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The Dr Martens Dilemma - a short employment tale

View profile for Suzanne Brookes
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What do Dr Martens and EDI have in common? Well our wonderful Senior Employment Lawyer Suzanne Brookes, tells us a short story about her recent DM purchase...

On a recent shopping trip, I purchased a pair of Dr Martens boots and strangely, this got me thinking about my job as a specialist employment lawyer with Outset. 

What, you may reasonably ask, has a pair of “DMs” got to do with that?

Well, I thought long and hard about the purchase. They were expensive and will undoubtedly hurt my feet - we all know of the “breaking in your DMs” rite of passage. However, what really concerned me was how I might look wearing them. Would I look silly? As a woman of a certain age it is difficult to now know the right thing to wear. How to fit into the world of fashion without looking too frumpy or too trendy for my age - nobody wants to be a fashion victim!

This might seem a small and trivial dilemma but it made me think about the bigger dilemmas many individuals have both in life and in the workplace. I have recently been drafting an Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity policy for one of our clients. I have needed to think about how employers can ensure that they foster a culture of acceptance in the workplace – silly shoes or not – because many of our colleagues and customers will have concerns about how others will perceive them, about whether they can be their “whole selves” at work and about how they will be treated if they do. 

Why is this important?

Aside from the societal expectation that organisations and individuals practice equality, diversity and inclusivity, employers have legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure the workplace is free from unequal treatment. Recent research has also shown that these concepts allow organisations to attract and retain the best talent and that it drives high performance. In short, practising equality, diversity and inclusivity is not just the right thing to do – it is good for business.

What should employers be doing?

An Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity policy is a great way to promote the right culture and educate staff about what these concepts mean. Importantly, it is also a tool to set out your organisation’s commitments to preventing prejudice and discrimination against those who might otherwise suffer from disadvantage either because of a protected characteristic as defined by the Equality Act 2010 (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, race, religion and belief, pregnancy, gender and sexual orientation) or because of other differences or characteristics such as a gender identity, neurodiversity or even the menopause.  

A clear policy will help to bring the principles that you wish to promote into the forefront of everyone’s minds especially if the workforce is engaged in the creation of the policy and different groups consulted on how to manage contentious issues – for example, rest room facilities for transgender employees. 

A policy is a great starting point, but what next?

Whilst having a policy is a great starting point, it is equally important that everyone understands it and that it is being implemented on a practical basis. We all know the phrase “equality, diversity and inclusivity” but employers must ensure that the workforce understands what it really means and practices its concepts. Broadly, equality is about ensuring equal treatment for all both in terms of recruitment as well as workplace opportunities and terms.

Diversity is about acknowledging, embracing and understanding differences and Inclusivity is about ensuring that a mix of people can come to work, feel safe, confident and comfortable to be “themselves”. To compliment your policy, training on equality, diversity and inclusivity should therefore be standard and ideally, start as part of your organisation’s induction process. Your policy should also be supported by monitoring for compliance and there should be clear channels of accountability and leadership in place to ensure this happens. Consider appointing an Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity champion.

Finally, it is essential that individuals know where to go for support and redress if they have an issue and feel confident that concerns will be taken seriously without fear of repercussions. Your policy might set out where complaints should be reported, set out a statement that all concerns will be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken if a breach found. Your disciplinary policy and procedure should echo your commitment to tackling all unfair, unlawful or oppressive treatment. Managers should be trained on how to tackle these issues.

In summary, equality, diversity and inclusivity means a number of things. It is about treating everyone in the workforce fairly, with respect for their different characteristics and experiences and creating a safe and welcoming culture. Organisations that embrace these concepts attract and retain a wider talent pool and gain respect from the customers and suppliers. 

At Outset our People Services team has a wealth of knowledge and experience helping businesses ensure compliance and best practice in this area through the provision of policies, training and guidance on handling disputes as they arise. If you would like some help or more information, contact me on 01622 474177 or 07562662816 or one of the team on 01622 759900