How we can break down barriers to PCS activity

PCS has a proud tradition of putting equality at the heart of everything we do, yet at many levels of the union many equality groups are under-represented in union roles – from branch right up to national level.

To try to change this, we need to look at what the barriers are to under-represented groups getting involved, and what we can all do to help to tackle them.

Delegates to this year’s PCS Annual Delegate Conference ensured that motion A18 became union policy, which calls for discussions in the union to win support for changes to the union’s structures and rules.  Importantly this includes having at least 50% of the ordinary NEC seats filled by women candidates.  The motion also calls for work to be done on implementing the suggestions for breaking down barriers that were made by branches in the last consultation.

Those barriers include (see below for more details):

  • Reps holding onto roles
  • Lack of time
  • Childcare needs
  • Adjustments for disabilities
  • Lack of confidence/skills


PCS has active equality groups in the following areas:
Black members
Disabled members
LGBT+ members
Young members

National and regional forums and committees are set up to discuss relevant issues and to look at under-representation, but the structures can often seem too complicated or over bureaucratic and be off-putting for some members.

PCS runs seminars for each of the equality areas. All seminars – which are being held in Bristol this year – include workshops, guest speakers, and networking opportunities on the issues important, and/or unique, to the relevant area.

The union has some great role models from all the equality groups that we need to use more when celebrating our successes. By addressing the barriers, publicising our achievements and providing training and support, we can improve our diversity of representation across the board.


What can we, as activists, do to try to overcome barriers?
• Reps holding onto roles
Most PCS equality seminars are over-subscribed, but many members return to their branches enthused, only to hit a brick wall in their branch, group or region.

There needs to be better succession-planning so these new, enthusiastic members can get involved. Many reps have held the same roles for years, or hold multiple rolls that they’re reluctant to give up.

Every rep needs to look at the roles they hold and think – ‘can I give something up, or mentor someone to take on this role, particularly someone from an under-represented group?’

• Lack of time
One of the key barriers to involvement for many is lack of time. We need to look at who wants to get involved, what they can contribute (however small), what skills they have, what training is available, and what structures we have in place already.

The union Advocate role is a good place to start, where new interested members can do as much or as little as they feel able. We offer bite-sized training and Advocates can be mentored by existing reps.

Regional and national equality networks are also good ways to get under-represented groups involved. We need to look at when and where meetings are held, and use digital technology so members don’t always have to travel to attend.

• Childcare needs
Childcare is an issue, particularly for women members. At the recent women’s seminar in Bristol, two women took their children and used the PCS crèche. They were really impressed with the facilities that enabled them to fully participate.

Sarah Morton from DWP said: “I've attended two PCS events and used the Nipperbout Creche and I couldn't recommend them highly enough. Childcare can be an obstacle for many parents who want to attend union events but it doesn't have to be. My son has ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and [the creche] asked me for details of his interests and tried to incorporate that into the programme, and he has really enjoyed it both times.”

Megan McQuade from HMRC said: “I recently attended the Women’s Seminar in Bristol and if it wasn’t for the crèche availability, I wouldn’t have been able to go. They were fantastic with my children. They made sure that they made the most of their time there, taking them on trips, all while being educational.”

• Adjustment for disabilities
Reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities is crucial to getting members involved. Signers can be provided (eg excellent signers are used at national conference), hearing loops, materials produced in Braille, and other disabilities can be catered for.

• Lack of confidence/skills
The new PCS Academy has all kinds of courses from bitesize up to 6 days, to help address a lack of confidence and/or skills. Some are run locally and regionally, with others being residential (with childcare facilities), and we are also looking to introduce a mentoring programme.  


Equality, including networks, forums and seminars:

Equality events calendar:

PCS Academy course overview:

PCS Advocate role:


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