Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Why modernizing our cities must also mean modernizing the workplace...

The Economic Stimulus Package is national legislation which (even without earmarks) lays the needed foundation for change at state and local levels. With record layoffs taking place, creating sustainable employment is a priority. In his press conference, the President emphasized that a key metric for success of the initiative will be the saving and/or generating of 4 million jobs. The President described his vision of creating jobs through investing in making homes, transport, public spaces etc, more energy efficient. As he did so, I was thinking about the people who will do those jobs and that alongside the commitment to modern - in the form of energy efficiency - we also need an equally strong commitment to modern in the form of fair, equality-based and inclusive workplaces. Our cities depend on it.

However, the workplace equality agenda is a sensitive one in both the U.S. and the U.K. Even during good times, many employers (particularly smaller ones) readily see equal opportunities policies as costly and burdensome. Sometimes the general public sees them as unfair. All the more reason to applaud that the President signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, at the same time that he was having to emphasize to people the seriousness of economic difficulties at hand. Similarly, in the U.K., equal opportunities is also on the political agenda. And UK policy-makers are aware that - as the economy recovers and jobs grow - the goal of getting more people off welfare and into work requires active steps by employers to ensure their workplaces are not unjustly discriminating and are actively inclusive.

While many campaigners over here often look to the U.S. as doing a much better job at fair employment, the truth is we still have much work to do back home. Evidence shows that discrimination in recruitment is prevalent. This matters to urban renewal because our cities are full of talented individuals, who run the risk of being limited in how they can participate in the labor market because of their race, ethnicity, disability, age, parenting responsibilities etc. Although a range of factors contribute to the employment outcomes of an individual, employers have a key role to play by taking steps to dismantle barriers to equal access and by being creative in how they manage their workplaces to enable equal access to labor market participation and progression.

What's more, government needs to do what it can to motivate and support employers to take this action. Yes, for state and federal policy-makers, as well as businesses, the pressures are immense right now and giving attention to ensuring fairness and promoting inclusive cultures in the workplace - at a time of massive layoffs - might seem odd. But if, as Rahm Emmanuel says, this is both crisis and opportunity, once the Recovery Bill is signed, policy-makers should give some attention to ensuring that as businesses start to grow again, they are doing so with a commitment to modernization by being both green and inclusive.

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