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Published: July 26, 2016

Diverse, Inclusive and Safe

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The following blog by Richard Chapman-Harris raises a key consideration for humanitarian organisations operating in high-risk countries: What does equality, diversity and inclusion mean for security risk management?

Do they relate? Do they contradict each other? In his blog, Richard shares some key steps that organisations can take to be more inclusive and diverse while still ensuring staff security.

European Union legislation prevents employers from asking questions related to candidates’ sexual orientation, ethnicity and disabilities (among other ‘protected characteristics’) during the recruitment process. As humanitarian organisations strongly working towards equality through our work, we can sometimes be reluctant within the sector to discuss the fact that, as staff, we are all different in age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

However, from a security risk management perspective different profiles possess distinct vulnerabilities in certain contexts.

How can organisations protect their staff, respect employees’ right to privacy according to European Union legislation, and at the same time ensure that they create an enabling environment for staff of differing profiles to work in the humanitarian sector?

In the coming months, the GISF will be producing a research paper that will discuss and attempt to answer some of the questions raised above. Please contact Adelicia (eisf-research@eisf.helpful.ws) if you have any questions or would like to discuss this topic further.


Diverse, Inclusive and Safe


Richard Chapman-Harris works for Mott MacDonald, a global management, engineering and development consultancy firm which works in 150 countries. Richard is a leading equality, diversity and inclusion specialist with a wealth of experience across the public, private and charity sectors. Shortlisted as Diversity Champion of the Year with the European Diversity Awards, Richard has also been listed in The Economist’s Global list of Top 50 Diversity Professionals in Industry.

Richard was a key contributor to the GISF and RedR workshop ‘Inclusion and Security of LGBTI Aid Workers’, which took place in January 2016. Richard also attended the GISF forum in Brussels in March 2016 to brief GISF members on the corporate approach to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.


As an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) practitioner, I often operate in countries where there is clear equality legislation and where some organisations take proactive steps to engage all their staff through EDI initiatives. But what of humanitarian organisations that work in countries where there is no clear equality legislation? What about countries like South Sudan, where a staff’s personal profile can have serious implications for that individual’s security and the organisation’s operations and security risk management?

In my everyday working world, EDI is understood as a business imperative, beyond a ‘nice thing to do’. Some businesses even go as far as asking their suppliers and clients what they do to support EDI, with several making decisions to work with suppliers and clients based on the responses they receive. No business wants to be associated with a client or supplier that is found guilty of institutionalised racism or that has a culture of sexual harassment. However, it is difficult for humanitarian organisations operating in war zones or responding to a natural disaster to be as concerned with whether the supplier of their mosquito nets has a diversity policy, or if the companies providing vital medication have a 50:50 gender split of lab technicians.

Within humanitarian organisations themselves, the diverse profiles of staff can affect these individuals’ risk profile and present both challenges and opportunities in relation to their safety and security. There are three key steps that GISF members, and non-governmental organisations in general, can take at this relatively early point in their EDI journey to capitalise on the security risk management benefits of greater diversity and inclusion:


Produce an equality, diversity and inclusion policy/guidance document,

or even a clear statement that says you value diversity and make every effort to create a safe and inclusive environment for your staff and service users/community groups. Your EDI document should highlight what is important to your organisation: what is the culture you have or are trying to create? Do you have challenges in recruiting, retaining or progressing people with certain profiles? Are staff in your organisation relatively similar in background as well as diversity profiles, i.e. race, gender, disability, etc.?

I would advise that you link your EDI policy to your organisational values or charity’s mandate; iterate what your organisation is about and how EDI is linked to that mandate. When I worked with the British Transport Police we often described EDI as the ‘golden thread’, which was woven throughout everything the force did. Every operation, policy and process had to be ‘equality impact assessed’ (EIA) to ensure there was no disproportionate – and often unintended – impact on staff or community groups, whether these were majority or minority groups. This links to my second suggestion:


Include EDI in your risk assessments and pre-departure briefings.

This was one reason for my support of the GISF forum in Brussels in March 2016, because identifying the risks and opportunities for staff with diverse profiles will not only improve staff security, but it will also improve your staff’s overall experience, especially out in the field.

A reflection from the GISF forum was that there are several mechanisms in place that can be augmented to include EDI without having to create any new processes. An example I valued from the GISF’s January workshop related to this topic was that staff should be spoken to or asked about personal relationships, as these can have an impact on their safety and well-being. Based on risk assessments of specific locations, there could be guidance to avoid personal or intimate relationships that may impact personal or programme security. This should apply to heterosexual staff as much as lesbian, gay and bisexual aid workers. Are there certain locations where your organisation would advise you not to go for security reasons if you had a certain profile? For example, if the location were a potential terrorist target, an area used by sex workers, or a known ‘gay bar’ which could be raided?

These questions are about assessing the risk to your staff and being explicit about supporting their diversity and how this too may impact their security. When creating these questions or guidance documents please be aware that it is the diversity of your people that will help inform the key questions to ask. A sighted staff member will find it hard to advise on best practice for a blind humanitarian policy advisor, while a heterosexual white man may not understand the challenges an Asian lesbian logistician may face.


And finally, explore EDI in your context and get to know the landscape better.

You will know your organisation better than an EDI specialist like me but I’m pretty sure I know a few challenges you may be facing without even having to ask because they are unfortunately very common. Your senior teams will be mostly male and white, and perhaps older than most other staff members. You will have few, if any, staff with visible disabilities and perhaps even fewer staff who are openly LGBT. If you look into your data you will have a point in the organisation’s hierarchical structure where women leave at a higher rate than their male peers and also a ‘glass ceiling’ where women are not progressing higher than certain grades, although there may be one or two, perhaps in Finance and HR.

This is not based on my own assumptions, but rather is reflected in data captured by several studies and organisations – see findings from McKinsey’s Diversity Matters research and findings from my previous employer Business in the Community. Think about the impact of these challenges on the security and well-being of staff both in the field and at headquarters level.


I was thrilled to be invited by the GISF to their forum in March. The work that GISF members do is inspirational to me, and ensuring the security and safety of humanitarian aid workers is obviously highest on their list of priorities. But feeling equal and included is also a key concern for every staff member and a serious issue for humanitarian organisations to consider as part of their security risk management plans.


Useful Resources:


EISF and RedR UK Report: Inclusion and Security of LGBTI Aid Workers, RedR, 22nd January 2016, http://www.redr.org.uk/filemanager/root/site_assets/new_website/publications/lgbti_final_report_formatted_-_external.pdf

Why diversity matters, McKinsey and Company, January 2015, http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters

Women and Work: The Facts, Business In the Community, undated, http://gender.bitc.org.uk/all-resources/factsheets/women-and-work-facts

Arc International is great place to go for information on advocating for LGBT human rights issues at the UN.

ILGA-Europe and ILGA-World provide comprehensive maps and reports on LGBT laws worldwide.

Stonewall resources available at: http://www.stonewall.org.uk, @stonewalluk and via e-mail: international@stonewall.org.uk.

TGEU provides more detailed maps and reports on the legal situation for trans people around the world, including transphobic hate crimes.

The Institute of Development Studies has this useful toolkit on sexual rights and social justice around the world.

The United Nation’s ‘Free & Equal Campaign’ is the first UN public campaign to address LGBT rights issues.



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