This post was also written by Michaela L. Mc Cormack.

On November 2, Nicolas C. Sauvage gave a seminar at top French business school HEC as part of the new specialized executive Masters programme for international Human Resources Directors, “Human Resources Management & Sustainable Development.”

Nicolas’ presentation covered the themes of diversity and discrimination, retracing the emergence in both European and international texts of important ideas such as direct and indirect discrimination, discriminatory harassment, and showing that the idea that diversity and non-discrimination are central to economic growth has been a constant theme of these texts.

A series of court rulings from various EU states and central jurisdictions were employed to help trace the development of case law in the area, thus highlighting the rules and boundaries that must be respected by HR directors and general management at every stage, from recruitment to the termination of the employment contract.

Comparisons were made with the United States in order to explore the progression of contentious discrimination matters and to study the pros and cons of positive discrimination/ affirmative action, a particularly topical and somewhat controversial issue in Europe at the moment. Over the past few years, legislation in France has installed a series of requirements concerning quotas and/or salary for disabled workers, “senior” workers and women. Positive discrimination is also an important theme in the UK’s newly enacted Equality Act 2010.

The final section dealt with the business risks and advantages related to discrimination and diversity. Besides the various legal and financial risks surrounding litigation, examples were used to illustrate the stakes regarding the image of a company, in terms of both clients and talent. The executives present at the seminar were reminded of the central place of discrimination and diversity within other HR and management issues, such as IT and Internet policies, psychosocial risks, and questions of work-life balance.

Practical advice was given on steps that can be taken (such as management training; review of recruitment, evaluation and promotion policies; focus on social dialogue; and involvement in outreach and community projects), to instill best practices within a company to improve its position in terms of diversity. Finally, besides the general benefits attached to a diverse workforce, the tangible competitive and financial advantages of these diversity policies, such as the fact that the achievement of a diversity label is now often part of the criteria for calls for tender, were presented.

In these times of responsible consumerism and changing expectations on the part of job candidates, non-discrimination and diversity were shown to be a central part of any company’s policy for sustainable development, holding an important place in the growing search for a triple bottom line: “People, Planet and Profit.”

Please download the slides here to read Nicolas’ presentation.