Policies have their place and are an important framework of management strategy. But they should not be the final word. Treat individual issues for what they are: unique and different. And when it comes to Equal Opportunities, your employees will judge you on your actions, not the words filed away in the policy manual.

When someone asks, ‘What’s your policy on that?’, what they mean is ‘Where is it written down on a piece of paper what we need to do in this situation?’. Enter the treasured policy framework, a one-stop shop to solve all HR issues. The general idea is that staff and managers have ready access to policy documents (often in the form of a staff handbook) so that standards and boundaries of behaviour are clearly defined and everybody knows what is expected of them. Having policies also gives guidance to managers and HR professionals in how to deal with any issues that may arise. It helps to ensure consistency, and it minimises the risk of any perceived unfair treatment. A blanket policy approach feels safe, it offers security, particularly from a tribunal situation: if everyone is treated the same, then nobody can possibly have a bone to pick with the process or the outcome.

There’s a certain reassurance to be found in all of that. But the danger with following a strict policy strategy is that it ignores individual differences and encourages homogeny, even in the most sensitive of issues. We’re so desperate to be consistent and to appear fair in our approach to people management that we ignore that people are individuals – made up of a rich diversity of backgrounds, mind-sets, skills and cultures. Life (and most certainly the workplace) isn’t a carefully crafted script, and no two situations or people, are ever really the same, no matter how many policies or handbooks you have in place. Even if you can establish parallels in certain cases, the individual’s reaction to that particular situation may be completely different. It’s HUMAN resources: in other words, people not machines.

To be fair, it’s not just HR and management who struggle with this: employment lawyers regularly hang on the outcome of a high profile case, one which will set a new precedent in how the law is interpreted. The law too needs adapting to individual circumstances because however hard we try to legislate broadly, it’s near impossible to cover every eventuality.

So, however hard you try, it’s impossible to deliver a policy that covers all eventualities. The job of the HR professional (or the business owner, in the absence of an HR function) is to translate what happens in real life into what is supposed to happen on paper so that the situation can be effectively managed. Policies have their place and are an important part of management strategy. They form a bed-rock of standards which tie employees and managers together, as a set of shared principles. They provide part of the vision of the company and can even define working culture. But they should not be the final word. Treat individual issues for what they are: unique and different.

In today’s society we are obsessed with categorisation. Fill in pretty much any form and you’ll be asked to put yourself in a box (age, religion, marital status, ethnicity etc.), all in the name of Equal Opportunities. But when was the last time you looked beyond the Equal Opportunities Policy and put your actual employee experience under the diversity and inclusion spotlight? As important as the written policy is as a framework, that’s pretty much exactly what it is. A starting point and the foundation blocks from which to build the employee experience so that everyone in your organisation feels engaged, included and valued. Adhering to company policies, wheeling out appropriate quarterly training sessions and recruiting balanced quotas of diversity groups might add up to the definition of diversity, but it most certainly doesn’t scratch the surface of inclusion. Inclusion comes from a much more individualised approach. One that listens to the voice of the quiet minority as well as working hard to please the masses. On which not only embraces, but also celebrates all the benefits that diversity in the workplace brings; language skills and accents, varied cultural perspectives, new and different approaches, opinions and viewpoints, and a depth and breadth of experience that makes for a truly world class organisation.

So, whilst it’s important to have clear and defined policies and values around diversity, inclusion and equal opportunities, what matters more is how you translate these into day-to-day employee experiences. Your workforce will judge you on your actions, not your words, because, for the employee who feels side-lined because of their gender, age, sexual orientation or any other distinctive characteristic, there won’t be any comfort in reading the hollow words in the employee handbook that speak of an unstinting commitment to equal opportunities.

We’re pretty sure you’ve got the Equal Opportunities policy written already – that’s the easy part. But if shaping real diversity and inclusion in your organisation seems like a mountain to climb, or you just don’t know where and how to start, then great{with}diversity is here to support you.  We’ve developed a suite of D&I analytics that cover the full employment lifecycle, from the point of application and hire, through the employment journey to employee exit.  Our questionnaires provide an invaluable measure of how diversity pervades through your organisation and what that really means ‘at the coalface’. So, whether you’re seeking to get to grips with the overall diversity landscape in your business, or to gather feedback on specific issues, our consultancy team can tailor the design, delivery and reporting to your exact requirements.  Where you start and what that looks like is up to you.   When you’re ready to start the conversation, we’re right here.

If you would like to hear more about building an inclusive and forward thinking culture, get in touch, we’d love to hear from you: www.greatwithdiversity.com