Diversity may be dismissed as political correctness, but it brings real business benefits, insists Sharon Kyle, head of employee engagement and diversity at contract caterer Sodexo.
Let's be honest - when talking about diversity, the phrases "political correctness", "positive discrimination" and "HR buzz-word" often come up.
Such perceptions can be a real challenge to overcome, yet we must as an industry if we are to truly maximise the business value of diversity and inclusion.
So why do many companies have high levels of diversity among their grass roots yet fail to see this diversity replicated at more senior levels?
Diversity simply means difference and we are all different in many ways. Our different perspectives - influenced, for example, by our age, gender, race, cultural background, religion, experiences of disability or our family structure and sexual orientation - are a source of valuable information and knowledge that companies often fail to tap into.
Rather than seeing benefits and potential, we can be put off by the challenges that balancing the needs and expectations of different groups within our businesses can present.
Many of us already know some of the obvious challenges - including language and physical barriers or lack of flexibility. But some are more subtle, such as a feeling of lack of respect or inclusion in the workplace culture, or deeply ingrained and often subconscious ideas of the type of person who is best suited to a particular role.
To stay competitive in these challenging times, it has become even more vital that we keep up with changing needs and expectations - not just via grass- roots teams who deliver services, but also at more senior levels.
We don't view diversity and inclusion as simply a one-off HR initiative, but more a long term journey that touches all areas of our business, including the products we purchase, the suppliers we work with, the teams we employ and develop, and the clients we serve.
When we come out of this recession, forward-thinking companies that have continued to focus on diversity and inclusion will be best equipped to meet the increased demand for labour by being able to attract from the widest and most diverse pool.