Equality: busting the myths

When it comes to equality and diversity, there is still a long way to go, says CSP officer Jess Belmonte.

The last 20 years have seen many steps towards equality. The 2010 Equality Act bought together more than 116 pieces of legislation (in England, Scotland and Wales) intended to protect the rights of individuals and reduce discrimination. We’ve had a black American president, same sex marriage legislation introduced in more than 20 countries and rising numbers of women in parliament. It may be tempting to think that racism, sexism and homophobia are mainly consigned to the history books.
Unfortunately, the last few years have also seen a number of blows to equality. The introduction of fees for an employment tribunal made it more difficult to fight discrimination and unfair treatment in the workplace in recent years. 
Thanks to a successful campaign by trade unions and others, the government is being forced to perform a U-turn of this policy. The ‘red tape challenge’, introduced in 2012 by the coalition government, removed a number of important equality rights and led to significant cuts to the budget of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. With much of our equality legislation directed by EU law, it seems there has never been a more uncertain time for equality. 

Let’s look at some common myths around equality in the workplace and some of the small steps we can all take. 

Myth: Why should I share personal details, like my sexual orientation? All this equality data collection is just box-ticking
Equality data is usually focused on the ‘protected characteristics’ outlined in the Equality Act 2010 (covered by different legislation in Northern Ireland). These are age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity. 
In the UK there are inequalities in access to health services and health outcomes. In addition, some conditions or behaviours are more prevalent in certain communities. If health care organisations don’t measure these inequalities, they cannot improve them.
Good equality data and, more importantly, effective analysis of this data means that organisations can design services to meet the needs of local communities and use resources as efficiently as possible. Equality monitoring of staff means that employers can identify barriers that prevent access to employment and career development. 
The CSP is keen to ensure that its networks and structures are representative of its membership. At present, you are six times less likely to be on a CSP committee if you are from a black or minority ethnic background. (This applies even after adjustments are made to take account of the proportion of BME members in the CSP as a whole). To take effective action on these issues we need full and accurate data. You can update your profile data on the CSP website via the membership tab.
Myth: Disabled staff get excessive support and others pick up the slack. It doesn’t seem fair
All employers have a legal duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled staff in the workplace. This provision exists to help disabled workers overcome any disadvantage – and to level the playing field, not provide an unfair advantage.
A wide range of measures can be classed as reasonable adjustments. These include specialised software or equipment, a change to working hours or documents provided in a different format. The adjustments should be specific to the disadvantage faced by the worker. Whether an adjustment is reasonable will depend on a number of factors, such as budget, size of employer and impact on others.
Adjustments made for a disabled worker should not make colleagues’ workloads unmanageable. The CSP has resources to tackle excessive workloads through our Pinpoint the Pressure campaign
Myth: People are quick to play the ‘race card’ when their performance isn’t up to scratch
Since 2015, organisations delivering NHS services in England have been required to collect and report on data relating to race equality under the NHS Workplace Race Equality Standard (WRES). This includes figures on bullying and harassment, career progression and recruitment. 
The data showed that, in some regions, staff from a black or minority ethnic (BME) background were more than twice as likely to be disciplined at work than their white counterparts. In addition, white staff were 1.5 times more likely to be appointed from a shortlist than a BME candidate.
The reasons for these discrepancies are complex but undoubtedly involve bias, both overt and unconscious. Unconscious bias refers to the prejudices which are not in our conscious control. These biases occur automatically, triggered by the brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations based on background, environment and ‘archived’ life experiences.
Dismissing someone’s concerns as ‘playing the race card’ is offensive and short sighted. Allegations of race discrimination should be taken seriously so organisations can improve their practice, tackle bias and ensure a diverse workforce. 
The WRES is an essential tool to promote race equality in the NHS and all members can play a part in ensuring that their employer is developing an effective action plan to tackle inequality. See www.csp.org.uk/race-equality-standard
Myth: All this equality and diversity stuff is a nice ‘extra’, but in the current climate we should be concentrating our energy on patient care 
The Public Sector Equality Duty (Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act) imposes a legal duty on public sector organisations to eliminate discrimination and advance equality of opportunity.
That aside, fair access to services, fair treatment in the workplace and freedom from discrimination are more than just optional extras – they are fundamental to society. 
How staff are treated at work cannot easily be separated from the quality of service offered to patients. A study conducted by Aston Business School in 2011 showed that where incidents of discrimination in the NHS were high, this was directly linked to lower levels of patient satisfaction. 
Excellent equality practice makes good business sense. Recruiting people from the widest possible pool leads to different perspectives, improved ‘diversity of thought’ and better problem solving. Retaining staff in a positive, fair and supportive workplace that values them for who they are has been shown to reduce sickness absence and turnover. 
We all have a role to play in promoting equality and fairness at work. 

Here are some more practical ideas

  • join, or encourage others to join, the CSP diversity networks 
  • use and publicise our excellent resources and videos on reasonable adjustments for dyslexia
  • carry out our short training activity on physiotherapy treatment of transgender patients at a team meeting. fl
  • Jess Belmonte is the CSP’s national officer for equality and research

Help at hand

The CSP has three diversity networks. Membership is confidential and open to all members, including students and associates;

  • black and minority ethnic (BME),
  • disabled members,
  • LGBT+ 
Find out more here or join today here.  
Jess Belmonte CSP national officer for equality and research

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