The Wolfenden report, 50 years on: discrimination in the workplace

Lord Wolfenden, the author of the 1957 report and the chair of the Wolfenden Committee.

This September will see the 50th anniversary of the Wolfenden Report, which marked the beginning of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the United Kingdom.

Reflecting on how far we have come in terms of combating discrimination, it’s now the case that just two per cent of UK employees believe homophobia is the most apparent form of discrimination in their workplace. According to recent figures from global management consultancy Lee Hecht Harrison | Penna it now comes far beneath other issues such as racism, sexism and ageism.

However, the figures show that certain industries have further to go than others in terms of tackling discrimination in general. On average, 27 per cent of employees report they have been a victim of discrimination at work, and in certain sectors this figure rises considerably: 50 per cent of those in marketing, PR, and advertising say the same, as well as 41 per cent of employees in IT and computing.

Nick Goldberg, CEO at Lee Hecht Harrison | Penna said:

“The fact that only a small amount of people identified homophobia as the most apparent form of discrimination at work is great, but that does not mean employers can sit back and relax. Looking at what they can do to continue to eradicate discrimination in the workplace in general should be a constant priority. It is illuminating to see how  the prevailing scale of the issue differs across various sectors. This can give industries some perspective on how they are doing in relation to others.”

The research also found employees are reluctant to report problems to a manager, citing fears their privacy would not be respected, followed by a lack of confidence that action would be taken to solve their problem.

Nick Goldberg offers the following tips for how leaders can bridge the gap between themselves and their employees, so that problems like discrimination can be reported and resolved before they escalate.

Emphasise privacy: Offer training on how to respect a colleague’s privacy when problem-solving. You can also consider implementing an anonymous complaints process as an early stage complaint option to make employees feel their privacy is protected.

Inspire confidence: Ensure you have clear examples or hypothetical scenarios for employees about the procedure and process of complaints and case resolution, to help employees have more confidence in their managers.

Prepare managers for complaints: Educate managers about how to have a respectful and understanding manner even in tense or unexpected complaint situations. Have managers run role plays, for example, acting as employee as well as manager.

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