An equality and diversity staff development programme is helping one of the UK’s leading NHS Trusts to place increasing value on equality and inclusion, and to reap the rewards of a diverse workforce.
Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust is a busy and successful two-star Trust, which serves a population of around 350,000 in the areas of Chelmsford, Braintree, Witham, Maldon and Burnham. It has a diverse workforce and customer base.
Heather Taylor, Director of Workforce Development and Chris Stephenson, Director of HR, IT and Workforce Development at Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust, were already actively addressing the areas of equality and diversity within their organisation.
In line with the NHS Improving Working Lives Standard, a blueprint by which NHS employers and staff can measure the management of human resources, NHS Trusts are kite-marked against their ability to demonstrate a commitment to improving the working lives of their employees.
Equality and diversity are central to the Improving Working Lives Standard – one of its central aims is that staff should feel valued and have a fair and equitable quality of working life, whatever their differences.
Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust’s enthusiastic workforce development team had responded swiftly to the Standard and taken an innovative approach to achieving its aims. The Trust had involved trade unions from an early stage, created a staff charter, a race equality scheme and an inventive range incentives and rewards, including flexible working and help with childcare.
In order to build on their existing success in this area, the Trust wanted an equality and diversity staff development programme that would:
- Challenge staff to acknowledge any subconscious biases and tendency to stereotype
- Understand how prejudices manifest themselves as active discrimination
- Highlight any inappropriate actions and lead to sustainable changes in behaviour.
Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust chose to work with Academee.
“Having identified the need amongst our managers to develop new skills in this area, we chose to work with Academee following a robust tender process,” commented Heather Taylor.
From the onset, it was agreed that Academee would work closely in partnership with the workforce development team to transfer skills and knowledge so they could ultimately deliver more equality and diversity training internally.
Academee firmly believes and promotes through its learning solutions that respect and dignity are the foundation stones of diversity. Only when we approach other people without a sense of superiority or inferiority can we act without prejudice. This belief underpinned the solution designed for Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust.
Necessary learning outcomes included:
- A good basic understanding of the issues and legal requirements relating to the subject of equality and diversity
- An awareness that just because people are ‘equal’ does not mean that they are the same as each other, or that their needs are the same
- A clear understanding that the Trust expects all staff to treat their colleagues, patients, carers and visitors with respect and dignity – according to their diverse needs.
Academee began by carrying out a diversity and equality diagnostic ‘health check’ which identified areas for improvement as well as highlighting excellence. This diagnostic will be repeated on an ongoing basis and regular reports produced to ensure that future learning and development is designed to meet the Trust’s ongoing needs.
From the outset, Academee worked hard to ensure that the equality and diversity staff development programme was integrated with other existing development programmes. It has become a key part of induction training for new staff, and also central to customer care training, which ensures that staff are increasingly sensitive to meeting the needs of different communities.
As part of the equality and diversity staff development programme, Academee encouraged learners to explore issues around stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. In order to engage participants in what could be a potentially difficult activity, this was done in an interactive and enjoyable way.
The Trust commissioned two large tabletop versions of Academee’s ‘Diversity Learning Out Of The Box’ board game, which is enabling managers to roll the training out across the organisation. This learning tool helps participants to understand the complex issues surrounding diversity in a fun and engaging way.
“As individuals, we need to use stereotypes to make sense of a complex world,” said Academee’s Nate Nicholson, who is lead consultant on the programme.
“However, when we don’t allow ourselves to challenge our stereotypes about people, either because we don’t want to, or because we only notice those things that confirm our stereotypes, this can lead to prejudice and discrimination.”
Nate and the Academee team encouraged learners to explore stereotypes of different groups, how they can be contradictory and how they vary depending on gender, age, ethnicity and geographic location. Cultural awareness, understanding other communities and individual characteristics are fundamental to achieving sustainable change.
“Lack of knowledge about other people often feeds the stereotypes we may hold,” adds Nate. “An inquisitive mind and a willingness to learn about others mean that we are more likely to be open to – and accepting of – difference. Understanding this leads to people starting to challenge themselves and each other with respect.”
“Feedback so far as been fantastic, and everyone who attended the pilot sessions immediately started spreading the word,” says Heather. “Already, managers have a real sense of awareness. Many didn’t realise just how many areas equality and diversity touches. We are beginning to see real changes, such as in the language people use.”
The balance of theory and interactive practical work was judged to be just right, and the material used relevant to individual roles and to the Trust as a whole. Several participants have found the overall programme ‘challenging,’ ‘informative,’ ‘thought provoking,‘ ‘stimulating,’ ‘enjoyable’ and ‘excellent.’
The majority felt it could only be improved by being extended. On the whole, it is not only giving learners a better understanding of equality and diversity legislation, but also an increased awareness of how individual behaviour, prejudices and stereotypes impact on organisational life.
“We want to ensure we keep pace with new legislation and continue to build a positive and diverse culture,” adds Heather.