Posted: 25 Feb. 2021 5 min. read

Can you achieve zero discrimination?

A holistic approach to ethics is the only way to achieve zero discrimination

The 1st of March is Zero Discrimination Day. An annual worldwide event that promotes diversity and recognises that everyone counts and everyone has a right to live a full life with dignity, regardless of age, gender, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, skin colour, height, weight, profession, education, and beliefs.

Many countries have laws against discrimination but it's still a problem in all layers of society in every country in the world.

In the UK it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of:

  • age
  • gender reassignment
  • being married or in a civil partnership
  • being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • disability
  • race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

Seems clear. So why do we struggle to obey the law?

It doesn’t seem to be an issue of importance. Promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion is a top priority for organisations and HR Leaders with more and more employers placing a focus on achieving a diverse workforce. However, a recent Glassdoor survey revealed that over half (55%) of UK employees have witnessed or experienced discrimination based on age, race, gender or LGBTQ issues in the workplace. Ageism is the most experienced form of discrimination in the UK (39%) but one that is rarely discussed.

We generally focus on specific aspects of discrimination, for example gender. How long have we been trying to get more women onto boards? The lack of representation of black people in senior positions within organisations has been highlighted since the killing of George Floyd brought the issue of inequality due to race and colour to the fore in 2020. We try to solve discrimination by topic, tackling it in siloes. This raising of awareness on a topic by topic basis risks being too reactive resulting in an activity overdrive; hoping the more we do, the greater the improvement.

Of course this raises awareness in the short term, sending clear messages that as leaders we want to do better. But will it bring about real change?

My advice is to stop these silo fixes and address ethics more holistically. Spend time evaluating the culture of your organisation. You are unique. Your ways of working, your customers, your employees, the parts of the world you operate, your purpose and values are unique to your organisation. 

To take a holistic approach to ethics, here are my nine suggestions on what to focus time on:

  1. Assess and monitor your cultural risk. Understand your blind spots to help you improve if and how you discriminate.
  2. Evolve, nurture and embed a diversity and inclusion programme so it is not a one-off initiative.
  3. Avoid looking at the same data points in isolation, for example turnover or staff surveys. Instead compare data together to identify the cultural risk signals. Speak Up, investigations, complaints, Glassdoor, assurance reports. What does a holistic look at the data tell you about possible issues in the same business units, countries or teams?
  4. Seek employee feedback in the moment, when they have just been through your recruitment or promotion process and they can remember how it made them feel.
  5. Look at why people join your company and more importantly why people leave.
  6. Ensure your leaders understand they have the most important role to play. It is what they do not say that counts.
  7. Know your people, understand when discrimination is more likely to occur, for example after maternity leave or a period of illness. Build mechanisms to ensure you level the playing field at times when you are most vulnerable.   
  8. Communicate honestly with your employees regarding your progress and failures in addressing discrimination.
  9. Never give up!!   

To discuss the issues raised in this blog, contact Darriane Garrett.

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Darriane Garrett

Darriane Garrett

Associate Director

Darriane is a leading ethics and compliance professional with extensive experience of working both for and within large global organisations. She has worked with teams in China, Japan, the Middle East, Europe and the US to embed ethics and values across all business units from R&D, manufacturing to commercial teams. Darriane currently works with a number of our clients to lead ethics and culture reviews - including specific risk areas such as bullying and harassment, and design effective policies, investigations, training and awareness programmes. Before joining Deloitte, Darriane worked at GSK as the global values and ethics director. She led the Centre of Excellence for Values and was responsible for embedding an ethical culture.