Most British businesses are embracing diversity not because they particularly want to, but because they fear being taken to court if they fail to do so, new research has suggested.
The study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has found that legislation is the main driver for diversity, with more than two-thirds of UK organisations ranking "legal pressures" among the top five drivers.
Yet many organisations are still not dealing with all the issues covered by law, leaving them wide open to potential legal claims, the CIPD warned.
More organisations take disability into account than any other diversity issue, yet still 40 per cent fail to do so, it added.
Dianah Worman, CIPD diversity adviser, said: "Employers who fail to uphold their legal responsibilities leave themselves at risk of claims being taken against them.
"While it is important to comply with the law, legislation alone is not enough to remove unfairness.
"Bias will continue, despite complex legislation, unless employers understand the benefits diversity can offer, and invest the resources required to drive change that will support improved business performance," she added.
Almost four out of 10 employers polled by the CIPD believed diversity and equality were at the heart of everything they did, but the evidence suggested that most employers did not grasp the full nature of the business case.
Most organisations failed to reward and recognise diversity achievements, with fewer than one-fifth of organisations using diversity as a performance criterion and very few organisations setting diversity standards.
The findings come three months after research by financial recruitment specialist, Hewitson Walker, found that the majority of people working in the UK financial services sector felt that policies to promote diversity were little more than glorified PR stunts.
The Hewitson Walker survey also found that only a third of those questioned thought that formal diversity programmes were having any real effect on the companies they worked for, something that also concerns Dinah Worman.
"While some organisations recognise business case arguments, such as improvements in the recruitment and retention of talent and improvements in people management practices, few organisations focus on the ways in which embedding diversity into other operational activities, such as marketing, can add value to business performance," she said.
"Employers need to engage with all staff, especially managers, if they are to avoid equal opportunity related tribunals.
"Managers are often the decision makers when it comes to recruiting, training and promoting employees so linking diversity to objective-setting and reward makes sense.
"These are the very activities that could help organisations to mainstream diversity into organisational culture and improve business performance," she added.
The survey also concluded that the majority of respondents with a responsibility for diversity were not specialists, or were contracted to work on diversity management, and 70 per cent of organisations had no budget for diversity.
This raised questions about the effort and energy employers invest in making progress, said the CIPD.
The majority of professionals involved in diversity management were at middle management level and earn between £21,000 and £40,000 annually.
Almost half of organisations had already incorporated age into their policies, well ahead of the new regulations due in October, the CIPD added.
This suggested that education and awareness raising by government and other organisations had had an impact, it said.