Opinion

Why representing diversity at work could lead to sound, risk-based choices

Louise Hosking CMIOSH, director, Hosking Associates

In September 2017, IOSH council ratified the institution’s latest equality and diversity (E&D) policy which covers all members, volunteers and IOSH employees. 

Programmes are already in place to raise staff awareness and I am particularly interested in how we support our 48,000 members and 1,100 volunteers.

Promoting E&D brings balance; it encourages us to learn about different cultures and from each other, which is important to IOSH as a global membership organisation.

When E&D is promoted in the right way, people with different approaches collaborate more, listen more and become more tolerant. E&D encourages information sharing, problem solving and makes us all better communicators. These are qualities that stand us in good stead in our roles as OSH professionals, so it is right for IOSH to support members in being truly inclusive.

E&D also enables us to find and retain the best talent. A diverse organisation is more likely to have a culture of fairness and a healthy work-life balance. Healthy organisations are more likely to be productive organisations that are more profitable. Many organisations are asked about the diversity of project groups when they seek collaborations or tender for work. Stakeholders recognise diverse enterprises tend to be more flexible and able to respond to environmental change.

True equality is not about taking opportunities away from one group to give them to another. It means having an equal voice, opportunities and rights. This isn’t easy. It’s possible for an organisation to aim for diversity but achieve the opposite. Employers must look constantly at the organisational make-up and keep it a mixing pot with the right amount of openness and inclusivity.

No one wants to be told what to do, or how to do it. Creating a diverse and equal culture comes from mutual respect and good management. A strong message can always be delivered with respect, kindness and positivity.

True equality is not  about taking opportunities away  from one group to  give them to another

It’s essential for organisations to have a supportive, open culture and for people to know to whom they can talk when confronted with unacceptable behaviour. There must be a process to raise concerns in a non-threatening manner, free from reprisal. Organisations may need to examine themselves to ensure they have such processes. Without them, diversity cannot be achieved because people will leave before they are given the opportunity to make a difference.

In recent research commissioned by IOSH in the Republic of Ireland, the presence of trade unions was associated with higher levels of reporting inequality or unfair treatment (bit.ly/2k5mnVq). Reporting structures are important, so anyone experiencing ill treatment can be heard. This matters to us as OSH practitioners because poor workplace environments lead to mental health risk which leads to physical ill health.

To encourage change we have to change ourselves. We must recognise our own potential for unconscious bias based on our habits and assumptions, step in when someone is treated less favourably, and tackle pay gaps.

A cornerstone of the IOSH WORK 2022 strategy is to enhance the profession, to elevate its status across all age groups, and promote OSH as an attractive career choice. We work in a diverse global environment; it’s important we represent diversity if we are to encourage those we work alongside to make sound, risk-based choices now and in the future.

Louise Hosking CMIOSH, director, Hosking Associates

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