In pursuit of equality and inclusion

By Clare Peterson
Equality and Diversity Manager, University of Gloucestershire

“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” Sheryl Sandberg

Hello I’m Clare. I’m the Equality and Diversity Manager at the University of Gloucestershire. My contribution to this blog series is an overview of Equality Impact Assessments. Not the most interesting topic, I hear you sigh. Perhaps not, but certainly a very useful tool, particularly for communities to hold public sector organisations to account.

An Equality Impact Assessment, or EIA, is an evidence-based approach. It’s designed to help organisations ensure that their policies, practices, events and decision-making processes are fair; and do not present barriers to participation or disadvantage any protected groups from participation.

I thought I’d demonstrate how it works in practice by carrying out an EIA on the wearing of clear face masks, using the University’s template.

The first area is to clearly set out the policy, practice or decision that is under assessment. In this case, wearing clear face masks. It is important to give a brief description, the aims and objectives or purpose. The Let’s Be Clear Campaign has stated:

We want more people to wear clear face masks in public places. We want it to be easier for people who rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate and connect – people who are deaf or hard of hearing, people with a learning disability, a speech difficulty, autism, dementia, or English as a second language are particularly affected.

It is important to detail the date the assessment was carried out and who was involved. For this Campaign, it would be the partners who signed up.

The next stage is to look at the data that might already be held and collect additional data if necessary. For most policies and decisions, there is likely to be existing data from monitoring or evaluation activities. However, wearing clear face masks is a unique situation, so there wasn’t any existing data to review. It was important therefore to undertake consultation and engagement to collect data. The nine partner organisations trialled and evaluated a variety of clear face masks. Colleagues experiences are detailed in the other blog posts.

Typically, an EIA tends to highlight areas for potential adverse impact and consideration is given to mitigations to reduce them. In the case of wearing clear face masks, we were able to document a number of positive impacts: Clear face masks make communication easier for a number of people, as stated above. We could also add in that it makes communication easier for small children; something one of my colleagues discovered when trialling a mask.

If we look at the individual requirements of the Public Sector Duty, we can evidence how clear face masks fulfils each aim:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment – Wearing clear face masks is a proactive approach, ensuring that everyone is able to participate and contribute to society during the pandemic. This reduces their isolation and exclusion during the pandemic.
  • Advance equality of opportunity – Clear face masks remove barriers to accessible communication for people with a range of disabilities or who have English as a second language. The Equality Act 2010 would recognise this as a ‘reasonable adjustment’.
  • Fostering good relations – The purpose of the Let’s Be Clear Campaign is to raise awareness and educate on the importance of clear, accessible communication more broadly. It helps each of us reflect on our own practice and thinking.

The penultimate step is to set out how the policy, practice or decision fits alongside an organisation’s strategic objectives and priorities. Each partner in the Let’s Be Clear campaign is committed to tackling inequality and creating a fairer and just society, so that’s quite straight forward.

This brings us to the ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Carrying out an EIA should indicate the most likely consequences and impact. However, implementation can sometimes bring unexpected results. Very often they’re positive effects. When the practice is new, ongoing monitoring is even more important.

Having completed your assessment, the final activity is to publish the results. For our Campaign, this took the form of our Open Letter

Wearing clear face masks is likely to be time limited with the production of a vaccine. The partners will though be able to monitor and evaluate the impact of the wider Let’s Be Clear Campaign so watch this space.

For further information and resources to help you undertake an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) for your place of work, project or event, to ensure your practices and your communications are accessible to everyone go to the London School of Economics website

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