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The journey to equity

Ahead of publishing our Implementation Plan 2022-25 for Uniting the Movement, we asked Fraser Consulting – experts in diversity, equity and inclusion – to undertake an equalities impact assessment. Now complete, Clare Fraser has blogged about her findings.

26th January 2022

by Clare Fraser
Diversity consultant, Fraser Consulting

It’s very easy to tell people how very important tackling inequalities is to your organisation. You could say “it’s at the heart of everything we do” or perhaps “we are committed to being allies”. Having worked in diversity for 20 odd years, I’ve developed a good rhetoric radar and like to use the “so what?” test. So, if tackling inequalities is very important, what are you going to do about it?

Telling people the importance of tackling inequalities is easy; showing them you mean it and are going to do something about it is much harder. Showing involves some uncomfortable truths; that there are persistent, entrenched inequalities that have become worse since the pandemic; that there are layers of disadvantage and ignored and underserved communities.

Showing that tackling inequality is important is not about rhetoric – it is about putting your money where your mouth is.

Which is exactly what Sport England has done in the Uniting the Movement implementation plan (2022-25).

I’m a specialist diversity consultant and have recently worked with the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, Health Education England and the Department for Transport on enhancing alignment with the statutory equality duties. Sport England appointed me to appraise the implementation plan in the context of their strategy, from an equalities perspective.

Showing that tackling inequality is important is not about rhetoric – it is about putting your money where your mouth is.

In my first scan through I noted there was a lot of content about tackling inequality. With my rhetoric radar on high alert, I dived in deeper. I then realised that this was the real deal – tackling inequalities isn’t ‘important’ to Uniting the Movement; tackling inequalities IS Uniting the Movement.  

A strategy is usually followed by structure and systems which support achieving the strategy. Commonly, tackling inequality is a part of the supporting structure and systems, a building block for strategic activities. Tackling inequalities in Uniting the Movement is not just a strategy but a purpose, and something that we can all understand and get behind. It’s the north star with no vagueness or guff. It’s also unforgettable (you’d be surprised by how many people can’t quote their organisational vision).

It’s one of the first public shifts I’ve seen to the equity model of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). Here’s a summary showing the evolution of the model in the UK:

A diagram showing the Compliance to equity model from Fraser Consulting

You can see the shift through the decades, with a focus on behaviours and experience laterally in the Diversity phase. This was the welcome beginning of a value-based approach, with an increase in empathy and understanding what it means to belong (or not belong).

However, this value-based approach only goes so far in effecting change; the equity model builds on the values but also thinks about changing systems for the better.

We can see the move to system transformation clearly in Uniting the Movement with its use of local based, whole system, single access approach. There’s a shift to proportionate universalism, a term introduced by Marmot, in 2010:

“Focusing solely on the most disadvantaged will not reduce health inequalities sufficiently. To reduce the steepness of the social gradient in health, actions must be universal, but with a scale and intensity that is proportionate to the level of disadvantage. We call this proportionate universalism.”

Sir Michael Marmot

The Marmot Review (2010)

Proportionate universalism supports an intersectional approach which takes into account people’s overlapping characteristics and experiences.

The theory of intersectionality was produced by Kimberlé Crenshaw more than 30 years ago to describe how different people from different backgrounds encounter the world.

It’s not about a hierarchy of oppression, it’s simply a descriptive concept that should help us reduce barriers by thinking about the complexity of an individual’s experience.

Sport England’s focus over the next few years recognises that we can’t think about protected groups in silos and we need to use a wider community lens.

There’s a big emphasis on empowerment, co-creation and learning together about what works. Local delivery pilots have shown the value of investing in local capacity and partnerships.

We sometimes hear people described as “hard to reach”. When I hear this, I always think 'maybe try a bit harder, then'.

I’ve never liked this term as it implies that engagement is lacking because people don’t want to be reached. Instead, we need to think about why there is a lack of trust and representation.

Sport England’s upcoming work recognises that we need to do more to empower communities and learn how to build trust from the bottom up.

There’s so much in the implementation plan which resonates with the time in which we live, such as active listening, rebuilding, increasing capacity and learning together.

It’s a brave move on the part of Sport England as the equity model is emerging practice, but it’s the kind of braveness that we need right now. Well played.

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