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Debunked: Five myths about equality, diversity and inclusion for project managers

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If there is one thing that draws long sighs from project professionals, it's buzz terms like equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). This is hardly surprising, as EDI has received an exponential amount of coverage over the past few years – with many jumping on the bandwagon without fully understanding what is driving this change. This has allowed for misconceptions to bloom and for othering to increase. 

In a survey of 300 HR directors and C-suite professionals by People Management, 72% said employee demands for an EDI strategy were a major concern for their business. However, the survey showed that EDI policies are still highly valued by HR directors and CEOs. Nearly 73% believed that treating employees fairly improves business performance in the long term.

Therefore, project professionals cannot afford to bury their heads in the sand about EDI. Below are five common myths about EDI and our tips for busting them. 

Myth 1: EDI replaces one form of discrimination with another

A recent article in Forbes states that EDI must be framed as an exercise that provides everyone with a fair chance to prove their merit, rather than favouring specific groups. However, in this process we must recognise the history of exclusion that has for generations had an inequitable impact on specific groups.

Ensuring that these disadvantaged groups have a fair chance to prove their merit requires specific and targeted measures to address systemic barriers that prevent true meritocracy. This is what the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) aim to do. In a society where more work is being run under the auspices of projects, building such considerations into our project plans becomes the first step in addressing systemic barriers. 

Myth 2: An employer may recruit someone from a minoritised background regardless of merit to meet a quota

It's often believed that the Equality Act 2010 gives those from minoritised backgrounds an unfair advantage. This is not true. To do so would be positive discrimination, which is unlawful under the Act.

However, the Act does allow employers to take ‘positive action’ measures in recruitment where they have identified underrepresentation of a historically disadvantaged group identified in the Act as having a ‘protected characteristic’.

Where the employer states their intention to do so at the outset, if at interview stage two candidates score the same and one of the candidates has the protected characteristic identified by the employer as underrepresented, the employer may choose to employ the candidate who has the protected characteristic.

Myth 3: The Equality Act 2010 ignores disadvantages faced by White working class people

Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 requires public bodies to consider how the decisions they make would impact on those who are socio-economically disadvantaged. However, at the time the Act was passed, the UK government decided not to bring this ‘socio-economic duty’ into force. However, this duty has been enforced by the Scottish and Welsh governments, and some local councils treat the duty as if it's in force.

Myth 4: The Public Sector Equality Duty and equality impact assessments are not relevant to projects in the private sector

The PSED only places legal obligations on the public sector. However, it's a great framework for embedding EDI which can be adopted into project management processes across all sectors. Using this framework, the equality impact of projects can be considered from conception to conclusion, ensuring that any systemic disadvantages are identified and mitigated.

Myth 5: Project management and EDI are mutually exclusive 

Project management presents the perfect tools for integrating EDI into organisations. Project managers should be mindful of the important benefits that it can bring to a project, including diversity of thought. Well-implemented EDI measures will lead to project team members feeling more motivated, because their voices will have been heard and their ideas onboarded to create outcomes that benefit a wider range of stakeholders.

Project professionals can also ensure that EDI is not a tick-box exercise. Discussing equality implications and mitigating actions can happen at regular project team meetings. This then becomes second nature to the team, and fear and misunderstandings will start to fade. Work is then initiated on the best possible path.

The risk of having to redo work because equality implications have not been considered is something any organisation would want to avoid from a reputational, financial and operational view.

Mutually exclusive? More like symbiotic. 

This article represents the personal views of the authors and not their employers.


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co-authored by Poornima Karunacadacharan and Jaspal Kaur-Griffin.


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