Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are responsible for protecting their workers from any form of harassment, discrimination, and bullying in the workplace. However, we know that workplace discrimination is still a major concern - across all industry sectors.
Key equality & diversity statistics
Across occupations in the UK, the median gender pay gap is 14.3% in favour of men, with 81% of occupations that employ over 50,000 full-time workers having a gender pay gap.
A third of UK adults feel they have been subject to discrimination in the workplace or when applying for a job. Research shows that nearly a third of minority racial and religious groups have reported discrimination in employment.
Over two-thirds of workers would feel uncomfortable raising a claim if it occurred. It seems that gender, age, and race prejudice is still commonplace in UK businesses. However, when challenged, it does result in substantial fines.
Official numbers show that there were 263,463 harassment offences recorded by the police in England and Wales in 2022/23, compared with 262,062 in the previous year.
Despite an improvement in homophobia and biphobia in the workplace, interviewees in a recent report by TUC could all easily recall recent instances of homophobia or biphobia, including many which would constitute gross misconduct. More worrying is that interviewees are still concerned about being outed by colleagues at work.
Trends in discrimination tribunals
According to an investigation into workplace discrimination, the most common forms of discrimination brought to UK employment tribunals are equal pay, age, disability and sex.
Employment law experts suggest workplace stress is driving up these claims, with individuals more willing to bring claims related to mental health issues caused by discrimination.
Clearly, workplace discrimination should never be tolerated. And with an increased focus on equality brought about by the #metoo and #timesup movements, organisations really should be doing all they can to promote equality.
"We should be willing to consider placing as much importance on protecting people’s safety and their well-being at work as we do on their data and on preventing money laundering through businesses."
How to promote workplace equality & diversity
With public bodies also having a specific Public Sector Equality Duty, companies must be proactive in providing general equality training and specific courses focussing on particular areas like sexual harassment.
1. Identify & prevent unconscious bias
We all have unconscious biases. These need to be recognised and acknowledged before they can be effectively avoided.
Take an Implicit Association Test (IAT) to become aware of your own biases. Pay particular attention to bias relating to the nine protected characteristics (e.g. age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage, pregnancy, race, religion, gender and sexual orientation) as this is discrimination.
2. Create equality, diversity & inclusion policies
Everyone should be treated fairly in all day-to-day activities and work-related decisions (recruitment, training, promotion, allocating work, pay, etc.). We should embrace people's differences, as more diverse workforces are more profitable.
Everyone must be treated fairly in all day-to-day activities and work-related decisions (recruitment, training, promotion, allocating work, pay, etc.). But we should go further still.
Diversity and Inclusion expert Verna Myers put it best, "Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance". Embrace people's differences.
3. Mind your language
Check that all your communications are free of discriminatory and sexist language. Even if unintentional, careless or sloppy language and stereotyping can create a perception of inequality and make people feel vulnerable. Don't forget to update corporate forms and documents in respect of pronouns.
4. Use objective criteria
When recruiting, training and promoting, ensure you have clear, objective criteria to ensure that you always make decisions based on merit and aren't influenced by bias. Encourage group decision-making or conduct audits if there is a concern about a particular team, manager or business unit.
5. Be proactive
Don't slavishly follow the rules if you think they are wrong, create unintentional bias or lead to some groups being treated less favourably than others. Instead, work to get them changed. If no one steps up to change the status quo, these unconscious biases will continue to dictate our workplaces.
According to The Independent, the good news is that Generation Z are twice as likely as older generations to challenge norms and promote inclusion.
"There's a new glass ceiling and it has remained unseen, but it seems Generation Z have better eyesight - they can see it [inequality] and they want to smash it."
Empower your employees to call out discriminatory behaviour or practices.
6. Get advice if needed
Your HR or Legal & Compliance departments will be able to offer sound advice on how to avoid unconscious bias or discrimination when making complex decisions, such as terminating contracts or making people redundant, to ensure that the rules are followed correctly.
7. Watch out for indirect discrimination
Make sure that your company policies don't inadvertently put certain groups at a disadvantage. For example, a requirement to be 'clean-cut' could discriminate against anyone who wears their hair long for religious reasons.
Conversely, don't pretend you have not noticed harassment by a predatory manager because "it's just banter" or "he doesn't mean anything by it". It has the potential to damage your reputation forever.
Finally, workplace equality isn't just about implementing procedures to stop workplace discrimination. That's the easy bit. We also have to actively promote equality and inclusion, ensuring people are free to focus on what matters most - making our company the best it can be.
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