Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the UK – Towards a Fair and Equal Society

Continuum International Visiting Research Fellow, Janelle Davis from the University of Western Sydney, provides a commentary on this conference which was held at the Royal Society of Medicine on 19 September

On Wednesday 19th September the above conference was held in central London at the Royal Society of Medicine. Delegates enjoyed a broad program that included speakers from a diverse range of organisations throughout the UK, each providing an insight from their specific perspective on the equality agenda. Chaired by Sue Christoforou from Equality Trust Project ‘One Society’ sessions included views from Jonathan Rees, Director General of the Government Equalities Office The GEO also sponsors the Equality and Human Rights Commission, whose Deputy Chair, Baroness Margaret Prosser OBE spoke at the conference on examples of good practice related to equality strategies producing positive outcomes where organisations are building equality into their everyday practice.

Speaking from a large scale organisational perspective was Mashuq Ally of Birmingham City Council who explained the commitment of BCC to provide “a fair chance for everyone” with their approach to equality based on values and social cohesion. Dr Ally also emphasised several of the council’s equality priorities including reducing inequality, bridging the poverty gap, addressing health inequalities and strengthening community cohesion. A session on employment and recruitment equality issues included speakers Sarah Gordon, Employment and Recruitment Confederation, Dan Robertson, Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion and Jennifer Eady, Employment Law Barrister for Acas Council.

An interesting discussion surrounding issues related to unconscious bias was presented highlighting the impacts on recruitment, employment and workplace opportunities. One example offered by Dan Robertson was of the hard wiring that exists in many individuals to favour “people like us” and how bias blind spots result in more stimulating workplace tasks and opportunities being more likely to be offered to people who are least different to ourselves.

Sarah Gordon also gave an example of a USA recruitment strategy used to build numbers of employees from under-represented groups where recruitment panels were required to include at least one interviewee from one of these groups. This shift resulted in a significant increase of employees from the under-represented areas securing employment – who, without this policy would most likely not have been given an opportunity to gain employment with the organisation. Food for thought perhaps, when looking at recruitment models to support a more inclusive applicant pool.

Joanne Dillabough from the University of Cambridge spoke on social mobility in higher education and the major systemic barriers that have undermined access for people across the UK in recent years. University funding and public sector cuts, along with market forces were described as creating widespread tension, heightened racism and classism across the UK and Europe. With the trebling of tuition fees and cuts to public grants Dillabough emphasised the impact on students, who “must now face years of paying back debt” and experience feeling “out of place” in the HE environment.

Richard Hawkes from SCOPE, a disability charity organisation spoke about the positive impact of the Paralympics but warned that we must use the momentum and public awareness the games generated to keep moving forward. He also emphasised the need for a solid legal framework to support people with disabilities and added that at least 50% of disabled people have experienced negative comments and discrimination in the past year and that disability hate crime is remains of deep concern. Dean Royles from the NHS Employers emphasised the importance of individual effort and champions for equality with Amanda Ariss of the Equality and Diversity forum focusing on the impact of austerity and related policies that exacerbate inequality, commenting of there being some hardening of social attitudes towards vulnerable people. She also added that the focus for improving equality in the public sector needs to be about institutions getting it right rather than remedying individual wrongs.

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