In North Ireland, employee diversity makes business sense

At a Tel Aviv conference, Israeli employers hear how the Irish make efforts to overcome regional and religious tensions and avoid discrimination.

Northern Ireland 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Northern Ireland 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Diversity in the workplace is not just important for moral reasons; it can also help to create real business success, a senior manager from one of Northern Ireland’s biggest employers told a forum of roughly 650 businessmen and women in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
Speaking at the second annual Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) conference, Rory Galway, the senior manager for equal opportunities and technical training at Bombardier Aerospace in Belfast, said that policies of equality and fairness adopted by businesses would always be supported by a broad spectrum of people in society, and that “it is always better to have a representative workforce.”
“If they sell products, then it is better to be representative, but even if they do not, then businesses can benefit from diversity, especially if the country is under international pressure,” Galway said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post following his presentation. “It is about recognizing what the prizes are and where they come from.”
Galway, who has been involved in encouraging equal employment opportunities for the minority Catholic population in Belfast since the mid- 1970s, admitted that “it does get frustrating, but I never feel like giving up.
“Northern Ireland is not a perfect society, but we have made some progress, and that is what keeps us going,” added Galway, who has worked at Bombardier since 1991.
Employing some 5,000 locals in Northern Ireland, Bombardier has been striving to increase its Catholic workforce to reflect that population’s representation in Belfast, explained Galway.
While the six counties that make up Northern Ireland are divided equally between Protestants and Catholics, the Catholic community of Belfast is less than 30 percent of its overall population. Within the Bombardier workforce, Catholics make up roughly 16%, a large increase over the 5% of Catholics at the height of the Northern Ireland conflict back in the late 1970s.
“It is not where we would like to be,” said Galway. “However, despite the fact that our overall workforce has been reduced from 7,000 employees to 5,000, we are still striving to increase the Catholic representation.”
Despite the progress that has been made in all areas of life in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday peace agreement between Catholic and Protestant factions in 1998, Galway acknowledges that deep divides still exist there.
“In a divided society such as ours, those divisions have of course translated into the workplace, but we have taken many steps to address them, such as working with trade unions to ensure that people can come to work free from external symbols, and if there are instances of the conflict playing out in the workplace, then we take immediate action,” he explained.
“All our employees are well aware that what goes on outside should not be brought into the workplace,” Galway went on, adding that managers were provided ongoing training to address such issues.
Galway’s appearance at the one-day conference is part of a partnership program under the auspices of the European Union to bring together EU and non- EU nations for mutual cooperation and social development.
The EEOC successfully bid for the partnership in 2009 and has spent the last year learning from the experiences of the Northern Ireland Equality Commission (NIEC), which has built a successful model for equal employment opportunities there.
Evelyn Collins, chief executive of the NIEC, who oversees the joint project from Northern Ireland, commended the reach of this year’s conference, which was attended by more than 650 local employers and supported by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, as well as by the EU and the UK.
“There are no real short-term solutions to identifying the inequalities and to tackling them, but it is important that, like we have in Northern Ireland, we must never give up,” Collins told the Post.
“The situation is always more complicated in regions where there are conflicts, but working to address inequality in the workplace and elsewhere in society is what helps to pave the way for a peace agreement,” she added.
Since its inception in 2008, Israel’s EEOC has seen an increase in the number of complaints against discriminatory practices in the workplace or by employers, and has received clear signals from businesses that they’d like have more diversity among their workers.