No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

The Way I See it: Diversity is Everyone’s Responsibility


Smiling crowd
Penny Ferguson argues that understanding personal responsibility lies at the heart of any effective diversity training.

There’s a common consensus among business people, community leaders, politicians and others that dealing effectively with our ever-more diverse society can bring great benefits for companies, organisations and society.

But there is little agreement about the best way to achieve this laudable aim. Far too many companies and organisations still look on the challenge of diversity as something that can be written into a manager’s job spec or dealt with by having a series of “awareness” courses. There are much more profound changes needed within individuals that cannot be instilled simply by slick presentations and glossy lists of the HR rules and regulations involved.

Over 90% of companies in the UK have diversity policies in place yet many of these mainly talk about the need for compliance with procedures and legislation. Rarely is success measured in terms of changes in behaviour.

Our society has moved rapidly from one where diversity was perceived as a rarity to one where we encounter people from diverse backgrounds, with diverse experiences and views, on a regular basis. While we may all wish groups of people to get on well together, respecting and valuing the input that others bring, it’s not sufficient to simply put people together in a room and hope for the best. Everyone needs the skills and ways of thinking which enable them to cope with people who are “not like” them.

I emphasise “ways of thinking” because this is not just about having an awareness of the issue, it’s about changing the way we think about ourselves and about others in our lives.

Diversity can also suffer from being compartmentalised – thought of as being someone else’s problem. Many employees and managers feel that diversity is their employer’s responsibility and, more generally, that of the government. Within companies, it can be seen as an ‘HR initiative’ – another workshop to attend, another passing fad. Too many employees already suffer from “initiative-itis”.

But diversity in all its forms – race, gender, age, sexual orientation, political views or whatever – affects us all. In a very real sense we are all diverse – it’s what makes us individuals. No one person is exactly like another in terms of their beliefs, opinions, background or experiences. ‘Getting diversity right’ is something that matters to all of us.

I have listened to HR and training professionals throughout the country talk about the impact of awareness workshops and training courses. Repeatedly I hear the same concerns – how can I move from running information and awareness courses about how people should act to ones which mean I can see the changes in my workforce weeks and months afterwards?

With diversity training, the answer involves helping people to see how they can take responsibility for, and control over, their own lives. Too many people feel that things happen to them, rather than that they’re making things happen.

I call my course the Personal Leadership Programme and I’m often asked if it’s aimed just at the ‘leaders’ in any organisation. I believe everyone in the organisation is a leader and can benefit from the skills and ways of thinking that epitomise great leaders. Everyone at some point in their working or social lives can find themselves in a situation where they can show leadership by influencing other people through their own behaviour and choices.

Imagine what your organisation would be like if everyone took personal responsibility for what they do – where everyone sees everyone else as an individual and respects their input.

Great leaders value listening to different ideas, asking questions of others to reach mutual understanding, recognising the contributions people with different experiences can make to their organisation. How much easier would it be to deal with people from different backgrounds if everyone was able to display these leadership traits?

We cannot make a real impact on diversity without personal leadership. Once you start to value yourself and others, it matters less and less what background the other person is from – you value them as an individual with something valuable to contribute.

A few years ago I was privileged to work alongside the national police training provider to help officers deal with a culture which found it difficult to deal with diversity. Many officers from ethnic backgrounds felt that they didn’t fit in and their majority, white, colleagues didn’t know how to handle them. I was asked to help at the behest of the National Black Police Association. The participants were black and minority ethnic (BME) employees of the service, both officers and support staff.

So what was it that my Personal Leadership Programme brought to positive action and helped BME staff in the police service? There were many and varied outcomes. However one of the most profound was when working on
personal responsibility. Initially some were concerned that I was encouraging acquiescence and weakness. Once the participants understood that choosing their response actually comes from a position of personal power and emotional intelligence, they then felt able to go on to handle discrimination in a more articulate and assertive way.

* Penny Ferguson is a leading authority on personal leadership. She has worked with many organisations including Centrica (British Gas), the AA, Somerfield and The Open University. Her latest book ‘The Living Leader’ has recently been published by Infinite Ideas. For more information, visit


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!