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
Research in 2020 by global HR and payroll firm ADP shows that over a quarter of UK workers have experienced discrimination. Worse still, over two-thirds 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.
A major study by the TUC found extremely high levels of sexual harassment (68%) were experienced by LGBT workers, with 1 in 8 LGBT women reporting serious sexual assault or rape. More worrying still is the finding that most (66%) did not report the incident to their employer for fear of being "outed" at work.
Trends in discrimination tribunals
Cases heard by a tribunal alleging disability discrimination — which covers physical or mental health — jumped by 20% to 7700 in 2020 versus 2019.
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."
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.
How to promote workplace equality & diversity
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 unintentionally, 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 (the under 25s) 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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