To receive an update report from the Director of Resources on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion which includes input and feedback from the LGBT+, Women’s Voice and Early Careers staff networks. This item builds on previous work undertaken by the Board in 2021 and earlier in 2022 which has sought to hear directly about lived experiences working for the Council from the Council’s staff networks.
The report of the Director of Resources provided the Board with a further update on corporate Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) activity in the current year and included contributions from the LGBT+, Women’s Voice and Early Careers staff networks.
In attendance for this item were:
· Cllr James Lewis – Leader of Council
· Cllr Mary Harland – Executive Member for Communities
· Tom Riordan – Chief Executive
· Neil Evans – Director of Resources
· John Ebo – Head of HR Projects EDI
· Vic Clarke – Women’s Voice Staff Network
· Kat Denvir – Chair, LGBT+ Network
· Sasha Walton – Chair, Early Careers Network
· Vanessa Wenham – Freedom to Speak Up Guardian
The Chair started by saying that this item followed on from a previous item heard in January 2022, when the Board had received items on the Race Equality Action Plan, Disability Equality Action Plan as well as attendance from four staff networks. He said that this was an issue that the Council takes very seriously, and it was the remit of the Scrutiny Board to challenge inequality in the Council.
The Chief Executive said it was good to attend this meeting as equality was something he was passionate about and one of the reasons he wanted to come to Leeds City Council, and to Leeds as it had a good reputation for equality. He was of the view that the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement had raised the profile of these issues and created a need to reflect on them and one of the things that came out of this period was hearing more from the lived experiences of staff. He said that for those in positions of authority it was sometimes a hard message to hear. Although, the Council was doing really good work to address these issues, the Council was committed to do more as some of the issues experienced by colleagues highlighted areas where practice had not good enough. The staff networks, along with the Trade Unions who play a more formal and statutory role, are at the centre of giving a voice to people and take account of the full range of protected characteristics and are therefore at the heart of our consultation processes. It was his view that the staff networks were there to challenge the Council and they had done this effectively and progress had been made. It was the sign of a positive culture where people can be open to challenge and accept that we cannot always get things right.
In order to ensure that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is at the core of the Council’s activity reverse monitoring is undertaken and this includes the Chief Executive, Tom Riordan, who is engaged in reverse mentoring with the Chair of the LGBT+ network with the aim of developing social learning, strengthening employee relationships and shaping the Council’s inclusive culture
The Head of HR Projects EDI thanked the Scrutiny Board for having this item. He said that EDI was important and something that we must do in a legal context, but also in our day to day actions to increase productivity and efficiency and because we want to do it as part of our values where EDI is central to the Council and its work.
He explained that he had moved to his position from another Directorate to assist in moving this agenda forward, he was pleased that the organisation had allowed him to do this without fear or favour, which was an important point to make. He said it was important to note where the organisation has come from, where we are at present and where the Council wants to progress to with the EDI agenda. He gave a brief update on the work over the last twelve months which included strong leadership through communication on this agenda, recent launch of mandatory EDI training for all 2,200 managers, with 1,400 managers already receiving the first step of the training, Members were advised that there are five steps to the training, and this would be disseminated to teams. The broader vision for EDI was to cover the workforce element, how we interact with communities, and how we deliver our services.
Members were informed of the five key workforce themes:
· Recruitment and initial welcome
· Training for staff and managers
· Speaking up and zero tolerance
· Data and monitoring
In July 2022, Leeds City Council became the first council in the UK to appoint a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian. This was in line with the council values of being open, honest and trusted as well as treating people fairly. The role of the Guardian is to enable all council employees to raise their voice, and have their voice heard. The Guardian works independently and impartially across the Council and has regular meetings with the Chief Executive to discuss general themes and lessons learned from speaking to people, they also have links to Elected Members whose portfolio covers equality in the workplace.
A review of the grievance procedure had been undertaken in April 2022, it was noted that a detailed report had been produced setting out 17 executive summary findings and 15 recommendations around four themes which were:
The Chair of the Early Careers Staff Network explained that this is a professional network set up and run for the Council’s junior workforce. The network aims to encourage members to flourish by building on and learning new skills to make themselves more employable. The network allows members to meet peers from different areas of the council to create relationships which can grow and continue throughout their careers. Board Members were advised that age is a protected characteristic for this network as it is intended for younger and junior members of the workforce. However, the network is open to all those who feel they would benefit from being in a professional network focussing on early career issues.
