Scotland has an unprecedented opportunity to set an agenda for fair work that will resonate across the United Kingdom and beyond, the CIPD Scotland Annual Conference in Edinburgh has heard.
Opening the event, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese (pictured above) said the country was leading the way in thinking about what good jobs looked like and how employers and government could work together to set new standards for sustainable employment.
The Scottish government set up a Fair Work Convention in 2015 with the aim that by 2025 every worker in the country would enjoy certainty over pay, conditions and other elements of job security and voice.
“We have the highest levels of employment any of us can remember, but there are a lot of people in not very good jobs,” said Cheese, but too many employees’ skills were being under-utilised at the same time businesses were struggling to find the right sort of talent in other areas. He pointed to skills utilisation, rights, progression and pay as key elements of what constituted good work.
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It was vital, added Cheese, that businesses engaged with efforts being made in Scotland and elsewhere to shape the skills agenda in the education system to counteract the challenges of an ageing society.
“The good work and skills agendas will make organisations future-fit,” said Cheese. “You cannot have any sort of business strategy without understanding these contexts. We’re not having to bang on the door any more [around these issues] – the door is open. We need the courage to challenge on these things and show we can understand the issues.”
Elsewhere at the conference, inclusion emerged as a key theme. Rosie MacRae, head of diversity and inclusion at SSE, outlined how she had helped drive a more inclusive culture at the electricity giant, which she said meant targeting everyday behaviours.
The business became the first FTSE 100 firm to disclose and discuss its gender pay gap, well ahead of schedule.
“What’s driving change is the business of the everyday,” said MacRae. “Almost every process needs to be forensically reviewed with an inclusion lens.”
In particular, she added, this meant forcing change in recruitment processes. The business set a rule that all roles must be openly advertised, except in certain exceptional circumstances. And MacRae urged managers to be more inventive in hiring, rethinking their requirements for each new role rather than sticking to the tried and trusted.
“You can change [the skills] you are looking for,” she said. “If you broaden out the skills you’re seeking, you will broaden out the candidate pool.”
The conference’s closing keynote, came from consultant and author Stephen Frost, one of the UK’s leading thinkers on diversity and inclusion issues. He outlined research which suggested businesses that were vocal on diversity were often the least inclusive in reality, citing below-average gender pay gaps in award-winning businesses.
“Winning awards is relatively easy,” concluded Frost, author of The Inclusion Imperative. “Changing culture is hard. If you want to create sustainable change, you have to start with inclusion.”
Frost challenged HR leaders to diversify their networks by speaking to people beyond their usual circles and to challenge biased systems and processes. After all, he added, inclusion’s business case had already been well established. “Consult people who might disagree with you or might introduce different ideas into the mix. Really smart people make really bad decisions because they shut out perspectives they don’t want to hear,” he said.