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How to manage a diverse workforce

The fear of offending people of another race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion or physical ability - what some commentators call the 'paralysis of political correctness' - can prevent open and honest communication, even though there's nothing offensive about what is trying to be communicated.

Sometimes the fears come from a lack of knowledge about other groups, or from a perceived lack of competence in how to talk about sensitive topics. Other times it could just be the fear of unwittingly stepping over the boundary of workplace or statutory regulation.

And if these fears shut down channels of communication, that cannot be conducive for an open and trusting culture, nor for the effective functioning of an organisation.

Problems can swiftly arise when managers feel uncomfortable broaching matters related to protected characteristics with a potential for misunderstanding. But constructive, confident and sensitive communication can put managers on the right path.

Is it OK to ask?

To the rescue comes a new training course from Acas, entitled 'Is it OK to ask? How to handle some of the trickiest workplace situations?'

The course delves into the issues faced by managers in diverse workforces, such as should they expect all their staff to speak English; should their staff all dress in a certain manner; is banter risqué or just offensive; is anyone treated differently because of their background, culture, age or sexuality?

It draws on Acas' practical experience from answering around 900,000 Helpline calls a year, plus more than 40 years of work resolving disputes in the workplace.

Using situational exercises and facilitated group discussions, the course will help you deal more confidently with diversity and discrimination issues; identify these issues to consider during everyday situations; and explain what diversity is and its benefits.

Managing diversity

Brian Cunningham-Thornton, Head of Advisory Services Policy at Acas, said, 'This course helps enable employers and managers to have the confidence to make reasonable and proportionate decisions or accommodation through dialogue.

'Delegates have told us that the training provided them with a range of practical new approaches and also policy suggestions that can be taken back to the workplace. They have also told us that the scenarios we present in the training are very much those that they have needed to address in their own working lives.

'This course will help any organisation that wants their managers to have the knowledge and the skills to help positively manage a diverse workforce.'

Acas publications and services

Find an 'Is it OK to ask?' course near you through our Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010 training pages.

Acas has plenty of helpful guidance and information on Equality and discrimination.

Acas experts can visit your organisation and help you ensure your equality policies are legally compliant. See Equality and diversity: how Acas can help.

Practical training is also available on Handling difficult conversations and essential Skills for supervisors, as well as many other topics designed to improve employment relations in the workplace.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.


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We recommend that you explore further information and advice available on this website, particularly within our Advice A-Z guidance pages. If you have questions about workplace rights and rules visit Helpline Online.
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