The NHS has a bad reputation when it comes to equality of opportunity. Historically it was slow to move from a colourblind approach to race, and many health organisations only introduced equal opportunity polices when they were required to by legislation.
If Equal Opportunities Commission director of public policy Andrea Murray is right, NHS managers still think equality is a recruitment issue, have difficulty identifying service delivery issues and think equality is someone else's responsibility ('Equal but not the same', pages 24-26, 19 October).
Equality in the workplace is about ensuring people are not treated unfairly or discriminated against as a result of being different due to their race, gender, disability, sexuality, faith or age. This is not restricted to recruitment but extends to how people are treated at work. Do employees feel their manager and their organisation treats them fairly?
Equality is therefore a management and leadership issue - not something to be left to personnel and training staff.
Equality is not restricted to employment, it also covers service delivery. Are people less likely to receive a service if they are black, gay, disabled, old, young or of a particular faith? Does the service offered take account of differences arising out of race, gender, disability, faith, age and sexuality. Or is everyone treated as if we all have the same needs, interests, circumstances and beliefs. Equality and diversity is not about treating everyone the same. The task is to help managers and staff understand this and explore what this means for their team, their service and their place of work.
This will involve changing the way some people think and behave at work by identifying the questions people really want to ask but are reluctant to for fear of being labelled ageist, a racist, sexist or homophobic. It means identifying stereotypes, myths and prejudices and challenging them.
If all staff feel valued and respected, if they feel they are treated fairly, then the organisation they work for is unlikely to be characterised by bullying, harassment and discrimination. This requires managers to become more sensitive to people's needs and to improve their leadership skills by gaining insight into how their behaviour affects the people they manage.
A well functioning and diverse workforce requires all staff to develop a sensitivity towards their colleagues by gaining knowledge and insight into how people who are different to you experience the world of work. This needs to be recognised as a two-way process in which the needs and perceptions of all people are identified.
To achieve these changes in the way people behave at work we need to identify equality champions, people at all levels within the organisation who are prepared to put time and energy to raising awareness around equality and diversity issues.
Fairness in the workplace involves getting people to talk openly about race, religion, gender, disability, ageism and sexuality. It's about creating a safe environment for people to say what they are really thinking and it's about creating appropriate opportunities for people to be challenged or supported.
Most people are not racist, sexist, ageist, homophobic or insensitive to people with disability, but they are bombarded with negative stereotypes and myths in their daily lives. If they have limited opportunities for mixing with people different to them this can reinforce ignorance, insensitivity and unthinking prejudice. Opportunities need to be created to challenge these negative stereotypes, myths and prejudices and increase awareness.
Director of community services,
Lancashire county council