Equality and Diversity in Volunteering

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By promoting equality and diversity, you help to create an inclusive, welcoming volunteer environment. By recruiting in a variety of ways, developing organisational training and support, and being flexible with volunteer roles, volunteer-involving organisations can help to remove barriers that people may face and open up their opportunities to more people.

What do we mean by equality and diversity?

Equality is making sure that people are treated fairly and given equal access to opportunities and resources. Equality is not about treating everyone in the same way, it is about treating everyone fairly and with respect, and recognising that different volunteers may have needs that are met in different ways.
Diversity is recognising, respecting, valuing and drawing on the positive aspects of differences. Diversity fosters an environment that recognises the contribution that every individual volunteer makes, or can make to a project or organisation.

Why is promoting equality and diversity important?

  • It helps to create an inclusive and diverse volunteer environment
  • It helps to promote principles of fairness, respect, equality and dignity
  • Visibility and representation are important: they can help possible future volunteers to recognise their own potential and believe that opportunities could be for them
  • It helps to ensure that volunteers, employees and service users are all valued, respected, motivated and treated fairly
  • We all have the right to be protected from discrimination and harassment
  • We all have a responsibility not to discriminate against others

What legislation is there?

The Equality Act 2010 is “a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all.” It provides protection by law from

  • discrimination
  • harassment
  • victimisation

based on the perception of certain characteristics. There are nine protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Gender reassignment
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity

What do we mean by discrimination?

Direct discrimination is where someone is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic.

Example: A volunteer project rejects a volunteer applicant because the applicant has a disability

Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice applies equally to everyone but puts people from a particular background at a disadvantage compared to others; and which is not a reasonable and proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Example: A volunteer project requires volunteers to produce three forms of ID including proof of address such as a utility bill. Although this rule seems fair, it could put at a disadvantage recently settled migrants, or Gypsies and Travellers, who are less likely to have such information or proof.

Can Volunteers Expect Protection From Discrimination?

  • Volunteers are not protected by law in the same way as paid employees.
  • The Equality Act 2010 applies to employees and organisations providing a service.
  • Volunteering could be considered as a service and as such organisations involving volunteers should still protect volunteers from discrimination, harassment or victimisation on the grounds of the protected characteristics.
  • However, this should also be considered a moral responsibility and best practice by volunteer-involving organisations – so the answer is yes, volunteers can and should expect protection from discrimination!

How can organisations promote equality and diversity in volunteering?

  • Have a clear organisational equality policy
  • Promote volunteering opportunities widely, not just in one place.
    • use a variety of methods: online, flyers, word of mouth, outreach visits
    • different methods will reach different people!
  • Think about how accessible your recruitment process is:
    • What kind of language and how much text do you use on flyers or adverts?
    • Is everything available only online?
    • Do people need to fill out any forms?
    • Can people talk on the phone or pop in for a chat?
  • Think about those you are not reaching:
    • What barriers are in your way?
    • Are they ones that you can help to remove? If so, how?
    • Nobody is truly hard to reach, the onus is on us to work out what we could be doing differently
  • Develop your opportunities to suit individual needs
    • No role should be set in stone
    • make reasonable adjustments tailored to individual ability and needs
    • have flexibility within roles – can you divide up the tasks differently? Differently, people will do things differently – and that’s okay!
    • Ask people what would make it easier for them to volunteer
  • Ensure ongoing regular and ad hoc support
    • Be available
    • Listen
    • Act
  • Develop training and support for volunteers and staff to help create a welcoming, inclusive environment that everyone has ownership of

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More help?

If you would like more help or advice please contact Volunteer Edinburgh on 0131 225 0630 or email: hello@volunteeredinburgh.org.uk
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