What to look for if you want to work for an organisation that embraces diversity 

According to a survey  conducted by the Confederation of British Industry work place diversity is a high priority for young people aged between 17 and 23. Diversity along side pay and work life balance are the most important factors in recruitment and retention for this group.

When deciding whether to apply for a job most people’s attention is drawn to the job title and pay. The job description then tells them whether the job is what they thought it was. The person specification tells them whether they have the qualifications, skills and experience the employer is asking for. But how do you find out about the culture of the organisation?  


The most reliable way to find out about the work life balance, the prevailing management style and the attitude to diversity is to speak to people who work there. However unless you know some one who already works there this isn’t realistic. So in the first instance you are going to have to accept the organisations own description of themselves. This is to found on their web site and in their policies and procedures. No doubt the organisation has an aspirational statement about their journey towards equality and diversity but is this backed up with targets in the business plan? Does the annual report provide a profile of the workforce, identify the gender pay gap, give feedback from employee networks eg black workers support group/LGBT support group and contain the results of the bi annual staff survey?

During the early part of my career I took up a post with a Housing Association I assumed as a not for profit organisation the culture would be very similar to that of the Local Authorises I had worked for. I was mistaken. There was a big clue in the fact that the HA did not recognise trade unions. I assumed this wouldn’t effect me and might even make my job as a manager easier. Again I was wrong. The way a restructuring was implemented revealed a very different senior management style, a bullish approach to managing change, a lack of consultation, an expectation that staff would redeploy to other parts of the country and an HR department happy to collude with a strategy of harassing staff to leave. One of the lessons I took away with me was the value to management of having a trade union to consult with, provided they represented a large proportion of the work force. Also I came to realise it was no bad thing to have a restrain  on over zealous management as it avoided the potential for excesses and the risk of unintended consequences. 

On another occasion I was interviewed for a senior audit and inspection post based in London. I wasn’t offered the post which may prejudice my view of the interview process but I was shocked that the interview panel consisted of two white males. I had come from an organisation that required interview panels to be balanced in gender and preferable race. This was London the most racially mixed city in the country! Interestingly there were no questions on equality and diversity in the interview despite a bold commitment in the job advert. 

I have a lot of experience on the other side of the interview panel and I known it can be very off putting if the candidate starts asking questions about job share, paternity leave,  expectations about working beyond contacted hours or as one candidate asked , “do you still finish at 4.30 on a Friday? “ . The chair of the panel will simply quote you what it says in the HR policies and wonder why you didn’t check this out yourself before the interview. 

Whether the organisation has an effective trade union(s) and whether the grand sounding diversity policies are backed up by action plans and targets will provide some indication of the extent to which the organisation embraces diversity. However in my experience your view of the organisation’s culture will largely depend on your line manager. If your line manager is a champion of diversity it won’t matter if a lot of the policy statements turn out to be empty rhetoric, if however your manager simply plays lip service to the policies, action plans and targets won’t make much difference. 

My advice as some one who on at least two occasions has ignored the clues, in my eagerness to secure a better post, is do your home work , go with your instincts and leave after 12 / 18 months if your can’t find kindred spirits or a vibrant employee net work and your line manager turns out to be unwilling or unable to embrace diversity.


Blair Mcpherson former Director with lead responsibility for equality and diversity, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk 

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