Managing 22,000 residential properties across a highly diverse area is no mean feat. Just ask The Gateshead Housing Company, who do just that for Gateshead Council.
As a provider of services to the council, the company faces annual inspections by the Audit Commission.
Equality and diversity is now recognised as such a core requirement that it’s a key part of the Audit Commission’s inspection, and they look to assess how well it’s embedded within organisations.
But how exactly do you go about embedding equality and diversity within an organisation?
Well, that’s where the Equality Standard for Local Government comes into the picture. Introduced by the Government in 2001, the ESLG provides organisations with a five-level framework for evaluating and improving their equality performance.
By the beginning of 2007, the Gateshead Housing Company had achieved Level 2 of the ESLG. But they weren’t about to rest on their laurels.
As Mark Johns, the company’s Involvement & Diversity Manager, says: “The next step was Level 3, which presented a whole new set of challenges, in particular around providing our staff with a greater awareness and understanding of equality and diversity issues.”
Johns and his team explored a number of training and development options before deciding that e-learning was the right medium.
“With e-learning, staff can fit the learning in around their day jobs.” says Johns. “What’s more, it enables us to deliver a consistent message to everyone, and we can track usage, a key consideration when it comes to the Audit Commission’s inspection”.
After evaluating a range of products, the company chose a suite of three readymade equality and diversity courses from e-learning specialists Cylix.
“We liked the way the Cylix courses used interaction, case studies and photo-drama scenes to engage users and develop a practical understanding of key equality and diversity issues.” says Johns. “What’s more, the detailed tests at the end of the courses gave us a means of checking that staff had not only completed them, but had also learned from them.”
So how well have the courses been received?
“We’ve been delighted with the results we’ve achieved.” says Johns. “Over 90% of our staff have completed the courses and the feedback we’ve received has been excellent. More importantly, though, the courses have had a real impact on what people are actually doing: our internal audits, which include mystery shopping, have shown that staff now have a greater understanding of equality and diversity issues, and are providing better levels of service as a result.”
And Johns’ positive assessment is borne out by what the company has achieved under the ESLG: “We’ve now been externally validated as having achieved Level 3 of the ESLG.” he says. “The e-learning provision was highlighted as an important contributing factor in this, which is a real endorsement of the approach we’ve taken.”