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  • The importance of diversity in the workplace

    The banking crisis. Geopolitical uncertainty. Brexit. Phrases we have all used over the past few years. All of which have contributed to the challenging environment that organisations of all sizes have been facing.

    It’s been tough out there for businesses; hard to plan for the future combined with pressure to perform. But one promising sign that’s remained has been the performance of the UK labour market.

    The top level numbers paint an excellent picture: our unemployment rate is at a 42-year low and the employment rate is at the highest it’s ever been, just over 75%. But while these numbers should be celebrated, it is also vital for employers to look below them and focus on exactly who we are employing in Britain.

    As HR Director for one of the most recognised brands in the UK, I firmly believe it is our duty at O2 to build a workforce that reflects the people we serve. Our 25 million customers aren’t one entity, they’re individuals from different walks of life, and we should have a workforce that represents them.

    This isn’t something unique to us, it should apply right across the employment market. And it goes beyond just representing customers and attracting talent. Having a diverse workforce is about creating happier, more productive teams, where all employees are free to achieve their best.

    So it is with this backdrop that I welcomed Matthew Taylor’s wide ranging report, which touches on a number of important issues for employers to take notice of. And when it comes to diversity, there were three fundamentals that stuck out for me – factors that I believe will fuel diversity in UK employment going forwards.

    Flexibility. It’s an area that’s changed drastically. Flexi and home working have become the norm for many and – as Matthew highlighted – flexibility is now one of the most desired job criteria, playing a major role in candidate decision making. For me,the key is that flexibility opens jobs up to a wider pool of candidates, from a wider range of circumstances. And that is critical to building a diverse workforce. That’s why as a mobile company I’m proud to say that flexibility – powered by technology – sits at our core.

    Health & Wellbeing. Matthew discussed how a proactive approach is vital to a happy and productive workforce. I couldn’t agree more. It’s exactly why I prioritised mental health at a board level at O2. Mental wellbeing is championed by our Chief Operating Officer who leads a team of ambassadors across the business. Backed up by a dedicated 24/7 support service, they support employees and offer practical help to anyone in need. In the 21st century this is an area that can’t be ignored and is crucial in building an accessible working culture.

    Open practices. Matthew rightly identifies the importance of responsible corporate governance, saying that companies must be open about their practices. I couldn’t agree more, and I think this is particularly important in hiring processes. On O2’s internship, apprenticeship and graduate programmes we promote our use of a blind recruitment process where candidates are judged on their experience and potential, not their university or school. It’s open practices like this that will improve diversity.

    To find out more about how organisations can try to anticipate the future of work and drive successful employee engagement, download our online booklet here.

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