We recently held a very successful event on workforce equality, diversity and inclusion at the LGA, of which I am extremely proud.
But when I was asked to review the day, it made me wonder: what difference do these events really make? It’s not enough for a group of like-minded people to meet and agree that “this is a really important thing” or “something needs to change”.
We’ve had events like these before in local government and yet the data shows that we are still not representative of our communities and still not providing equality of opportunity at senior levels, so a level of cynicism could be justified. Nevertheless, I do think it is important to join forces at events like these.
Something special happens when people who are passionate about a subject come together, hungry for change, and more confident in knowing that they are not alone in trying to make change happen.
While chairing the event, I saw our delegates engaging with passion and being inspired to think about new ways of doing things. And while listening to our speakers, one key message stood out to me: those organisations that have become more diverse and inclusive employers had achieved this by understanding the issue not as an equality strategy, but as a business strategy.
These organisations have changed their focus from simply hitting equalities targets to striving to achieve the benefits of diversity and inclusion to deliver the purpose of the organisation.
They’re not putting effort into having the ‘right’ suite of HR policies and trendy initiatives with mandatory training courses. Instead, they are focused on achieving true behavioural change as an organisation.
They’re doing this by, for example, having strong and authentic messages about the kind of organisation they want to be and testing every interaction with staff against these; by promoting leaders who model this behaviour; by having organisational policies that mirror this vision; and by employing managers with the right competencies to deliver those kinds of workplaces and services.
This goes beyond ‘mainstreaming’ equalities work, which implies attaching equalities considerations into other work. Instead it normalises it, makes it a key business priority, an intrinsic part of everything that the organisation is and does and stands for. I believe this is the change we need to help our inspired delegates make, back in the real world.
The LGA has a voice and a platform to support councils to shift the dial on equalities. I’m working with the LGA’s Workforce Team to help our sector think about different ways of valuing, involving and engaging their staff.
We will continue to promote this as a vital business goal, because we want our councils to be places where everyone can come to work and be able to be their best selves so that our communities can thrive.