Sunderland University is among organisations which have signed up to a charter to increase employers’ commitments to becoming HIV-friendly.
The university was the first to volunteer and sign up to the Positive Allies Charter Mark, designed to demonstrate that an organisation is friendly towards, and inclusive of, people living with HIV and that they are actively challenging HIV stigma.
Positive Allies is the first of its kind in the world, and the concept behind the charter was based on the results of a research project undertaken by academic Drew Dalton in 2015 called ‘Silent Scream?’.
Drew’s study highlighted what life is like in the UK for people living with HIV and the barriers they faced.
It found that those with HIV were still facing stigma within their working environments despite the introduction of the workplace Equality Act (2010).
Since its launch in April 2018, Positive Allies has signed up a variety of organisations from schools, universities and business parks, to not-for-profit organisations and small businesses, ensuring people living with HIV, as either staff or volunteers, are safe and that key staff undertake training, review policies and consider practices and resources, which demonstrate equality and openness about HIV.
Drew, who is senior lecturer in sociology at Sunderland University, said: “We have been delighted with the response across the UK since launching Positive Allies.
"Our University was the first to apply and has really set the standard, but more work needs to be done.
“While the Equalities Act (2010) added further protections to those living with HIV, many employers are still unaware that HIV is included within this legislation.
"So not only is there a moral case for organisations to achieve Positive Allies but it is also signalling to others their commitments to equality and diversity legislation.
“By everyone signing up, we can ensure that workplaces become better places for people living with HIV and to tackle some of the stigma that people continue to face today.”
One of those organisations to fully embrace the new charter is Risedale Sports and Community College in Catterick, North Yorkshire.
Principal Colin Scott said: “We are determined to ensure that all of its workforce and pupils are treated with the same dignity as each other regardless of gender, orientation, faith, culture, background or disability and to do so in such a way as to remove all stigma through prejudice to any and all people."
The Charter Mark provides a free online training course for key staff and volunteers and an HIV Staff/volunteer policy for organisations to tailor around their current policies.
Drew explained: “There are two levels to adopting the charter, and attaining either of these levels allows employers to advertise to others that they are making a conscious effort to improve the ethos of their organisation, and more importantly to reduce stigma.”
Positive Allies is maintained by Sunderland University and an adjudicating panel, to award the Charter Mark, is made up of industry experts and of people living with HIV.
Once gained, organisations can use the Positive Allies logo on their websites, letterheads and social media channels.
Justine Gillespie, human resources manager at the Sunderland University, said “We were delighted to support Drew with his project and used it as an opportunity to become an HIV friendly employer.
"With his advice we developed our HIV/AIDS staff policy, which we launched last year, and also invited Drew to carry out a number of training sessions for staff and students.
"The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive and so would encourage any employer to sign up to the principles of the Charter Mark.”