About this research
This research explored Scottish public authorities' experiences in approaching their Public Sector Equality Duties. This report presents views about what authorities have learnt from their implementation of the Scottish specific duties.
The Scottish Government commissioned the research in September 2013, to help inform Scottish Ministers as they prepare to meet their duty to publish proposals for activity to enable the better performance of the Public Sector Equality Duty.
The research involved one to one telephone interviews with a stratified sample of 69 listed authorities in Scotland. The interviews explored detailed experiences in relation to the production of equality outcomes, and the production of employee, equal pay and gender pay gap information.
The sample was developed from the 251 listed authorities in Scotland, produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in May 2013. It was agreed that education authorities should be excluded from this sample. It was also agreed that the list should be updated to reflect the mergers of further education colleges which had taken place since May 2013. This reduced the number of listed authorities to 202. The research involved interviews with one third of these authorities.
Key findings - equality outcomes
The production of equality outcomes was almost always a joint effort, involving equality leads, senior management across services, and boards or governing committees. Many smaller organisations, however, had no dedicated equality lead in place and a small number of these organisations felt that they lacked skills, expertise and capacity around equality.
Authorities followed a broadly similar process to developing equality outcomes. Most began with evidence gathering - normally using both quantitative and qualitative information, from national and local sources. Authorities generally then identified broad priorities for action and consulted with internal and external stakeholders.
Almost all authorities undertook some form of consultation on their equality outcomes. Most authorities undertook a mix of engagement targeted specifically at groups of people who share a protected characteristic, and engagement with the general public more widely. In many cases it was an "iterative" process, involving many different stages and multiple levels of consultation.
Many authorities were not able to quantify the broad resources dedicated to producing equality outcomes. Most local authorities and NHS Boards who were able to estimate the resources involved said that it took the equivalent of three to eight months on a full time basis.
Authorities consistently identified key success factors, which helped them to develop effective outcomes:
- senior level buy-in and support - helping to raise the profile of equalities and making it easier to encourage people across the organisation to take ownership of delivery of key actions;
- working with others - allowing development of common priorities at a local level, or sharing practice at a national level; and
- effective engagement and consultation processes - helping to inform equality outcomes and build support for the agreed outcomes across organisations and communities.
Authorities also identified clear barriers to developing equality outcomes:
- a robust evidence base - most felt that there were gaps in both local and national evidence, in relation to the timing of publication of statistics and the protected characteristics covered;
- guidance - many felt that the guidance produced on equality outcomes was not clear enough, and that more practical guidance which encouraged consistency of approach would be useful;
- measuring progress and benchmarking - some highlighted challenges in measuring progress against outcomes, particularly without robust baseline data, and others were concerned that it would be difficult to compare performance across authorities;
- engagement and consultation - some found it challenging to gather representative and diverse views from communities; and
- mergers - a small number of authorities experienced particular challenges as they were going through a merger process at the time their work to meet the duties was being developed.
Many felt that it was too early to identify changes as a result of producing equality outcomes. Some felt that early changes included:
- increased awareness of equalities;
- enhanced confidence around equality issues;
- more commitment to action to address inequalities; and
- better alignment of equalities within the wider strategic objectives of the organisation.
Key findings - employee information, pay gap and equal pay
In most cases, the production of employee information was led by an individual in human resources, with support from a policy colleague. In some small organisations, policy officers led on the production of employee information. Local authorities generally led for Licensing Boards and education authorities.
NHS Boards took a co-ordinated approach to producing employee information, with a national group which provided templates and support. Some local authorities, colleges and universities shared practice through networks and joint working.
Almost all authorities found that they needed to add to the employee information they already held, in order to meet the duties. Authorities found it most challenging to produce employee information for sexual orientation, gender reassignment and pregnancy and maternity.
Where equal pay, pay gap and occupational segregation information had not been previously produced in the format required, this resulted in considerable work. Authorities had to devise new processes to produce this information in a meaningful way. This often involved staff at senior levels.
Authorities found it difficult to estimate the resources involved in producing employee information - but most felt that it involved less resource than developing equality outcomes. However, the level of resources involved was very dependent on the systems organisations had in place already.
Key success factors included:
- established practices of gathering and analysing employee information;
- software systems which enabled analysis to be undertaken electronically;
- support from senior management; and
- sharing practice and experience between authorities.
The most commonly mentioned barrier was the challenge of interpreting the written guidance on producing employee information. However, authorities also experienced specific problems with gathering and analysing data, including:
- low staff response rates to requests for information;
- lack of technology to analyse data; and
- challenges agreeing meaningful categories for analysis of data - particularly around occupational segregation information.
Only a minority of authorities had seen immediate changes as a result of publishing employee information. Early changes included:
- greater awareness of equality;
- greater understanding of workforce diversity;
- enhanced commitment to improve the quality of data;
- some practical actions to address inequalities; and
- more confidence in talking about employee needs and experiences.
Authorities identified clear, common priorities for support in the future. All types of authority would like to see three main kinds of support - guidance, feedback and leadership. The Scottish Government may wish to consider future support arrangements to address the following themes.
- Responsibility to meet the specific duties - The listed authorities are all very different in scale and scope. Some faced specific challenges due to their size, or to their very close relationship to other listed authorities. It may be worth considering whether Licensing Boards, education authorities, Joint Boards and local authorities could be required to publish employee information and equality outcomes jointly, rather than separately. A proportionate approach to requirements to publish employee information could also be considered.
- Feedback to listed authorities - There is strong demand for authorities to receive individual feedback on their performance in relation to equality outcomes and employee information. This needs to be done in a supportive manner, to build confidence and maintain motivation to strengthen the response to the specific duties. It may be appropriate to consider a proportionate response to feedback, with larger authorities being encouraged to stretch slightly more than the smaller or less experienced authorities.
- Guidance on the duties - There is clear demand for additional practical and detailed guidance on meeting the specific duties. This should be written in plain English; include examples that are considered to be good practice; and potentially include (optional) templates for producing employee information and equality outcomes. It could cover how to move from publication to taking action to address inequalities; and how to work jointly at a local level.
- Scottish Government role - There is potentially a role for the Scottish Government in supporting and motivating authorities to meet the specific duties effectively. This could include practical steps such as:
- a clear, high profile statement from the Scottish Government about the importance of meeting the specific duties;
- inclusion of equality outcomes in other outcomes, targets and plans at national level;
- production of practical guidance; and
- providing funding to support listed authorities.
- Sharing practice - Authorities found that sharing experiences and practice was very helpful. This could be further promoted through raising awareness of the range of networks available; providing funding to some networks to perform a supportive role; and exploring the creation of a national multi-sector group to share experience and good practice around meeting the specific duties.
Email: Alison Stout