A strategic approach
The law outlines the minimum that you must do to ensure basic equality in your organisation. However, you should look beyond the law, by proactively promoting equality and adopting, over time, as many examples as possible of good practice in equality, some of which are outlined below. You should take a strategic approach, with a clearly defined equality policy (or similar) and plan with targets, taking into account the resources – in terms of knowledge, time and money – that you have available to you at any one time.
Everyone in the organisation must be committed to championing equality in the organisation. If fears are expressed or resistance is shown, this must be dealt with sensitively, yet robustly. One of the most important factors for success in terms of equality is having an open and inclusive atmosphere in which people feel free to speak their minds. It is also important to be open to change, as this is a fast-changing area of work, and to have a solution-focused ‘can-do’ approach. If any changes to working practices are required, they are usually minor and easy to implement, provided that the will is there to make them. Also note that making changes to benefit one group of people may also improve the situation for others (for example, if you improve physical accessibility for wheelchair users, you will also make it easier to get around for people with prams).
In the 1990s, the concept of poverty proofing was introduced. When formulating new policies and projects, proposals are assessed on whether they have a positive, negative or neutral effect on poverty reduction. Since then, gender and disability proofing, and more recently, equality proofing, have been introduced as ways of assessing the potential impact of new initiatives. It is worth considering this approach for your organisation.
Unless you ensure accessibility for as wide a group of people as possible, you will not have a diverse organisation...
Unless you ensure accessibility for as wide a group of people as possible, you will not have a diverse organisation...[/excerpt]
Accessibility is a wide concept. In people’s minds, it is often limited to physical accessibility in terms of lifts, ramps, and the like. Certainly, these may be important for users of wheelchairs, but accessibility is much broader than this. Consider also where your premises are located or where you hold events. Are these places easily reached by different forms of transport? Are they welcoming? Are they properly signed? Are your opening times and the times of your events and meetings suitable for all types of people? How do you communicate with people? Have you considered any of the following: audio, braille, disability friendly websites, email, fax, large print, interpreters, SMS/text, plain English, signers, video? Are you sure you have no overly complicated procedures that can be simplified?
Closely linked with accessibility is diversity. Unless you ensure accessibility for as wide a group of people as possible, you will not have a diverse organisation. Look at your current situation: do your members, service users, staff, governing body and volunteers reflect the society in which we live or the community in which you operate? Should they? It is unlikely to happen organically, so what proactive steps will you take to ensure diversity? If you do not know where to start, there are many resources that can help you. It is important that everyone in the organisation is trained on matters of equality. Assess where the training needs in your organisation lie and source information and training as appropriate, for example, cultural or disability awareness training.
How do you become a fully inclusive organisation? Certainly by adopting the approaches outlined above you are well on your way. However, this is not an area for complacency, and you must continue to ask yourself hard questions, the answers to which may require radical changes in the way you work. Can you truly say that you are open to all types of people, especially if you are set up to serve a particular subsection of the community? Are you really dealing with those most at risk of social exclusion, for example, or do people fall through the net? Is the work you do making society a better and more just place? These are the issues that prompted the setting up of many community and voluntary organisations and the ones that should continue to inform the ways in which they work.