Tackling diversity in the workplace is always a hot topic and with London Pride taking place this weekend, we look at what steps businesses can take to make their workforces more inclusive, using positive action and genuine occupational requirements.

While the benefits of a diverse workforce are clear, it also presents many challenges for employers in relation to conscious and unconscious bias on protected characteristics (age, disability, sex and sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race and religion/beliefs).

There are many dimensions to the very sensitive issue of diversity in the workplace, however there are some useful permitted exceptions and defences when it comes to potential legal issues that may arise.

An exception applies when an employer is able to show that there is a genuine occupational requirement that someone has a particular characteristic in order to perform a specific role. For example, a role cast in a TV advert or film may require someone of a particular race or sex.

Employers are also entitled to take some positive steps to address the imbalance of those with a protected characteristic who may be under a disadvantage; require a particular need; or are disproportionally underrepresented – though great care must be taken.

Do also remember, discrimination protection exists both in the workplace and during the recruitment process.

Here’s some practical tips to ensure the right steps are being taken to promote equality and diversity:

Positive action – job advertisements

  • Remember there’s no perfect construction to a job advert but avoid stereotypes and wording that may discourage groups with a particular protected characteristic from applying
  • Use wording that is encouraging for all groups
  • Consider targeting adverts at specific disadvantaged groups
  • Consider making a statement in your job advert that applications from the target group are welcome – for example “BAME applicants are welcome to apply”
  • Provide opportunities exclusively to target underrepresented groups so they can learn more about particular types of work opportunities – for example, through internships or work placements

Genuine occupational requirement

  • Make the occupational requirement clear in any job advertisement, application pack and during the selection process
  • Reassess whether the occupational requirement applies every time the post becomes vacant – circumstances may have changed
  • The occupational requirement must be essential to the role, not just one of several important factors
  • The occupational requirement must also relate to the role in question, rather than the employing organisation