Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
By Annette Aiken & Natalie Rotherham
Recent worldwide events and campaigns have shone a light onto the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and intersectionality arenas. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion are three separate, but interlinked issues. They are frequently considered together, and commonly referred to as ‘EDI’. EDI is becoming increasingly important to enhance organisational culture.
Equality is about ensuring that everyone is treated fairly, that they have equal or equity of opportunity and that everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Equality aims to challenge discrimination, remove barriers to opportunity and to eradicate prejudice so that individuals, or a group of individuals are not treated less favourably because of their protected characteristics. Discrimination on the grounds of any of these characteristics below is illegal. Discrimination can take many forms including direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, bullying, harassment, and victimisation. Organisations have a statutory obligation to have due regard to the Equality Act 2010.
The nine protected characteristics as outlined in The Equality Act 2010 are:
- gender reassignment (theprocess of transitioning from one sex to another)
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- race, religion or belief. (Religion refers to any religion, including a lack of religion. Belief refers to any religious or philosophical belief and includes a lack of belief)
- sexual orientation.
No individual is defined by a protected characteristic and Scrutiny is well placed to recognise that, for instance seeing only a person’s colour, religion or sexuality fails to encompass their individuality. Intersectionality describes the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination “intersect” to create unique dynamics and effects.
EDI is not peripheral to governance. It is a means of ensuring the decision makers are not unconsciously adopting a group mindset. Where diversity (including views and lived experience) is part of decision-making organisations are more successful and decisions more robust. Therefore, having a strong governance structure that encourages EDI leads to strong decision making and healthy organisations. The governance framework should seek to ensure that progress against EDI objectives are carefully monitored against organisational objectives.
To embed EDI it has to become integral to the day-to-day work of the organisation. Diversity is about recognising the benefits of different values, abilities, and perspectives, and celebrating people’s differences. This means promoting an environment that welcomes and values diverse backgrounds, thinking, perspectives, skills and experience, leading to better and more rounded decision making, which is reflective of society views.
Inclusion is about providing a space where everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources, and where everyone feels value, welcomed and accepted. Everyone should be able to contribute and have a voice. Scrutiny is already operating within this space. It will regularly hear from a range of voices to gain a broad perspective of an issue, providing a platform for seldom heard voices. To facilitate participation in Scrutiny may mean making reasonable adjustments to facilitate participation.
An inclusive environment can only be created once we are more aware of unconscious biases and have learned how to manage them. Unconscious bias is an unfair belief about a group of people that people are not aware of and that affects peoples’ behaviour and decisions. Scrutiny practitioners may wish to reflect on their own unconscious biases and what mitigation can be put in place to ensure that witnesses are heard and their evidence informs Scrutiny’s conclusions.
It is important to highlight that there are some recognised challenges when implementing EDI work. Ensuring EDI is embedded within an organisation requires commitment and dedication at strategic and governance levels and should be seeking evidence of implementation and impact of strategies to improve EDI. Scrutiny can assess the effectiveness of joint working and collaboration and that the governance infrastructure is in place to support the integration of EDI within the organisation’s services.
Where Scrutiny is considering staffing or organisational issues it may wish to seek evidence that:
- policies reflect EDI and staff are undertaking awareness sessions to help employees understand EDI
- flexible working practices are promoted
- inclusive language is encouraged, along with guides to help embed EDI values and behaviours
- there are inclusive recruitment practices
- staff groups such as women’s groups exist
- the organisation has received or is working towards the Stonewall workplace equality index.
- awareness days, weeks, and months are celebrated, for example Black History Month, International Women’s Day, Disability Awareness Week, Pride Month
- The organisation has mechanisms to hear different perspectives and help to break down some of the barriers to progression for those from under-represented groups
- social media and website are used to promote EDI work
- Mental health first Aid training sessions have been organised
- sessions that explore themes such as hidden disability, menopause, are available
- welcome speakers from diverse backgrounds to share their stories with talks.
- Regular staff surveys are undertaken with opportunities for staff to communicate feedback to senior leaders.
EDI has direct relevance for governance and scrutiny, in particular. The essence of good governance is strong, evidence-based decision making. If decision makers, either the executive or scrutiny enacting its holding to account function, is unable to demonstrate taking evidence from a broad range of sources the robustness of decisions is undermined.
In governance terms EDI is more than greater representations of women, ethnic minorities etc. it must include diversity of life – experiences, education, community. For example, female councillors with similar education or work background will widen the discussion but less than someone who has had different life journey. We therefore need to avoid simplistic responses to EDI and actively seek to include the views, experience and membership that better reflects the communities served.
Scrutiny can calibrate reports provided by officers and input from other organisations with expressions of lived experience from users. This can take the form of written submissions, videos, site visits by members, or attendance at the scrutiny meeting. Evidence of this nature can greatly enrich the scrutiny by informing the key lines of enquiry, the type of questions asked, and the conclusions reached. Sensitive scrutinies, such as explorations of gambling harms, SEND and hate crime will benefit significantly from the input from individuals or groups that have been immediately impacted by these issues.
Inviting users and people with lived experience necessitates thought in briefing and supporting people unfamiliar with governance and the formality of meetings. But if we are committed to service improvement as one of Scrutiny’s primary goals EDI needs to feature prominently and be supported properly. Consultation with employees and the public, about EDI to gain their thoughts around the organisations’ objectives promotes good governance. transparency and scrutiny. This might be done using organisation communication channels, such as social media and website, or by establishing staff support groups. This work also underlines the importance of EDI and how it is linked to the work of the organisation
Establishing steering groups and working groups, consisting of key stakeholder and representatives from staff networks can ensure that there is sufficient formal governance, oversight and accountability around EDI work being undertaken to enable organisations’ leaders to be adequately held to account. Where Scrutiny is looking at the authority’s services it can seek evidence that departmental delivery plans take into account EDI objectives.
Integrating and promoting the principles of EDI within the work of organisations results in a fairer, equal and more diverse society and ideas. Despite some challenges, organisations which understand and implement EDI and scrutiny of EDI successfully, can gain many benefits, which ultimately will result in more productivity, better acceptance of those with protected characteristics, increased transparency and accountability and better outcomes for employees, stakeholders, and society as a whole.