Findings from the evaluation of the Equally Safe at Work pilot

Yesterday Close the Gap held an online event to celebrate the success of the Equally Safe at Work pilot and launch the evaluation report for the pilot.

Equally Safe at Work is an innovative employer accreditation programme that was developed to support the local implementation of Scotland’s Equally Safe Strategy. The programme was designed to support councils to understand how gender inequality and violence against women (VAW) affect women in the workforce and the wider organisation, and to provide a framework to drive change.

Equally Safe at Work was piloted in seven councils between January 2019 and November 2020. The pilot councils were Aberdeen City, Highland, Midlothian, North Lanarkshire, Perth and Kinross, Shetland Islands and South Lanarkshire.

Four of the pilot councils received bronze accreditation. All the councils received pilot accreditation to recognise their important role in piloting Equally Safe at Work and in generating key learning that will shape the future development of the programme.

To receive bronze accreditation councils had to demonstrate they had met criteria across six standards which align with women’s workplace equality:

  • Leadership;
  • Data;
  • Flexible working;
  • Workplace culture;
  • Occupational segregation; and
  • VAW.

What the evaluation told us

Over the pilot period, we collected qualitative and quantitative data to measure whether the programme was effective at improving employment policies and practice and, also in improving understanding about gender inequality and VAW in the workplace. We also wanted to pilot whether an employer accreditation programme was an effective model for engaging with councils.

The evaluation found that councils had developed improved employment policies and practices. As a result of engaging with Equally Safe at Work councils:

  • developed VAW policies and introduced support mechanisms for victim-survivors;
  • reviewed and updated equality policies to include information on occupation segregation, VAW, sexism, misogyny, and intersectionality;
  • reviewed employment policies to ensure they are gender- and VAW- sensitive;
  • updated flexible working policies to ensure the needs of different groups of women, including victim-survivors, are met;
  • provided training to line managers on flexible working and VAW;
  • supported quantitative and qualitative data gathering on employees attitudes and behaviours around gender equality and VAW, and experiences of working in the council;
  • reviewed practice on progression, recruitment, and development to ensure it addresses the barriers women face;
  • developed improved data gathering systems to capture the experiences of different groups of women in the workforce;
  • developed systems to collect data on flexible working, disaggregated by gender;
  • developed initiatives to address occupational segregation; and
  • delivered internal awareness-raising campaigns on VAW and gender inequality.

The evaluation also looked at whether councils had an improved understanding of gender equality and VAW, and an improved understanding of the employer role in prevention. Key findings include:

  • There was an increase in the extent to which employees disbelieved myths about VAW;
  • Line managers felt more confident about recognising the signs of VAW and responding to disclosures or reports;
  • Councils demonstrated leadership to staff to challenge VAW through statements from the chief executive and council lead;
  • Women’s confidence in report and disclosing VAW remained the same;
  • While there were high numbers of experiences of VAW, very few formal reports were made to councils; and
  • There is a continued need to develop capacity in line managers and build trust in the reporting process.

There was minimal change in attitudes and behaviour towards gender equality. This was anticipated given the difficulty in creating attitudinal and behavioural change in a short period. Longer-term attitudinal and behavioural change in the workforce requires leadership commitment to challenge workplace cultures which sustain gender inequality and prevent VAW.

Success and challenges

Four councils received bronze accreditation and completed the pilot. To demonstrate they had completed the pilot, councils submitted a range of evidence to be assessed by Close the Gap for the bronze tier. Councils found criteria in the sections on data, occupational segregation and workplace culture most difficult to complete. As well, some of the evidence that was submitted was not adequately gender-sensitive which suggests that there is further work required to build gender competence in councils to better understand the importance of gender and VAW-sensitive employment practice.

Equally Safe at Work as a driver of change

The Equally Safe at Work pilot has been effective in engaging with councils on VAW and gender equality and has enabled positive changes to employment practice which contribute to the advancement of women’s equality. The programme has built capacity in councils to better understand, respond to, and prevent VAW. It has also enabled councils to progress work on gender equality by developing improved employment policy and practice; gathering data that are critical to gender equality at work; and developing initiatives to address occupational segregation.

A key success factor of Equally Safe at Work is the prescriptiveness of the programme. Councils were provided with clear and specific guidance for improving employment practice across six standards, including best practice examples. Through this approach, councils were able to make changes to employment practice, build capacity in line managers and others, and challenge harmful stereotypical attitudes and behaviours. Learning from the pilot also highlighted that for councils to be successful in the programme, it is critical that there is commitment from senior leaders, adequate resources to deliver the work, and crucially, an understanding of, and a commitment to, ending VAW and advancing gender equality at work.

You can read the full report here.

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