Equally Safe at Work Community of Practice: Harnessing the power of peer learning to improve employment practice

Last week, Close the Gap held the fourth meeting of the Equally Safe at Work Community of Practice. We had employers from across sectors in Scotland come together to discuss gender equality and violence against women (VAW) in the workplace. In attendance were colleagues from local government, NHS, the third sector, the Scottish Government and COSLA.

The Community of Practice was developed to bring together employers who were working on, or interested in, the Equally Safe at Work accreditation. Peer support and learning have been critical success factors for employers engaged in the programme, and as Equally Safe at Work has expanded, we wanted to look at the role of collaboration in facilitating change. The innovative Community of Practice model aims to test out a new approach of shared learning by bringing together different sizes and types of organisations which are at different stages of their journey on gender equality and VAW. This will also test out whether participation in the group helps to lever improved employment practices on gender equality.

The Community of Practice enables participants to share their experiences of working through the programme, discuss challenges, and foster new approaches to problem-solving and improvement. It also provides an opportunity for employers at the early stages of their work on gender equality and VAW to start building an understanding of what is needed to create meaningful change in their workplace.

In the meetings, participants have reflected on where they are now in their practice, where they want to be and what steps are required to get there. While participants shared frustrations about barriers to progress, they were encouraged to use appreciative inquiry when thinking about their organisational practice. Working towards culture change inevitably focuses on identifying problems and designing solutions. It can be a frustrating process because it can be difficult to see progress at the systems level. That’s why the Community of Practice aimed to create a space where participants could reflect in what has been achieved by identifiying small indicators of change within their organisations.

Several participants shared success stories of VAW now being seen as a workplace issue, with more colleagues discussing it and wanting to take action to address it. Others shared how the programme has helped push open doors, resulting in commitments to address occupational segregation, and new policies being developed on VAW and sexual harassment.

In addition to sharing where progress is being seen, participants have also spoken about challenges around data collection, and securing senior leadership buy in. Others highlighted that gender equality is not seen as a priority, but something that was nice to have but not essential.

We’ll be evaluating the Community of Practice model, along with the other range of activity delivered during this phase of the Equally Safe at Work activity, so that we better understand what works when it comes to improving employment practice. We’ll then be using the learning to design accreditation activity so that Close the Gap can better support employers to take action on gender equality and VAW.

For more information on Equally Safe at Work, you can visit our website. If you would like more information on the Community of Practice and how to get involved, you can contact Kelsey Smith at

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