Corporate Social Responsibility and work-life balance are key tools in achieving a successful diversity strategy.
By embracing the changing demographic, and looking at how such changes impact on business, companies can address the challenges of the 21st century.
Birmingham Professional DiverCity has, since 2002, led the way in helping companies in Birmingham and Solihull’s professional, financial and business support services sector manage and value diversity.
The organisation is funded by the Regional Development Agency Advantage West Midlands and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC).
Clients sign up to Birmingham Professional DiverCity’s pledge, which ensures they receive structured auditing and development services to help adopt and maintain good practice in diversity.
Aaron Reid, Executive Director of Birmingham Professional DiverCity, said: "Corporate Social Responsibility and work-life balance have constantly risen up the business agenda.
"When you look at what we help companies achieve, an important part is managing their reputation," he said. "It is important employers are seen as modern, effective and inclusive. Addressing diversity helps develop recruitment and selection policies, sends out a message of commitment and enables companies to gain a better understanding of their customer and clients.
"It’s good for business. Losing such a reputation is potentially very damaging," he added.
Aaron cited companies who had developed a successful strategy. Sheila Corkett is an associate director and market sector manager for local authorities at Halcrow, which specializes in the provision of planning, design and management services for infrastructure development.
A non-executive director of Birmingham Professional DiverCity, she says the development of a robust diversity strategy is vital if companies are to win public sector work.
"There are several strands to the business case for diversity, but companies need to demonstrate how progressive they are whilst reflecting our clients’ needs," she said.
"To be an employer of choice in a busy market means we need to outwardly display our values and qualities - after all, in terms of the public sector, contracts can run five, ten or even 15 years.
"If we are to attract the best people to our jobs we need to reflect our communities. The marketplace in terms of graduates is smaller, we have the Olympics on the horizon and we all need to be on top of our own game if we are to attract the best people.
"We also need to tackle diversity in terms of service delivery. It’s all about nature, culture and environment – how we deliver, what we deliver needs to be carefully considered. And diversity issues straddle the CSR spectrum – it’s much wider than race or religion.
"These days becoming CSR-aware is important and affords companies the opportunity to tackle specific issues. If you have an understanding of where the greatest need lies, you can use your CSR strategy to the best effect."
And Sarah Gee, the chair of Birmingham Forward, said valuing CSR and diversity meant companies developed ‘a wider appreciation of difference.’
"CSR is part of the mix that puts something back into communities," she said. "And firms have a duty to put something back, and that can take so many forms – going into schools, charity or pro bono work. The thing is that the individuals they work with end up more enriched and informed, and the companies begin to form some solid, valuable relationships."
Companies are working on diversity issues against a background of Birmingham being set to become Britain’s first majority ethnic city by 2010.
Between now and then more than 50,000 jobs could be created in the professional, financial and business support services sector in Birmingham and Solihull, yet currently fewer than one in five in that sector are from black and minority ethnic groups.
Aaron added: "Forward-looking companies in Birmingham are already linking CSR, work-life balance and diversity. Work-life balance is not only the preserve of parents, but can attract and accommodate everyone to live whatever lifestyle suits whilst making valuable contributions. Research suggests that whenever work-life balance strategies are adopted successfully, productivity goes up and retention goes down.
"CSR is a glaring opportunity to engage with emerging communities that are your clients and employees of tomorrow. An opportunity for companies to demonstrate their commitment to particular communities, sections of society or demographics. An opportunity to inform recruitment, marketing and diversity strategies and all have a good time doing it."