How to Support Staff and Volunteers

This section relates to understanding your own rights of disclosing and sharing lived experience of your protected characteristic(s), as well as guidance in how to best support someone when they disclose a protected characteristic to you or share their lived experience with you.

Knowing your rights in terms of disclosure

It is a choice as to whether you would like to disclose your protected characteristic to anyone. Whether that is your age, sex/gender, disability status, trans identity, marital/civil partnership status, pregnancy, ethnicity, religion/belief, or sexual orientation. 

If you do wish to disclose any protected characteristic, whether that be to share your lived experience, or to ask for reasonable adjustments / requests, we recommend that you feel comfortable to do so.

You are protected by law from discrimination on your protected characteristic. For more information on this, please read Protected Characteristics.

However, to gain access to requests or reasonable adjustments, disclosure is important so that requests / reasonable adjustments can be made. For example…

  • Disability: if you have a disability, you may need reasonable adjustments to be equal to your colleagues in working.
  • Religion/belief: if you follow a religion/belief and celebrate certain holidays and traditions on those holidays, it is advisable to share this with your team so that adjustments can be made, and the team can accommodate.
  • Trans/non-binary/non-gender conforming: if you disclose your pronouns, your team members will be able to address you in your correct pronouns. Also, if you are undergoing surgery, adjustments can be made.
  • Pregnancy/maternity/paternity/miscarriage/carer: if you are pregnant, you will be able to get accommodations made for doctor’s appointments and adjustments made including maternity leave. Also, when you are to come back to work breastfeeding facilities can be put in place for you. If you are an adoptive parent, you are covered under maternity leave for the same entitlement of leave. Although paternity, miscarriage, and carers are not a protected characteristic, your place of work may have policies on this, so that accommodations can be made.

If you are unsure of your rights, please read Discrimination – your rights.

How and Where to Record Disclosure

When someone discloses personal information to you, it can be difficult to know what to do next at managerial level, colleague level, and at volunteer level. At all levels, we recommend that that you read and implement CEMVO Scotland’s Diversity Data & Collection and Analysis Toolkit. It has ample guidance and steps in what to do in multiple situations including where you should store data, how it is shared etc. Make Your Mark also has a section on Volunteer Needs that shares great insights on things to consider with volunteer access needs. All of these are particularly important if you do not have a HR department and wear many hats, so that it is easy to trace your steps and follow GDPR.

Most importantly, when someone discloses to you, follow these steps:

  1. Actively listen to what the person is telling you. If you are a line manager, ask if you can take notes.
  2. Empathise. A lot of protected characteristics and other personal barriers can be difficult for the person to disclose, so it takes a lot of courage and trust to share with you. Try and understand how it might feel for the person disclosing.
  3. Accept. This is vitally important. If someone has disclosed information, accept the information shared with you. If you don’t understand or want further clarification, gently ask for information. For example, “you mentioned X, can you explain that further for me? I’m not sure whether I understand X, can you repeat please”.
  4. Apply. This last point only applies to those who are requesting adjustments. For example, reasonable adjustments, flexible adjustments to working patterns to fit around childcare and caring duties, prayer etc.

Dos and Don’ts when someone discloses to you

As cited in the Neurodiversity Resource Hub, please see recommendations of how to respond when someone discloses to you.


  • Judge the person’s disclosed disability/condition, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and religion/belief. This means not seeing their protected characteristic as good or bad, it is just a fact about that person. 
  • Make assumptions based on the person’s disclosed protected characteristic or assume that you know more about it than they do. For example, telling the person what they should be doing/how they should be feeling. The person is the expert of their own lived experience. 
  • Be dismissive of the person’s disclosure. For example, using phrases such as “you could be worse off”, “are you sure you have/are X?”, or “at least you don’t have X, that would be bad”. These phrases can invalidate/negate/deny the person’s lived experience and/or can express disbelief in what the person has said/shared. 
  • Compare the person to being “normal” by using phrases such as “you don’t seem like you have/are X”, “you seem so normal”, “you don’t look like you have/are X”, “I would never have thought that you have/are X!”. These can be very damaging to the person who has made the disclosure as these phrases suggest that it is a negative thing to have/be X.  
  • Invalidate the person’s lived experience by saying that everyone has the same lived experience(s). For example, using phrases such as “everyone is like that / has experienced that”, “this is woke”, “we’re all a little bit [insert disability/sexual orientation]”, “I’m sure it is not meant to be taken in that way”. This undermines the person’s lived experience and makes the person think you are not taking them seriously. 
  • Deny/ignore labels/personal identifiers of a protected characteristic by using phrases such as “I don’t believe in labels, we’re all unique”, “I don’t see colour”, and/or “everyone wants a label these days”. Although we are all unique, many people use labels/personal identifiers to better explain their lived experience, and in some cases to be granted reasonable adjustments. Thus, using phrases such as the above rejects the person’s lived experience and barriers/difficulties that person has had and continues to face in life.  


