Improving Equality Practice in Organisations – Diversity Champions
Equality and diversity is an issue that is played out in day-to-day and moment-to-moment interactions between people; as a result, policies, although important in putting down a useful boundary mark, are not sufficient for ensuring good equality practice.
This can only be done by raising people's awareness of equality and self-awareness of their own attitudes and actions, and this needs to be done on an ongoing basis over a lengthy period.
As it is easy for people who attend a training session to go away and forget about it afterwards, many organisations have introduced a scheme whereby certain people in the organisation take responsibility for improving equality practice in their area and raising the profile of equality in their department/team over a longer period. They are usually known by a title such as Diversity Champions or Diversity Advocates.
Organisations find this a useful driver for effecting real improvement in equality and diversity practice, at "ground level", and often it is found to have more impact and bring about more improvement than either when equality and diversity are the responsibility of everyone (which of course it should be, but too often "everyone" leaves it to everyone else) or when they are the responsibility of the HR section (when most people seem to leave it to them).
- Are not necessarily the most senior people in their area
- Are people with an interest in equality and diversity issues
- Are in some cases volunteers, in other cases not (some organisations ensure that there is a representative from each area, which normally means that some champions are not volunteers, whilst other organisations just ask for volunteers, which means that there is not necessarily a champion in all areas; there are advantages and disadvantages with each approach).
Carry out their work as equality champions in addition to their normal duties.
This often does not mean more work, but rather that they are the ones who:
- Challenge when that is needed and encourage others to do so
- Raise equality issues when new projects are being developed
- Bring up equality issues at team meetings
- Brief others on training they attend (this is the only area that may be more work).
Support for Diversity Champions
Being an Equality Champion is not always an easy task, as it is likely that resistance to change will be encountered, and this can lead to champions getting frustrated and/or discouraged. It is important, therefore, that Diversity Champions have support, if such a scheme is to be successful.
Another danger is that equality champions, as the people who care most aboute equality and diversity, come down hard on people who make mistakes ("you can't do/say that, it's racist"), and come to be seen as the "Equality Police" rather than seeing themselves – and being seen – positively, as change agents and a resource for the organisation.
Maine-Stream specialises in running programmes to:
- Enable champions/advocates to work as change agents, by developing their influencing, communication and challenging skills, so that they may promote equality in their area, and may be seen by people around them as a source of help and support on equality issues, rather than as the "equality police".
- Enable them to get support from each other, as often such people can find themselves isolated within their departments/areas.
- Improving their knowledge of issues such as organisational and personal change to give them frameworks within which to plan the change they are trying to bring about in people and the organisation.
- Improving their own equality awareness and self-awareness, as well as knowledge of equality issues.
The overall aim of the work is to create a cohesive group of people committed and able to make change in the organisation.