Last year, Lancashire’s adult and community services directorate abolished the inert, passion-free zone that was its equality and diversity steering group. In its place came a radical solution, writes Blair McPherson
Most organisations have management steering groups to monitor their equality strategies and action plans. But the agendas lack passion, fail to inspire and reflect the slow bureaucratic approach to change. Moreover, the groups tend to comprise managers as the nominated representatives.
Undoubtedly, these groups are set up with the best intentions, but they are not necessarily the best way to champion equality.
To try to find another way forward, about a year ago we abolished our directorate’s equality and diversity steering group. We came to this radical decision because more effort was being put into persuading people to attend meetings, yet attendance continued to be sporadic. We decided that it was important to identify and support people who wanted to champion equality: people at whatever level in the organisation who had a particular interest in aspects of equality and were prepared to put in time and energy to promote it.
For us, champions have enthusiasm, commitment, passion and a willingness to speak up. They have a particular interest in equality in one or more of the following areas: race, gender,
disability, religion, age and sexuality. All the representatives were asked whether they wanted to be a champion, with the result that we lost about half the group.
The announcement that we no longer had an equality and diversity steering group but we did have an equality and diversity champions group made little impact on the organisation as the distinction was lost on most people. But it did make a big difference to how we felt as champions (See Pursuit of Equality)
We have become a virtual group, one that meets infrequently but communicates frequently. Equality and diversity now have higher profiles in the directorate and increasingly in the organisation
as a whole. Two decisions in particular reflected the change in the directorate. First was the conversion of a two-day race equality awareness training course into a mandatory two-day equality and diversity course which all managers had to attend within five months. Then there was the decision to balance all interview panels in terms of gender and race.
It has been difficult for us to show a direct link between what we as champions have been doing and saying and the progress we have noted. Nevertheless, we believe we have made a difference.
We have agreed that anyone can be a champion, whatever their job, and that, within the group, you are a champion rather than a manager. We recognise that we have failed to encourage
as many people as we would have liked to join us as champions.
We have made a commitment to encourage more staff to become champions and to do this we needed to make it easier for staff to put themselves forward.
Two ways have been identified to achieve this: a statement on the intranet saying that staff can e-mail any champion if they are interested in becoming one, and encouraging people coming off equality and diversity training courses to put themselves forward to our champion in the training section.
We have decided that the frequency of meetings and the number attending will not be a measure of success. A minimum three meetings will be held each year, and these will go ahead
whether three or 33 people can attend.
We are not sure how the champions group will evolve. We could not decide whether we wanted to be a dynamic 50 or a network of 500. There will be another workshop in 12 months and we
expect to need a bigger room.
BLAIR MCPHERSON is director of community services and organisation development for Lancashire adult and community services directorate. His passion for equality and diversity arose out of his first management post in inner-city Birmingham. He qualified as a teacher before going into social work. After a brief spell as an assistant director of a housing association he returned to local government.
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This article looks at the reasons why Lancashire adult and community services directorate disbanded its equality and diversity steering group, and explains how replacing it with equality
champions is reaping rewards.
● ADSS Inclusivity Group. Go to www.adss.org.uk
● Equal Opportunities Commission. Go to www.eoc.org.uk
● Commission for Racial Equality. Go to www.cre.gov.uk
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