The Early Careers network offers help, advice and support to staff on application writing, interview practice and addresses the digital divide across the council.
Members were advised that during the pandemic the steering group had lost a lot of members due to increased workloads and staff leaving the authority. The priority for the network this year was ‘Burn Out and Preventing It’ and the leads for the network have been supporting staff in offering advice and signposting to further support. There is a drive to recruit to the network to allow more to be offered going into 2023.
Responding to questions from Members the Board were provided with the following information:
The Chair of Women’s Voice provided an overview of how the women’s staff network had begun in 2017, with a small number of women who had been involved with the network for some time, managing it through email communication which had excluded a number of women in the council. A new chair and a steering group was established made up of senior women from across the directorates to drive forward the newly named Women’s Voice. A wo-manifesto was developed by holding focus groups with women especially those who were not digitally connected, worked in remote locations and were more likely to be part-time and low paid. The feedback from the focus groups provided the five pledges for the manifesto which was launched in 2018. It was noted that in 2018 there was a new Chair and during 2018 and 2019 there had been lots of activity with many successes, including a Women’s Voice Facebook page which has over 1,000 members.
The issues facing women were highlighted as:
The pandemic had greatly affected women who were trying to balance work with looking after and home-schooling children. It was noted that many women whilst working from home had worked evenings and weekends to ensure that their work was kept up to date. Many women work in care settings and retail and were going out to work every day, with a greater risk of catching the virus and they raised concerns that they might bring home the virus to their families.
During the pandemic the network had not been as active and in 2021 the Chair had left the Council and there was a reluctance to take on this role. However, this had been a good year for the network with events taking place and there was now some interest intaking on the role of Chair and in becoming ambassadors for Women’s Voice. The network is looking to improve events for International Women’s Day which is held in March and want it to be on the lines of the Pride event with a march through the city, if possible.
Responding to questions from Members the Board were provided with the following information:
The Chair of the LGBT+ Network provided an organisational context at the beginning of her report and said it was recognised that the LGBT+ agenda was highly publicised and heavily politicised. However, it was important to note the staff numbers across the organisation in terms of the number of staff who are ‘out’ in the workplace. What concerned the Chair was there was not a good representation across the council which seemed to be an issue for many of the staff networks. She said that she was one of the most senior members of staff who was openly ‘out’ and that there were none, to her knowledge, at what might be classed as senior staff leadership. It was her view that this said a lot about representation and role modelling across the organisation which could limit staff with protected characteristics who might not see a path for progression and being ‘your whole self’ in senior staff roles. There was a question about the digital divide with not all staff being able to get messages and a concern about comeback about being ‘out’ in the workplace. She said that although the organisation is keen to understand about protected characteristics, there is a hesitancy about getting it wrong and this created paralysis which ends up causing harm as we are not understanding the complexities behind peoples lived experiences, the idea of being able to ‘get something wrong’ provided lessons are learned was also noted.
The issue of intersectionality was also discussed. It was the view that people should not have to choose which protected characteristic they align with, it should be dealt with wholistically.
In conclusion it was noted that being the Chair of the LGBT+ network had been one of the great joys of her career and good to see the appetite and momentum behind this work now. The staff network partnership has really worked and was of the view that there should be a centralised EDI team for the organisation to facilitate training, to provide support and be a contact for staff lived experiences.
Members noted that whilst some staff did get time off from work to attend or do work on behalf of the staff network, they were still working above and beyond their contracted hours.
Member’s discussions included:
The Chair thanked all who had attended for the item especially the officers from the staff networks. He said that all the points made would be minuted and part of public record. He realised that there had not been time to respond to all points but said that further contact would be made with the Head of HR Projects EDI and a response on behalf of the Board would be sent to the staff networks.
RESOLVED – To:
a) Note the content of the report and appendices and to highlight any future areas of scrutiny work from discussion during this item, particularly the possibility of returning to this subject through a working group to enable more time on the subject.
b) Consider the next steps for this work having received reports on EDI related issues since early 2021 and herd direct contributions from the Council’s staff networks. One option is to produce a scrutiny statement that would enable initial findings to be made whilst also continui8ng to consider EDI related agenda items in the future.