Some thoughts on Equality and Diversity

Equality-Training

I’ve been told several times in my career that I’m really good at “boring tasks”. I love doing a good job and part of that means taking care of the hundreds of things that go on in the background. Information security, corporate governance, health and safety, and giving people the benefit of the doubt even when they’re acting like bastards.

 

In between contracts, I’ll be writing a series of blog posts about the humdrum practices that office workers typically complain about, mainly in the public sector but can also be applied to the private sector as well, in the hope that I can help to make them easier to understand and less scary for those who want to improve existing practices in their workplaces.

What is E&D?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines equality as:

noun

1 The state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities: an organization aiming to promote racial equality

2 Mathematics: A symbolic expression of the fact that two quantities are equal; an equation.

And diversity as:

noun (plural diversities)

1The state of being diverse: there was considerable diversity in the style of the reports

1.1 [IN SINGULAR] A range of different things: newspapers were obliged to allow a diversity of views to be printed

The NHS (and many public services and institutions) talk a lot about how they comply with the Equality Act 2010, but in my experience it is rarely put into practice, sometimes for good reason, but often because it’s really hard to do.

 

Ultimately, when you view E&D as a chore, and the people who would be included in “minority” categories are seen as a means to an end rather than valuable assets to the organisation then you’re always going to think of E&D as a challenge rather than something that should just naturally occur in the background.

 

In some parts of the UK, the population is naturally less diverse than it is in the cities, so this piece will mainly focus on London and the South East (as this is where my experience comes from).

 

Examples of organisational practices I’ve witnessed first-hand (who will remain nameless) who otherwise proudly promote their compliance with the Equality Act 2010:

  • Replacing one BME or visibly disabled member of staff with another
  • Ensuring at least one front of house staff (often significantly lower paid) are from BME backgrounds
  • A white senior executive discussing a BME new recruit as a good thing, specifically in order to avoid being accused of racism
  • An organisation putting a lot of resource into updating or re-writing policies to reflect good E&D practices, but then not ensuring those practices are followed in their day to day running
  • Withdrawing a job offer for an administrative role because the recruit was unable to drive (thus automatically excluding anyone with health issues eg epilepsy, wheelchair users)
  • Inaccessible office environments eg no step free access, no toilets nearby
  • Denying special computer equipment to a member of staff because you’ve already used your budget on another member of staff who needed it

 

How can we make it easy?

Prior to recruitment, an equalities impact assessment should be completed before the job description goes out. An EIA consists of the following two questions:

  • Is there potential for negative impact on any groups or individuals?
  • Is there the opportunity for positive impact on any groups or individuals?

The groups that you may need to consider can include (but not limited to) women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, older people, those with visible disabilities, those with “invisible” disabilities (eg epileptics, chronic fatigue sufferers). I’ve included a guide from the UK government website below which has a handy form (you should be able to copy and paste it onto a page) that will do as a basic minimum.

 

When writing a job description and person specification, be really clear about what you actually need (and not how you’re going to replace an outgoing member of the team). Does the post really require a bachelor’s degree (something economically out of reach to many young people entering the workplace)? Will they need to be able to drive or is there a car pool/public transport that they can use instead? Is it necessary for the post to be 9-5 (or 9-6 as is becoming the norm) or can the post holder work flexibly around caring requirements outside of work? What is the scope for working from home?

 

For existing team members, ensure equal opportunities for progression are offered to all team members, not just the quick wins. Something I keep hearing from friends and colleagues is that employers have lost their sense of pride in their workforce in favour of churning out products and services. This guarantees your top performers will move away to better opportunities and you will be stuck with those who may be coasting along, working to the bare minimum their job description sets out. A simple equality and diversity monitoring checklist can be added as part of their annual appraisal. Again, this doesn’t need to be a long and complicated document, just a single side with questions about how they find the workplace and any suggestions they might have about how to improve equality and diversity practices, as well as any training they might want.

 

Always budget for special equipment and training. At the very least, this will keep your staff productive and motivated, but on the other hand, will be significantly cheaper than a potential discrimination lawsuit (perhaps equal to one or two hours of a lawyer’s time).

 

Further reading

European Regional Development Fund Equality impact assessment guidance. See Pages 14 and 15 for the EIA form: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/89309/Cornwall_Equality_Impact_Assessment_Guidance.pdf

Equality and Human Rights Commission EIA Guidance: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/documents/PSD/equality_impact_assessment_guidance_quick-start_guide.pdf