Discrimination law may be hindering the progress of equal opportunities in Britain by creating hostility and negative attitudes around the issues it is intended to promote.
A new report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggests that there is now a growing need “to take stock of the way law has influenced the progress of equal opportunities”.
Current discrimination laws is becoming an obstacle to employers who would otherwise embrace the need for progress in the area of diversity, it suggests. And with the creation of a single discrimination body – the Commission for Equality and Human Rights - in 2006, the need to raise the level of debate about the need to simplify the legal duties facing employers is growing.
Patricia Leighton, author of the report says, "Evidence suggests slow progress has been made to create equal opportunities at work despite increasing legislation.
“We need to consider what impact litigation has on the employer. Does it daunt people and create negative attitudes towards discrimination issues?
“Law can produce a defensive and negative response from managers - more marked in small firms. It is equally, if not more important to support progressive employers who are committed to diversity as it is to impose sanctions on reluctant and prejudiced employers."
The CIPD is not alone in questioning the effects of burgeoning employment legislation. Research carried out earlier this year for the Small Business Council (SBC) revealed that small businesses believe that employment legislation makes no positive difference and may actually have a negative impact on employment practices.
Fro many employers, the SBC said, using to law is seen as a crude measure that discriminates against the majority of employers in order to protect a small number of employees from a small number of bad employers.
The Institute of Directors has also found that more than seven out of ten employers view employment legislation as a real disincentive to growing their business and creating jobs.
The CIPD report argues that bias will continue despite tight legislation unless employers understand the benefits diversity can offer.
But once employers recognise how central diversity is to the way business is done, it claims, they will engage and drive the change - diversity will be considered essential to the success of the business.
Underlining the CIPD’s commitment to progress in this area, Dianah Worman, CIPD Equal Opportunities Adviser, says, "Managing and valuing diversity is central to good people management and makes good business sense.
"If an organisation fully understands and commits to the business case for diversity - as opposed to simply complying with the law and ticking boxes - then, even when circumstances change, progress in diversity will still happen," she said.
"If we are serious about the need to create an inclusive and economically successful society, sometimes we need to ask some of the unpalatable questions raised in this report. The answers will help to ensure we design legislation in the nest way to deliver a competent and diverse workforce.
"If it is well designed, the law is an important lever for change. But that on its own it is not enough. What is important is a mixed menu of levers and tactics - because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to ensuring progress on diversity, and we must be open-minded enough to accept this."