 in sex discrimination cases. These cases have not only damaged the companies' finances, but also their image. Insurers and brokers manage risk on a daily basis, yet overlook the internal risk produced by old styles of thinking.In order to prevent such events occurring in your company it is important to implement the appropriate policies. It means treating every member of your staff with the same respect. For example, there should be zero tolerance of 'macho behaviour'.
There must be clear definitions of what discrimination and harassment mean in your work place, so everyone understands what is and what isn't acceptable behaviour. Lead by example. In the past, companies have backed their staff when lawsuits have been brought against them, but the new legislation could force a company to say to an accused employee: "We don't support your behaviour - you are on your own."What was acceptable 20 years ago is not acceptable today, and insurers and brokers are falling behind in the race towards modernisation. New standards are emerging, teamed with new social norms.Clients will become far more selective about the style of broker they use. And insurers may also not pay out on an employers' liability policy if the company is behaving in a discriminatory manner towards employees.Diversity also raises the question of whether you can service different groups in society if you have no understanding of them or have no representatives of them within your own company? You need to reflect your customer base within your company. A diverse workforce is more likely to stay with the same company. Retaining employees is imperative to business success, because in that way you keep your corporate knowledge.' Zoe Campbell is a researcher at

Mansion HouseA round-up of EU legislation encompassing 'diversity'

  • Race Amendments - updated [July 2003]
  • Religion/belief discrimination [December 2003]
  • Sexual orientation discrimination [December 2003]
  • Disability discrimination legislation - updated [October 2004]
  • Sex discrimination legislation - modernised [October 2005]
  • Age discrimination legislation [October 2006].
  • Q&AQ: How do I recruit a diverse workforce?A: Recruitment must take place on a level playing field so that candidates are chosen entirely on merit. You cannot be seen to be actively discriminating. Cast your recruitment net wider.Q: How do I implement a diversity strategy?A: Since 80% of people's behaviour at work is influenced by management, start at the top of an organisation with solid leadership. It must be viewed as a way of creating a more profitable business and to enhance the working environment of your employees. Identify the areas causing lack of progress, formulate a diversity strategy which will help change the culture of your company - this will not happen overnight. Implement training - educate your workforce about the benefits, not just your bottom line. Look at the way you are leading your workforce.Q: Why implement a diversity strategy?A:

  • To enhance corporate reputation
  • To attract and retain talented staff from a wider pool
  • To motivate existing staff better
  • To enhance customer service and increase market share with minority groups, such as ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, disabled people
  • To overcome labour shortages from traditional recruitment sources
  • To lower absenteeism, especially from people who are not in the dominant traditional, white male, heterosexual group
  • To provide access to new markets
  • To avoid litigation costs.
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