A selection of images representing communities.
|Date of speech||25 February 2010|
|Location||BT Tower, London|
Transcript of the speech as delivered.
It's been my privilege to know and work with Ted [Cantle] for many years. Both he and the team at ICOCO have made an exceptional contribution, not only to our intellectual understanding of community cohesion, but more importantly, the practicalities of building strong, resilient and inclusive communities.
Today's toolkit is yet another example of that - and will help to fill an important gap in our understanding. While the benefits of promoting cohesion within schools and in people's neighbourhoods have long been explicitly recognised and addressed, we haven't yet really focused on the benefits and opportunities with the workplace. And consequently, much of the work to promote cohesion has been led by the public sector - when of course, the private sector also has a vital role to play.
But overlooking the importance of cohesion in the workplace would be a big mistake. So many of us spend a large part of our working lives at work. But relatively few of us work in our immediate community or with our neighbours.
That presents real opportunities: research shows that we are far more likely to interact with people from different backgrounds at work than at home. And in today's open plan world, there is every chance that people will sit alongside people from different classes, faiths, ethnic background. Many people will also have colleagues in offices around the world, and gain an understanding - however unconscious - not only of businesses practices but also of how people live around the world. It gives people a much richer and deeper insight into different ways of life than a fleeting encounter with someone in a shop or a two-week holiday once a year.
So there are obvious benefits to society when people feel that they are part of a strong and cohesive workforce, underpinned by mutual respect, understanding and professional pride.
But there are clear benefits to businesses too. Employees who work in a cohesive and harmonious environment are likely to have higher morale, be more productive - and, as we have long known, more diverse workforces, more representative of society, can better understand and respond to the needs of their customers.
This is just as important for small and medium enterprises who work within a particular town as it is for multi-million pound, multi-national corporations - because they are often much closer to their customers and feel at first hand what's going on in the community.
Conversely, there are risks to cohesion if employers aren't alive to the issues. If not approached sensitively, attempts to foster cohesion at work can all too easily come across as patronising or tokenistic. Or worse, employers which are blind to the importance of cohesion can actually reinforce social divisions - whether that's class, gender, or ethnic background.
So the guide that you have put together will, I think, be of real benefit for employers, who can make sure that their recruitment policies and wider employment practices are helping to break down barriers and promote cohesion. It's not just the workforce, nor only the business, which will benefit - we will all feel the difference.