1 The recent history of diversity in the workplace
Since the 1950s, the UK has experienced significant shifts in the makeup of its work force. From changes in the economy necessitating the need for migrant labour to the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act preventing employers from discriminating against disabled people, there has been an unprecedented increase in diversity across large parts of the country’s employment sector.
Activity 1 Diversity in your workplace
Consider your current or a previous working environment. Can you list some examples of the diversity that you have experienced among colleagues and customers?
How did you find the task? There are no right or wrong answers here, but your list may have included some or all of these categories (Ahmed, 2018):
- race and ethnicity
- age and generation
- gender and gender identity
- sexual orientation
- religious and spiritual beliefs
- disability and ability
- socioeconomic status and background
- thinking style and personality
- personal life experience.
Although you might not have thought of the final two categories, the diversity that they bring to the workplace can present challenges. For example, Ahmed describes the possibility of a team with introverted personalities struggling with giving a monthly presentation. He also suggests that the life experience of someone who has seen active service in the armed forces might bring particular issues to the workplace.
Understanding this breadth of diversity should help you to identify many occasions when you have experienced some level of diversity both in and outside of work.
Other historical developments have also contributed to this increase in diversity. For example, in 1996 the duty to require employers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees came into effect, making work spaces and education opportunities more accessible. The Equality Act of 2010 brought together lots of different legislation including previous legislation on sex, race and disability, in order to make the legal requirements easier to understand.
Freedom of movement from European Union member states has also contributed to significant work force diversity. European migrants work in all sectors, from low-skilled roles such as farm work to highly skilled roles within the NHS and UK universities.
As a result of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union in June 2016, significant numbers of EU migrants have already left the UK and may continue to do so. Some sectors have begun to experience the impact.