Equal Opportunities in the Workplace

Tuesday May 23, 2023

The right to be treated fairly and protected from discrimination extends from public life to the workplace. At work, it is expected that merit should be the sole value by which people are considered for employment opportunities. However, there are barriers that prevent such an ideal situation from becoming more of a reality. Taking down these barriers first requires recognising their presence, and recognition only comes from understanding the role of equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace

Equality in the workplace means everyone should be treated fairly when being considered for employment decisions, regardless of their background, lifestyle, or abilities. Achieving equality in the workplace also means identifying and removing barriers and biases that prevent marginalised groups from having equal opportunities at work.

Diversity in the workplace is the measure of differences between people at work, such as their colour, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, beliefs, and other characteristics. A diverse workplace recognises each person’s differences and the value those differences provide.

Inclusion in the workplace is respecting and appreciating the differences between people at work. By valuing everyone’s differences, everyone can feel safe to be themselves at work, and as a result, feel empowered to maximise their strengths and realise their full potential.

On a fundamental human level, it is of the utmost importance for everyone to be treated equally and be free of any discrimination, and this applies to the workplace as well. People deserve to have equal opportunity to gainful employment, and to be recognised and rewarded for their work.

Legal compliance

Equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace are protected by law primarily through the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act 2010 protects people from being directly or indirectly discriminated against for nine specific characteristics:

Direct discrimination is when a person is discriminated against because they possess any one of the nine protected characteristics, or they are perceived to possess any of the characteristics, or they are associated with anyone who possesses any of the characteristics. An employee who is passed up for promotion because of their age is an example of direct discrimination.

Indirect discrimination is when a policy, rule, or procedure that applies to all employees discriminates against a certain group of people. A company dress code that bans all religious garments or cultural hairstyles is an example of indirect discrimination.

Companies can be held legally liable for direct or indirect discrimination at work.

Benefit to business

Equality, diversity, and inclusion are good for business, and this is reflected in various ways. People want to work for a company where they can feel safe, respected, and appreciated. A workplace that promotes equality, diversity, and inclusion is one such place that attracts talent and businesses will get more interest from a wider pool of talent that can bring an assortment of useful skills if they can demonstrate this.

People will also be more incentivised to stay with a company where they feel safe, respected, and appreciated. A welcoming and supportive work atmosphere does wonders for employee retention and morale.

The positive reputation that an equal, diverse, and inclusive business has helps extend its reach to new audiences as well. Instead of limiting your market to certain demographics, you can widen your customer base with an organisation that comprises individuals who know how to cater to their groups.

What is an Equal Opportunities Policy?

Promoting equal opportunity in the workplace has to be a formal and documented initiative. You need to have an equal opportunities policy written down, so that your organisation has rules and procedures to follow.

An equal opportunities policy is a statement of commitment to achieving and maintaining fairness and fair working practices in the workplace. It also commits to eliminating unlawful discrimination, with concrete measures put in place to prevent and address direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, bullying, and victimisation.

The policy provides transparency in your processes and holds you accountable for dealing with workplace discrimination.

The policy needs to cover all aspects of employment, including but not limited to:

Although there is no legal requirement to have a written equal opportunities policy, it is best practice to have one anyway to ensure your organisation remains in compliance with the law. Formal processes provide direction in dealing with such issues, which you can then use as evidence that you have taken all the necessary steps should you face employee tribunal claims of discrimination.

How to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace

Making your workplace better for equality, diversity, and inclusion doesn’t end with words on paper for your equal opportunities policy. Here are practical actions you can do to promote fairness and address discrimination at work.

Establish pay equity

There is no other metric of fair treatment in the workplace more immediately apparent than what people are getting paid. Women in the UK are paid 14.9% less than men. Non-UK born ethnic minorities suffer a 10.4% pay penalty, while UK-born ethnic minorities suffer a 4.1% pay penalty. Use analytics to see if employees with the same roles and responsibilities are paid equally.

Mix teams

Homogeneity at work can calcify pre-conceived notions of people and limit perspectives on problem-solving. By mixing teams of people from different backgrounds, you open up new avenues of creativity. The insight and lived experiences of women, people of colour, LGBTQIA+ people, and other marginalised groups are valuable in achieving workplace equality and also help reach new audiences for your business.

Welcome feedback

You cannot claim to have an equal, diverse, and inclusive workplace when you do not listen to marginalised voices bring up their concerns and criticisms. Be ready to collect feedback on your equal opportunities policy and other processes relevant to issues of discrimination. Anonymous surveys can be useful to protect marginalised voices while getting valuable feedback.

Track and assess progress

The road to equality, diversity, and inclusion at work is a long and hard one. Discrimination is a systemic problem that is deeply rooted in social ills, and addressing it requires vigilant tracking and honest assessments of your equal opportunities policy and its measures over long periods. Make sure to include people from the marginalised groups in the process, as they are the most impacted by such issues and thus have the most relevant opinion on the matter.

Create equal opportunities in your workplace

The social justice case for equal opportunities at work, where everyone is treated fairly, serves as a strong moral foundation for the benefits of having an equal, diverse, and inclusive workplace that facilitates creativity and boosts business. Find greater success for your company when you ensure workers are acknowledged, respected, and rewarded no matter their background.

Considering the sensitivity of the subject, approaching equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace requires rigorous review that only professional HR advice can provide. Contact the HR Dept today for expert HR assistance on the matter.

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