In Ireland and at EU level it is increasingly recognised that pro-active workplace equality and diversity strategies must play a central role in developing non-discrimination policy beyond legislation. Research on the business case for equality strategies is a key driver for action by employers in this area and has therefore been a key priority for the Equality Authority over a number of years. Four major studies – all carried out by leading academic researchers – have been published to date[[The reports discussed here and all our other published research reports can be downloaded at www.equality.ie/research]].
In 2005 the Equality Authority published Equality at Work? Workplace Equality Policies, Flexible Working Arrangements and the Quality of Work[[Philip O’Connell and Frances McGinnity (2005) Equality at Work?: Workplace Equality Policies Flexible Working Arrangements and the Quality of Work. Dublin: The Equality Authority]]. This study analysed data from a 2003 National Workplace Survey of over 5,000 employees in Ireland. It found that having an equality policy in the workplace was strongly associated with:
- lower levels of work stress, and
- higher levels of both job satisfaction and organisational commitment.
In addition, employees who worked in organisations that had implemented equality policies were much more likely to consider that opportunities for recruitment, pay and conditions, and opportunities for advancement and career development were fair and equal in their organisations.
In 2007 the Equality Authority published The Business Case for Equality and Diversity: the International Evidence[[Kathy Monks (2007) The Business Impact of Equality and Diversity: The International Evidence. Dublin: The Equality Authority and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance]] which reviews and synthesises existing international research. This study found that organisations see performance outcomes from equality and diversity initiatives in four inter-related areas:
- Human capital benefits such as the ability to resolve labour shortages and recruit and retain high calibre staff.
- Increased market opportunities with access to more diverse markets.
- Enhancement of organisational reputation to suppliers, customers and prospective and existing employees.
- Changes to organisational culture such as improved working relations and reductions in litigation.
Importantly it also found that the success of equality and diversity initiatives “depends on their integration into both the organisation’s strategy and its culture so that they shape the way in which business is undertaken and the ways in which individuals work.” (page 6)
New Models of High Performance Work Systems: the Business Case for Strategic HRM, Partnership and Diversity and Equality Systems[[Patrick C. Flood, James P. Guthrie , Wenchuan Liu, Claire Armstrong, Sarah McCurtain, Thaddeus Mkamwa and Cathal O’Regan (2008) New Models of High Performance Work Systems: The Business Case for Strategic HRM, Partnership and Diversity and Equality Systems Dublin : The Equality Authority and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance. See also Claire Armstrong, et al., ‘The impact of diversity and equality management on firm performance: beyond high performance work systems’, Human Resource Management, vol. 49, No. 6, pp. 977–998 November/December 2010]] was published in 2008. This study drew on a specific survey of 132 medium to large companies in Ireland. It found that active management of equality and diversity was positively associated with measurably better business performance – specifically with higher levels of labour productivity, business innovation and employee retention.
Most recently in 2011 the Equality Authority published ‘Workplace Equality in the Recession? The Incidence and Impact of Equality Policies and Flexible Working’[[Helen Russell and Frances McGinnity (2011) Workplace Equality in the Recession? The Incidence and Impact of Equality Policies and Flexible Working Dublin: The Equality Authority and the Economic and Social Research Institute. This project was co-funded by the European Union Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity – PROGRESS (2007-2013)]]. This study draws on data from the National Workplace Survey 2009, collected after Ireland had entered a deep recession. Overall this report finds that the positive outcomes identified in the 2003 survey and reported above are confirmed in 2009:
- The presence of an equality policy is associated with lower levels of work pressure and work-life conflict.
- Equality policies are associated with higher job satisfaction and higher employee commitment to their place of work.
- An important new finding is that equality policies are also associated with higher levels of output innovation in the previous two years, as reported by employees.
Thus it is clear that formal equality policies continue to be associated with benefits for both employees and the organisations they work for – despite the very different conditions that now prevail in the Irish economy and labour market. It therefore seems clear that companies that capture these benefits through proactive equality and diversity strategies are strengthening their prospects for recovery and future growth.
Duty bearers targeted, and their specific obligations (if any)
Employers must not discriminate in
- advertising jobs
- access to employment
- vocational training and work experience
- terms and conditions of employment
- promotion or re-grading
- classification of posts
- collective agreements.
Employers must not harass or sexually harass an employee and must prevent an employee from being harassed or sexually harassed by a client, customer or other business contact.
Employers are required to take appropriate measures, where needed in a particular case, to enable a disabled person to have access to employment, to participate or advance in employment and to undergo training, unless the measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer.
Employers are vicariously liable in relation to discriminatory acts of their employees, unless the employer took reasonably practical steps to prevent the discrimination.
Employers are permitted to take positive action measures with a view to ensuring full equality in practice between employees, on all nine discriminatory grounds specified in Irish equality legislation.
Main objective of the project
The objective of the project was to develop the empirical evidence base in Ireland on the impact of equality and diversity strategies on the performance of firms and organisations.
Note that over the years the Equality Authority has implemented a wide range of programmes and actions aimed at encouraging and supporting employers to put in place planned and systematic approaches to workplace equality. The building of a specific evidence base on the business case for pro-active workplace equality and diversity strategies was early identified as a key driver for action by employers in this area.
The main objective was to build the empirical evidence base in Ireland on the impact of equality and diversity strategies on the performance of firms and organizations. Thus research was necessarily a central tool. The decision to pursue research in this area was also influenced by (a) the fact that existing data sets (the National Workplace Surveys of 2003 and 2009) already contained data that it was possible to reanalyse for the project; and (b) another State agency – the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, which had a mandate to promote workplace modernisation and considerable expertise in research on firms and workplaces – was willing to join as a partner in two of the research studies.
The Equality Authority’s research on the business case provides robust empirical evidence that active management of equality and diversity is positively associated with measurably better business performance. These findings have been taken up widely by employer and business organisations in Ireland and have been cited internationally[[See European Commission (2011) Realising the Business Benefits with European Diversity Charters: Managing Diversity at Work. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union]].
The Equality Authority’s research has also highlighted that proactive equality and diversity strategies entail important benefits for employees – and not just those who are members of “at-risk groups” – in terms of reduced work related stress and increased job satisfaction. Indeed – as this gives rise to greater organisational commitment – this is an important channel though which the benefits to the company are brought about. This important finding has also helped secure the support of worker organisations for proactive workplace equality and diversity strategies.
A key challenge was access to data. As noted above, the decision to pursue research in this area was influenced by the fact that existing data sets (the National Workplace Surveys of 2003 and 2009) already contained data that it was possible to reanalyze for two of the four reports carried out to date. This was essential as the equality body could not have borne the costs of collecting these data in the first instance./]