Most organisations don’t know how many disabled people they employ, how many gay people work for them or which faiths make up the staff group. All they do know with any degree of certainty is the age and gender profile of their organisation, plus maybe some information on ethnicity.

The reason for this is that staff have proved very reluctant to disclose what they consider to be highly sensitive information about their sexuality, a disability or even their faith for fear of prejudice and discrimination.

People can see if you’re black but not if you’re gay or hard of hearing. Why tell them if you don’t have to?

If you don’t know who you have employed, how do you know if your recruitment policies and practices are fair? How can an employer demonstrate that their workforce is in fact representative? How would you know if discrimination is taking place?

The challenge is to create a safe environment within your organisation so that staff feel able to identify themselves for who they are without fear of prejudice.

It’s going to take more than a two-day awareness training course to bring about what is a culture change in most organisations. The starting point has to be with senior managers to show leadership and give permission for people to discuss issues of race, gender, disability, sexuality and faith openly.

The aim is for people to say what they are really thinking in order that they can be challenged or supported. Of course senior managers and HR (Human Resources - Personnel and Training section) will be only too aware that this process has to be managed since it will unleash some powerful emotions.

Some skilled facilitation is required within a range of forums designed to increase awareness and encourage discussion. A case example of applying his approach and the discussion material used can be found in An Elephant in the Room-an equality and diversity training manual published by Russell House.

Encouraging staff to talk openly involves finding innovative ways to get hot issues out into the open. This gives the organisation/senior managers the opportunity to challenge myths and explain policies. The case study shows how a large organisation used its intranet to get these questions out in the open - and answered - however uncomfortable the questions might be. A lot of the questions came from a series of two-day equality and diversity awareness courses. The case study includes some of the most frequently asked questions and the answers that were provided.

The case study also details how equality and diversity champions were recruited and supported. These were people from all levels within the organisation who were prepared to put time and energy into raising awareness. Typically with in organisations groups set up to address equality issues all too often become characterised by inertia and a lack of passion. The case study shows how this was avoided by replacing nominated representatives with people who identified themselves as champions and examines the issues this raised and how they were addressed.