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Embedding diversity is a commercial imperative, finds Opportunity Now survey

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Despite the difficult economic climate, employers see the creation of more inclusive and diverse workplaces as a business imperative that will give them competitive advantage, according to a new benchmarking survey from Opportunity Now, the workplace gender equality campaign within Business in the Community.

Diversity is increasingly appearing on the boardroom agenda, the poll finds. Nearly all employers (96%) have a board-level leader who champions the importance of equality and diversity.

In 27% of organisations it is the chief executive who holds this role. Nine out of 10 (91%) employers regularly review the gender breakdown of their workforce at their main board meeting.

The results, released this week, are based on a Opportunity Now benchmarking exercise, which involved in-depth analysis of workplace practices in 76 of the UK's biggest organisations.

Opportunity Now employers are backing up their belief in the power of diversity with resources. The report found 84% of employers say that they are still putting the financial resources in place to help create more diverse workplaces, with those who declared their budgets spending over £14 million collectively on diversity programmes.

According to the survey results, organisations can see the tangible benefits that diversity brings. Two-thirds (66%) of organisations can make a link between their internal diversity initiatives and employee engagement, while 37% of employers can demonstrate improved customer satisfaction as a result of their diversity activities. And 14% of organisations believe that their diversity initiatives have directly helped them to increase market share.

Organisations are actively engaging their managers in the importance of valuing difference: 76% of organisations recognise and reward positive gender equality management behaviours and one in three (32%) explicitly incorporate diversity targets into managers' annual performance reviews. Six out of 10 organisations utilise unconscious bias training to address issues of stereotyping and bias. The current pay disparity between men and women is 19.8%.

The report indicates that employers are looking to better understand this inequity. Seven out of 10 already conduct an equal pay audit. However, only one in four provides any form of training on equal pay to managers who are involved in pay decisions and 42% take no preventative action to address potential pay inequalities.

Flexible working options offered by organisations were numerous, with all organisations offering at least three different types of flexible working option and the vast majority (87%) giving managers written guidance on how to manage a flexible team or individual.

However, it appears that many organisations' approach to flexible working is reactive, as a third of organisations say that they do not consider flexibility at all when designing jobs. Helen Wells, director of Opportunity Now, believes that the business case for creating inclusive and diverse workforces has never been more strong. She said: "The results demonstrate that embedding equality and diversity into the culture of workplaces remains a commercial imperative.

"Making the most of diverse talent, transforming organisational culture so women and men can thrive is clearly on organisations' business agendas. In essence, creating diverse and inclusive workplaces is about engaging with employees and ensuring they know they matter as individuals.

"It is about guaranteeing that as an organisation you can tap into the highest calibre of talent, gain fresh perspectives and innovate. Developing skills on diversity is also clearly good for individual career progression as well, with 76% of organisations rewarding positive gender equality management behaviours".