Employing disabled interns: Auditing for equality
Disabled interns joining your organisation come not only with qualifications, enthusiasm and skills, but also with various expectations about the nature of the organisation to which they will be making a contribution. Expectations relate partly to the way that the organisation will respond to interns specifically as disabled employees, but, more generally as employees. As employees, interns are bearers of many characteristics, some of which are described and defined by the Equality Act (2010) as being ‘protected’. These are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation.
This guidance aims to assist Third Sector employers to look at how their organisations meet the reasonable expectations of disabled interns in relation to workplace equalities.
What are your organisation’s equality obligations?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) (Scotland) guidance outlines how the public sector can meet its duties under the Equality Act 2010, duties collectively known as the Public Sector Equality Duty. Third Sector organisations are also, of course subject to the Equality Act (2010). However, the Public Sector Equality Duty describes further general and specific duties. Its broad application covers many Third Sector organisations, which are also subject to the Public Sector Equality Duty in so far as they carry out a public function.
Whether or not your organisation has acquired Public Sector Equality duties by undertaking a public function, it undoubtedly shares commitment to the purpose of these duties, to work towards a more equal society by advancing equality and good relations in your day to day work.
What are the benefits of auditing for equality?
Apart from ensuring that an organisation already complies with its legal obligations, undertaking an equality audit can reassure an organisation about its current, positive equality policies and practices. Moreover, an organisation auditing for equality may not only be better placed to satisfy funders about its commitments to equality, but also gain insights into who the organisation is reaching and who it is perhaps not reaching. Example:
A third sector organisation has, as one of its aims, an increase in the uptake of adult literacy classes. It discovers through data gathering for equality that there is considerable under-representation of particular age groups, and the data is at odds with the demographics of the area.
This example illustrates the usefulness of equality monitoring data, which can then support a case for additional, targeted project funding to redress evidenced under-representation.
Similar benefits can follow from gathering data on employees and volunteers. Example:
A third sector organisation which provides services for adults with learning disabilities gathers equality monitoring data on its large cohort of volunteers. Data shows that 82% of volunteers are female, and 18% male.
All adults using the services are likely to benefit from greater volunteer gender balance, which might produce greater variety of volunteers’ interests and skills.
What are the best ways of checking that your organisation meets its equality commitment and obligations?
Much has been written about auditing for equality, including public sector guidance from the EHRC on how to undertake Equality Impact Assessments. Although Third Sector organisations may not be required to undertake full Equality Impact Assessments, public sector guidance is very useful for Third Sector organisations doing their own equality auditing.
The focus below is primarily on those aspects of auditing which relate to your employment relationship with interns, although a full audit would obviously encompass all of your organisation’s policies, provisions, criteria, functions, practices and activities, including the delivery of services – in fact everything you do.
Step 1: be clear about the purpose(s) of the audit.
In the particular case of employing a disabled intern, a major purpose is likely to be to check that in how you define jobs, advertise, recruit, offer contracts of employment, induct, train, supervise and support employees, you do not inadvertently either discriminate against disabled people, or lose opportunities to take positive action (lawful under the Equality Act, 2010), bearing in mind that your check needs to encompass all of the protected characteristics, and not only disability. Example:
A Community Team Sport Foundation employing a disabled intern as an administrator and coach realises that although there are teams of disabled people and some all female teams, no coaches have hitherto disclosed a disability and there is only one female coach. It identifies the need to conduct a comprehensive equality audit, so that it can look for ways of redressing this imbalance and checking to see whether there are others.
Step 2: identify what you need to audit.
Guidance on undertaking Equality Impact Assessments directs organisations to examine everything that they do. Perhaps the starting point is to look at the key benefits that your organisation offers to people: the greater the benefit, the more disadvantageous the exclusion from it. In addition to being offered work at all, employment benefits might include:
- holding prestigious posts on boards;
- occupying senior, more highly paid positions;
- access to training;
- access to opportunities to represent the organisation at various events.
Under-representation of people with particular protected characteristics can occur in relation to any of these benefits.
Step 3: look at what data and evidence you hold, and perhaps identify gaps.
Although many organisations collect equality monitoring data at recruitment, there may be gaps in data in relation to some of the organisation’s benefits, noted at Step 2. Other useful data in relation to employment of disabled people would include qualitative data about the organisation’s policies. Example:
A Signposting organisation aims to direct people to services that promote positive mental health. It has a small team of paid employees. Although it has a recruitment policy setting out the key recruitment steps, the policy neglects to incorporate ways of taking positive action towards the employment of disabled people, including people with mental health difficulties.
Step 4: consult with communities that are likely to be affected by what you do.
Organisations employing disabled people, including interns, often point to the positive benefits of being assisted to look at their organisation from a fresh perspective. Example:
A disabled intern working for a Coast and Countryside Trust is knowledgeable about local services for disabled people. She identifies a residential school for children with autism as well placed to offer insights into the Trust’s services for visitors.
Step 5: examine whether anything you do has a positive or negative impact on one or more equality strands, represented by ‘protected characteristics’.
The previous example illustrates the value of involvement of people with protected characteristics in helping organisations to examine impacts. The Signposting organisation noted in Step 3 undoubtedly has a positive impact on disabled people who have a disability impacting on mental health. However, an equality audit covering images used to advertise the service, circulation of information about job opportunities and other ways of representing the service might identify lost opportunities for even greater positive impact, or even certain negative impacts. Example:
Despite a relatively high number of young males with mental illnesses, an organisation supporting people with mental illnesses looks at equality data on employment and identifies an under-representation of males in front-line jobs and in images used for publicity.
Step 6: where you identify organisational barriers, or acts or omissions that detrimentally impact on people because of one or more protected characteristics, look for ways of taking remedial action.
The first stage of remedial action might involve additional data gathering and the involvement of people with protected characteristics. Example:
A volunteer for a small Third Sector organisation creates a web-site. However, it is unclear whether the site is sufficiently accessible for people with impairments affecting vision. The organisation approaches a group which provides services for blind and partially sighted people and asks for members’ involvement in testing the web-site.
Step 7: monitor, review and publicise your organisation’s progress.
Not only will this step give you the satisfaction of knowing that progress has been made, but it will also give your public additional confidence in your commitment to equality.
Further information on this or any other topic relating to employing disabled interns can be obtained if you Contact Us