I have often been asked the following question by managers: “Jude, what is the business case for diversity and where is the evidence that it can positively impact my bottom-line?”
I have often responded to this question in a variety of ways, but respond to it here by simply asking my readers to Google the name Miriam O’Reilly. As of late this evening (11/1/11), Miriam O’Reilly’s name produced 2,510,000 Google search results. The reason? Miriam, aged 53, today officially won an age discrimination and victimisation claim against the BBC after she was unfairly dropped from presenting the flagship rural affairs show Countryfile in favour of younger presenters in an attempt to appeal to a ‘primetime audience’.
The BBC is now facing a record payout of approximately £250,000, as well as having to deal with managing the substantial damage to its reputation as an Employer. Indeed, it could be argued that the BBC may have got off lightly given that Moira Stewart and Arlene Phillips, both former BBC presenters, were dismissed in similar circumstances regarding their age but never took their case to a tribunal. But, is this what diversity is about?
Diversity is not about employment tribunals, record payouts or even about discrimination cases. Diversity is about effective people management suited for the 21st century workplace – and the 21st century workplace, amongst other things, has an ageing workforce. So, in this context, the question organisations need to ask themselves is how they can best utilise the diverse talents, skills, and abilities of their staff (young, middle-aged and older) to achieve productive outcomes that will ensure that it performs better and becomes a more competitive and profitable organisation. This is the business case for diversity.
The overall aim here is not to stand in judgement over the BBC. Many organisations are in the same boat but just haven’t been caught out…yet! Indeed, the CIPD suggests that only 14% of UK managers consider their organisations to be actually well prepared for the impact of an ageing workforce.
But it must be mentioned nonetheless that the error of selecting staff not according to their abilities but according to their age as aptly put by The Evening Standard can have untold repercussions on organisations, not just in terms of prospective discrimination payout costs, but more importantly, in terms of the arduous process involved in eradicating the negative PR derived as a consequence. The cost of this is unquantifiable, particularly for the BBC in terms of the continued viability of its brand in the broadcasting marketplace, its customer loyalty, its public funding prospects, etc -and from a business case perspective, demonstrates the importance adopting a strategic approach to diversity as standard business best practice has on organisations: It directly and positively impacts the bottom-line…amongst a variety of other things!