Letter: Business benefits of equality

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The Independent Online
From Ms Kamlesh Bahl

Sir: Barrie Clement ("EOC admits cost of sex equality at work", 4 November) confuses the research on the economics of equal opportunities published by the Equal Opportunities Commission with the strongly developing business case for equality for employers.

The EOC commissioned the research on the economics of equal opportunities to question the widely held perception that equality is an expensive luxury. It is also intended to stimulate debate on how we achieve and maintain a competitive workforce which makes the best use of the skills of men and women.

The research complements the business case for equal opportunities on which a good deal of hard evidence is already emerging. For example, Rank Xerox estimates that over five years it has saved pounds 1m in recruitment and retraining costs and previous lost productivity by introducing flexible working arrangements following maternity leave.

This is a net gain excluding the cost of the programme and has occurred because of a reduction in the company's loss of skilled and experienced women from over 80 per cent to under 20 per cent per annum.

The significant issue emerging from the economics research is that there is often a case for equality at the national level even if particular measures are not cost effective at the level of the employer. For example, providing training for one sex only may produce short-term cost savings, but can only be harmful in the medium to long term. The debate on equality has now progressed to encompass the economic and business arguments.

At the national level it is on the agenda of the CBI and many employers including the 500 members of the EOC's Equality Exchange; it is being increasingly debated within the European Union and this September's World Conference on Women fully recognised that gender must be included in all economic analysis and planning.

The EOC believes that these arguments complement the moral arguments for equal opportunities and indeed may help to achieve the culture change we are seeking in organisations where the social justice arguments have long been ignored.

Yours faithfully,

Kamlesh Bahl

Chairwoman

Equal Opportunities

Commission

Manchester

7 November

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