Equality and diversity – once a marginal issue, now central to management and leadership success

Once banished to the margins of business management and leadership, equalities and diversity policies have now moved from a niche to a central role of any Chief Executive Officer, politician or service leader, and that’s a big issue for early years too – says James Hempsall OBE.

We’ve come a long way from the days of the wave of legislation in the seventies; I’m thinking of things like the Sex Discrimination Act (1975), the Race Relations Act (1976) and Equal Pay Act (1970). We have travelled far in the forty years since then with more nuanced legislation continuing to keep pace with social attitudes, which have also changed considerably. However, where conflict, uncertainty, fear and tension remains in society and the workplace, equalities issues, discrimination and prejudice will never be far behind.

Recent events in the business, entertainment and political worlds have exposed how such issues are now central to the work of all leaders. From early years workers, teachers, headteachers, managers, to chief executives, members, and politicians. No longer simply a matter for policy makers, HR departments or education, equality and diversity is an essential part of every leaders’ tool-kit. Essential not desirable. Just look at some of the recent announcements and events I have noticed on my Twitter feed that demonstrate the benefits of being an aware and equalities focused leader, and the pitfalls of perhaps getting the message wrong.

In modern times, what has exposed many is the advent of social media, where public messages are not sanctioned or sanitised by corporate PR or policy teams, and people have access to methods to directly share their own unaware views or conscious and unconscious prejudices. Equalities is a journey, and people can make mistakes as their awareness develops and challenges the views and beliefs society and the media makes such a powerful job at entrenching in all of us. Mistakes are sometimes fine, as long as we learn from them. For early years, that means confident anti-discriminatory practice (uniquely still a requirement of the Children Act on all our delivery), promoting British Values throughout all our work, and meeting the Prevent Duty (to identify individuals who may be at risk of being radicalised).

Gains here can lead to children feeling safe and confident, and reaching their full potential; a diverse and happy workforce, with open and honest communications and thinking; and becoming close to parents, customers or service users and better understanding their needs. And in doing so, climates are created that achieve trust and safety. Mistakes here can lead to lack of opportunities, sackings or suspensions, a public message you are out of touch, and greater distance from the customer or service user.

Never has equality and diversity awareness and training mattered most, especially as we are in an era where tolerance ensures everyone is respected and included, yet held to account for prejudice, hate-crimes, extremism and harassment. Regular training is key, as is reflecting on ourselves, and the views of others – including our shared and real lived experiences. What’s also important is teams, organisations and businesses create cultures where equalities can thrive. That’s the role of a good equalities leader, and why we continue to offer equalities training at all levels and integrate it throughout all our work. Not just because it is the law, but because it is the right thing to do.

Childcare Works