Interview- with-Heyma-Holmes

Diversity & Inclusion; The Legal Side

Following our recent discussion with Daniel Biddle about how construction needs to create better pathways into construction for those with a disability, it got our team thinking… What happens when companies are guilty of discrimination during the recruitment process?

For an expert opinion we turned to Heyma Holmes, a Partner at BPE Solicitors, who specialises in Employment Law. Holmes also divulged information about how proper workplace policy can help in recruitment and retaining your workforce.

Firstly Heyma, we would like to know what are the penalties if you discriminate during the recruitment process?

There are many potential pitfalls that may occur during the recruitment process. In terms of the legal ramifications, if you have been biased or discriminatory in the recruitment process it could hit you in two ways;

If an employment tribunal finds in an individual’s favour that they were discriminated against during the recruitment process, an award of financial compensation could be provided. Such an award is technically uncapped for discrimination, with awards of £20,000+ not uncommon. It is therefore worth remembering that candidates within your recruitment process can bring a claim against you even though they are not formally employed by you.

Secondly, your company’s reputation can be severely negatively impacted. Risking your reputation can often be more damaging than taking a monetary loss, especially now that employment tribunal judgments are published online and available to the general public and the press. It may also have larger ramifications throughout your company, for instance, in recruitment, job seekers will do their due diligence and if you have a poor public image, they may not want to come to work for you. Once something negative is out in the world, it’s very difficult to recover from. 

How can you limit personal bias and eradicate discrimination from recruitment?

There are many things you can do to limit personal bias and eradicate discrimination from your recruitment process, and it is crucial this is done to ensure your processes are as fair as possible.

First, and most importantly, all managers and those conducting interviews should undertake training and ensure that company procedures are clear on everything from advertising a role, to the application process and interviews.

In terms of advertising roles, careful wording often helps, especially in industries where certain sectors of society are not highly represented. For example, there has been recent research showing that women are much less likely to apply for jobs that have “masculine-coded” words in the job description. These include words like “active, “confident” and “driven”. However, the effect of feminine-coded words, such as “interpersonal”, “honest” and “support” made no impact on male applicants

During the interview process it is good practice to ensure that adjustments are made for individuals to ensure a level playing field for all candidates. For example, reasonable adjustments should be made for disabled employees during the interview process. Questions in relation to sickness absence or whether an individual is “active and energetic” should be avoided. It is good practice to ensure that everyone is asked the same questions and interviews are standardised to avoid any accusations of bias or discrimination. A diverse interview panel is also good practice and will go far to mitigate any allegations of unconscious biases or discrimination that may occur.

Why is diversity and inclusion so important in recruitment?

Recruiting people from different demographics is very important as it will help to create a more inclusive and productive working environment for all. If we don’t have that working culture built on mutual respect and equality, then your recruitment patterns can become the same.

A lack of diversity in the workplace often leads to a “group think” mentality, often ignoring experiences or opportunities. Diversity in the workplace, whether that is race, gender identity, social or demographic background is an enabler for businesses, opening up new thought processes and business opportunities that may have been previously ignored.

If you have a workforce that feels included and is diverse, you’re also more likely to get buy-in from employees, which in turn will increase productivity. This will also increase staff retention which will decrease your recruitment costs.

How does having proper workplace policies help with the recruitment and retention of staff?

In this climate, recruitment and retention is difficult across the board, let alone in construction. However, if you have good processes and policies in place, it gives a good structure to your company and shows your competence as a business both internally and externally. Having written policies implemented means that everyone in your business is on the same page regarding certain issues and situations.

If you have clear processes that your staff understand, they will know what is the appropriate action that they should take should any issue arise. Some policies such as health & safety, diversity & inclusion, and code of conduct, are put in place to ensure the welfare of your employees in their work environment. When your employees feel like they have a safe working environment combined with a good culture, they will be more likely to stay. In addition to this, having excellent workplace policies makes you look like a responsible employer, which can be hugely beneficial in the recruitment process.

What do organisations need to help implement these policies?

Knowledge and training. Rolling out policies is all well and good, however if the business is purely doing so to tick a box, it is often obvious to those on the receiving end.

Businesses need to ensure that you have the people and necessary training available to support any new policies you create. For example, we are seeing a lot of businesses creating policies surrounding mental health, which is rolled out without any thought or follow up. Such policies should be supported mental health champions and first aiders within the organisation and a true open door policy to enable individuals to freely discuss any issues.

What optional workplace policies do you recommend to your clients to implement to help with diversity & inclusion?

Most companies are now expected to have inclusion policies and equal opportunity policies, but there are a lot more policies coming in around recruitment for different demographics. More policies are being implemented for time off work and flexible working, particularly since the pandemic. There has been a dramatic shift to people looking for jobs with companies that have policies that support family values. The work life balance is much more appreciated, and people want flexibility.

There are lots of other additional policies that are being created around paid leave for menopause, fertility treatments and gender transitioning. These aren’t being implemented very often in construction. However, we highly recommend that all businesses stay up to date with the latest Employment Laws and policies, particularly if you are looking to diversify your workforce. 

BPE have been invaluable in helping AccXel create and deliver training for a bespoke module on HR Law in our Skill STEP 5ⓒ Programme for aspiring Site Managers. If you would like to discuss HR Law and Policy further, we recommend getting in touch with BPE’s team:

Heyma Holmes: 01242 248253

Steve Conlay: 01242 248444