Myths about Equality and Diversity

A number of myths about equality and diversity prevail in the workplace. What equality and diversity means, its benefits, and the risks associated with discrimination are all areas for debate.

Here are a few of the most commonly held misconceptions and how you can respond.

“Equality and diversity is just about ticking boxes”

FALSE. While tick-boxes are one of the ways of collecting data in NHS organisations, equality and diversity is about translating that data into information that can inform change. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done – equality and diversity needs to be measured and monitored – in the same way that finances are monitored through budgets – so that issues are identified and action can be taken.

The NHS Equality Delivery System is a framework to help organisations use their equality data – alongside qualitative data gathered through engagement with patients and communities – to effectively measure their performance.

“It’s only a problem for under-represented groups”

FALSE. The Equality Act 2010 applies to all individuals, providers of services and employers. We live in a complex society made up of people from diverse backgrounds and with a range of needs and requirements. This means someone may be seen as advantaged in some areas and, at the same time, disadvantaged in others. For example, about 77 per cent of the NHS workforce is female, but women are underrepresented in senior roles.

“Equality and diversity is just political correctness”

FALSE. Equality and diversity is about more than trying not to offend, or making sure you say the right thing. It’s about fairness in terms of access to employment and services – and creating an inclusive culture. It’s also about freedom from discrimination. Equality and diversity policies and initiatives help to put these widely held values into action. For example, an initiative where all staff in a London trust were given dementia training has led to increased awareness of this condition which affects 750,000 older people in the UK.

“There’s no evidence that it has an impact on patient care”

FALSE. People perform best when they can be themselves and embedding equality and diversity in everything the NHS does will improve conditions for all staff and, ultimately, their patients. For example, an Aston Business School study in 2011 found that, where high numbers of staff from black and minority ethnic backgrounds reported experiencing discrimination at work, this coincided with lower levels of patient satisfaction. Conversely, patient satisfaction was highest where there were fewer reported incidents of workplace discrimination.

“Improving equality and diversity won’t save us any money”

FALSE. In fact, it is costly to the NHS not to pursue an effective diversity and inclusion policy. Improving diversity can have a positive impact on the bottom line.In January 2013, a government report – commissioned by the Government’s Equalities Office – concluded that a well managed diversity strategy can bring benefits to business. The costs of not promoting an inclusive, fair and equitable workplace can have significant costs for employers in terms of high turnover, high sickness absence rates and (ultimately) Employment Tribunal costs.

“It’s an issue for NHS leaders, frontline staff can’t change anything”

FALSE. A personal, fair and diverse NHS is one where everyone’s contribution matters and everyone counts. Leadership in this area is crucial at all levels of the NHS. Senior leadership is needed to make equality to a core part of quality service delivery. Middle management is vital for putting this into practice, and all NHS staff should be able to identify little things they can do in their day-to-day roles to put patients first and ensure that everyone has equal opportunities and treatment.