  • Ensure safety for the person disclosing. This means keeping the disclosure of a protected characteristic private and confidential and offering a space which is accepting of diversity. 
    Also using phrases such as “this is a safe space to talk”, “everything here will be kept confidential, and if you require reasonable adjustments, HR / Occupational Health will keep your information confidential too”, can help with creating this kind of environment. 
  • Acknowledge the truth of the disclosure and take it as a matter of fact about that person, just as much as anything else about them (e.g., that they have green eyes, that they are an Engagement Officer/Campaign Coordinator/HR personnel etc.). This is important as it will enable you to look at the situation objectively. 
  • Respond to someone’s disclosure in a measured and understanding way. Try and think of how it might be difficult for that person to disclose and how you can best support the person.  
  • Actively listen to the person disclosing. This is vitally important. If you need to take notes to make sure that you understand what the person has said, ask the person before you write things down and explain your reasons for taking notes. 
  • If applicable, provide reasonable adjustments if you are the person’s line manager. If you are a colleague/peer, be open to making changes based on what the other person needs. It takes courage for that person to specify their needs, therefore giving the person their reasonable adjustments will ease their worries and optimise their working environment.  

How to support your staff / volunteers and what to implement in your workplace

We highly recommend that you read the Inclusive Recruitment and Working Culture section of this hub.

Our member organisations have brilliant examples of how they’ve shown this in their work:

Working for the National Trust for Scotland resource

The Ramblers – Values

Soil Association – Our workplace culture and benefits

Once you have your values embedded, it’s time to think about how you as an organisation can support your staff, especially those with protected characteristics. For example…

  • Disability: have you asked about reasonable adjustments? Have they been implemented?
  • Age: do some age groups need more support? For example, older demographic with technology or younger demographic in policy and strategic planning? Have you made considerations in terms of menopause in the workplace?
  • Gender reassignment / trans / non-binary / gender non-conforming: have you asked about toilet facilities? Are the person’s pronouns correctly used?
  • Pregnancy / maternity / paternity / miscarriage / carers: do you have a pregnancy/maternity policy, and does it include paternity, adoptive parents, miscarriage, and carers within it? Do you have breastfeeding facilities?
  • Race / ethnicity: are you an anti-racist organisation and do you have a zero-tolerance stance to racism?
  • Religion / belief: do you have an understanding of different religions and beliefs including religious holidays?
  • Sex / gender: have you looked into the gender pay gap? Do you have appropriate facilities (e.g., sanitary bins)? Do you have a policy on harassment?
  • Sexual orientation: do you have a zero-tolerance stance to homophobia and understanding of different sexual identities?

We also recommend reading ACAS on Holiday, Sickness and Leave, Health and Wellbeing and Dealing with Problems at Work.

Please also see the support section below.

Support for You

If you are a member of staff or volunteer who has a protected characteristic, it is important for you to find support from trusted colleagues/peers. This will better support your mental health and overall working efficiency. In finding your support network, Jen White-Johnson recommends asking “who are the people that I feel safe around and supported by who enable me to be my authentic self?”. Once you have name(s), try and keep in frequent contact with those people, even if it’s a quick chat once a week! 

We are in the process of setting up a support/networking EDI pilot project with CEMVO Scotland; Scottish Environment EDI Network (SEEN).  The aim is to have a Scottish environment sector-wide dialogue around equality, diversity and inclusion.  We hope in sharing information, events and areas of good practice this will support us all on our EDI journey.  The project will run for 12 months with bi-monthly meetings and be directed by your needs and aspirations wherever possible.  Please contact Leigh if you are interested in joining

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