Inclusive audits: Exploring Equality, Diversity and Inclusion with internal scrutiny


Schools and academy trusts are in the people-business; because an academy trust will only ever be as good as the people it employs. This means all MAT leaders have to attract, recruit and retain the best staff they can.

When you understand how your arrangements to support and include a wide range of staff are working, or aren't, you have an opportunity to grow a well-motivated, diverse and talented workforce.

Read on to find out how trusts are using internal scrutiny to help them respond to a new realisation that improving how they attract and retain staff not only protects against legal liabilities but expands their potential workforce in the midst of the current recruitment crisis. 

How effective are your current arrangements?

You already have systems in place to support staff facing a range of different circumstances from parental leave to processes for responding to flexible working requests.

But do you know if these are working effectively? How do you know? What metrics do you use? Have you systematically reviewed these arrangements to see if they benefit some employees more than others?

Trusts which understand that their approach to workforce equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) issues impacts on who they can hire and how long those staff will stay with them. They are analysing their recruitment and retention data and seeking external validation of what their workforce policies are achieving across their trusts.

Breach of employment law or equalities act

Discrimination can manifest in a number of ways; from how your job descriptions are worded, to where your recruitment adverts are placed.
Using terms like 'recent graduates' or 'highly experienced' could be seen as promoting age-based discrimination, or placing job adverts exclusively in magazines read by men could be a form of gender discrimination.

Ask yourself, do our practices (written and behavioral) send the wrong signals to potential applicants? Have we forgotten to send any signals at all to one or more groups of people? It can help to think about how this in relation to the following protected characteristics, all of which are actually unlawful for any employer to discriminate against:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Gender reassignment
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status
  • Religion or belief
  • Pregnancy and maternity

Trusts that are bucking the trend, and who have genuinely long lists of applications, have a clear understanding of their processes; they maximise their applicant pool and avoid exposure to the risk of legal action; from tribunals to claims such as unfair dismissals or equal pay.

Positive discrimination, negative discrimination and passive bias

Whilst negative discrimination restricts opportunities based on someone's protected characteristics, positive discrimination involves hiring someone purely based on them having a relevant protected characteristic, irrespective of their ability to do the job.

Within this, positive action is also a consideration; where employers can (by law) encourage participation or opportunities for groups of people with shared protected characteristics, particularly where there is an imbalance.

As a result, it is useful to understand what potential barriers there are to groups with protected characteristics within your school or trust and what can be done to reduce them.

Unconscious bias is also important; where our brains can take shortcuts to make quick decisions based on assumptions. There are a huge range of examples for this, but it often involves bias from characteristics that do not affect the candidates ability to do the job. For example, making a decision based on a person's appearance or personal interests rather than their suitability to the role.

In a similar sense to employment law or the equalities act, a lack of knowledge of these factors can lead to greater potential legal risks. But, by making EDI a key part of your internal scrutiny, you can build a greater understanding, reducing the likelihood of discrimination across your organisation and helping to minimise any resulting legal implications for your school or trust. 

Staff vs student representation

Aside from the basic legal requirements around equality in the workplace, your school or trust can also suffer from a lack of diversity across staff and students if EDI is not taken seriously.

In turn, without using internal scrutiny to look at how EDI fits within your school or trust, you risk appearing to be a "less-relatable" organisation compared to others, which reduces your potential accessibility at all levels; from employment through to student enrolment. 

Staff retention

Another consideration when it comes to EDI is the impact it can have on staff well-being and retention.
It is widely understood that staff from all backgrounds can feel more positive and happier being part of an organisation that values equality, understands the factors involved and makes adjustments to ensure it is acting fairly at every opportunity.

In this case, examining EDI as part of your internal scrutiny can help manage risk by reducing the likelihood of your staff members to be left feeling unfairly treated, misunderstood or unaccounted for.

In addition, if your school or trust lacks an understanding of how EDI relates to things like internal promotions, staff absence and length of service, you run the risk of poor staff retention and difficulty recruiting.

Mirrors and blind spots

We can help you to see any blind spots in your practice if you ask us to evaluate the work of your HR teams and managers on themes relating to workforce equality, diversity and inclusivity.

As just one part of our internal scrutiny reports, we investigate the awareness and understanding of EDI across your organisation, examining EDI training and data collection as well as workforce strategy across aspects such as gender pay gaps, physical facilities, workforce surveys and more.

We also look at a number of topics relating to recruitment covered in this article, including wording of recruitment materials, selection processes and blind shortlisting.

Ultimately, having greater clarity on your approaches to EDI, means reducing risk across a number of areas; from legal action, to poor staff retention, as well as ensuring diversity and inclusion at every level.

If you're looking for a internal scrutiny report that can deliver above and beyond the basic level of compliance, don't hesitate to get in touch with us today.

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