Examples and tools
Equality makes sense for business. Research has proved that investing in equality:
- contributes to the bottom line;
- builds a company’s reputation with existing and potential customers; improves productivity;
- increases innovation and effective decision-making within companies;
- avoids costly legal battles that sap staff morale and damage the company’s reputation with customers.
These days, businesses are faced with the following challenges:
- How to secure a competitive advantage?
- How to secure more customers?
- How to retain customers?
- How to do more with less.
Ireland’s population and customer base are more diverse than ever. Investing in equality helps a company to know its customers better, an essential step in retaining existing market share. It also helps companies to appreciate the potential within new markets.
Making your premises disability-friendly may gain you new customers among people with disabilities and older people with disposable income. If you adapt your premises and a new customer with a disability is able to buy a product or service from you that s/he has not been able to get up to now, that customer is likely to be very satisfied with your business and to remain a loyal customer for the future.
What Can You Do?
The following templates are designed to support your company or business. The templates offered can be amended or adapted to suit your business or service offering.
Examples in Practice
The Carlton Clinic, Bray Co Wicklow
The Carlton Clinic in Bray Co. Wicklow is a medical centre offering general practitioner and other medical/health services. It employed 31 staff at the time of the equality consultancy in 2008. As a direct result of the equality consultancy, Carton Clinic’s equality policy is now integrated into day-to-day patient care and workplace practices including marketing, communications, staff welfare and recruitment. Some of the practical steps taken included reviewing its patient/publicity information to ensure that illustrations on handbooks and websites were representative of diversity and that the content clearly communicated its equality and dignity at work policies and procedures.
The Clinic noted that it took time for the benefits of their investment in equality strategies to fully emerge:
‘What is striking now is how much better we are at the business part of our practice. We are growing our clinic in a very difficult climate and that growth is strongly linked to our commitment to equality. We have patients from all over the world and from increasingly diverse backgrounds. The equality work we engaged in helped us understand and better anticipate the needs of our patients. For example, everyone in our practice from reception staff through to medics are much more aware of the timing of periods like Ramadan and of the impact of fasting on patient behaviour. We are also aware that staff may need to schedule time off for particular cultural celebrations or special periods.
At a more general level, the Carlton Clinic believes that the equality process they engaged in has led to them becoming more aware, empathic and sensitive with patients:
‘If somebody comes in the door in a hostile frame of mind our default position is that there may be something major going on for this person that we know nothing about – they may be bereaved or frightened – and we approach them from that view point thanks to our staff training in equality. We are also very clear that our staff must also at all times be treated with respect This is communicated strongly on our website in our literature and in the clinic and directly by staff if an incident arises. The entire organisation has benefited. We have seen a huge reduction in the number of incidents at reception as a result and patient relations at the front desk and with medical staff are greatly improved’.
The clinic has also expanded its services to provide clinics on men’s health and women’s health and has incorporated the advice of gay members of staff to ensure that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community would felt welcome and included as patients.
‘The equality work we did acted as a real spur for us – I’m not sure we would have addressed this area – or at least for a time – if we hadn’t developed our awareness of difference and dignity, and if we hadn’t got to such a good place of openness and trust within the team.’
Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Leisure Services, Monkstown, Co Dublin
Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Leisure Services already had a strong commitment to equality. It strengthened that commitment and clarified how it could best express that commitment in its dealings with customers and staff.
The service engaged in outreach work in the community to encourage older people to use its services and developed specific exercise programmes and leisure sessions for groups with special needs. DLRLS expanded its engagement with general practitioners and the rehabilitation hospitals in the county to encourage them to refer suitable patients. It further developed and expanded its cardiac rehabilitation programme for those 17 who have suffered a heart attack or have had a cardiac intervention such as coronary stenting or cardiac surgery.
‘What we are trying to do from an equality point of view, is to provide for all the different exercise and leisure needs in the diverse community we serve from the cradle (or prenatally to be more precise) to the grave. If you come in here on a Wednesday morning you will see a wide range of groups enjoying the facilities with tailored programmes for older people, cardiac patients, those with special need and others. We also employ staff with special needs and provide work placements. This is a great environment to be in even on a part-time or voluntary basis as there are so many social and health benefits from belonging to somewhere like this – particularly at the moment when the external environment is so difficult’.
The equality work also led to a number of improvements in the accessibility of the centre:
‘While we had disability parking spots for example, the consultant pointed out that they were not particularly well located – we repositioned them close to the entrance. The footpaths were made more wheelchair friendly as were doorways and reception areas. We also improved the visibility of signage and made the lavatory facilities fully accessible for those with physical disabilities’.
Letterkenny Credit Union Ltd
Letterkenny Credit Union Ltd. decided to look at the member’s journey through its building and its services.
“We talked to a disabled member and he was just brilliant” says Kathleen Dorrian, Building Officer.
“Lots of what he suggested were just wee simple things, like providing our application forms in large print, making more use of our low counter and marking our glass doors at eye level so that people can tell more easily that they are there.”
The credit union has made some more substantial changes, too. “We’ve put in automatic doors”, says Kathleen, “and everybody who comes in is talking about them and saying how great they are. And we’ve also put in a queuing system that calls people forward with an announcement and a visual message. It’s got a loop system built into it, so now members who are hard of hearing can transact their business much more easily.”
Letterkenny Credit Union Ltd. paid a lot of attention to detail.
“We bought pens that are easy to grip” explains Kathleen. “They sit up in pen holders on the counter, because it’s hard for people to pick up a pen that’s lying down on a flat surface. People love them, but they are attached to the pen holders with a long wire, so no-one can take them away!”
There’s no point in improving your services if you don’t tell people about it, so Letterkenny put effort into making members aware that they can provide more assistance and give them more attention.
“People appreciate that we can take them aside if they need more time. Just simple things, like encouraging people to take a seat, helps them to feel that they are valued.”
Please note that these factsheets are for information only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such.