How to create a discrimination free workplace

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Workplace equality isn’t something that is nice to have, it’s a right and a legal requirement.  In 2010 the Equality Act replaced previous pieces of legislation, like the Race Discrimination Act and the Disability Discrimination Act.  The Equality Act achieved a number of things.  Firstly, it provided employers with clear guidelines.  Secondly, it brought clarity and consistently and finally, updated the law to increase its scope and better reflect society as a whole.

The Equality Act contains 9 protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

The importance of diversity

Modern Britain is a very diverse place and this is reflected in the workplace.  People of different sexes, ethnic groups and ages all mix in our companies. Employers who are able to embrace this range of opinions, experiences and knowledge find themselves better equipped to compete in the modern market.

Diversity makes good business sense.  People still buy from people and it’s likely that your customers are highly diverse in their makeup and culture.  By embracing diversity, you are better able to reflect your customers values and experiences in your own organisation – leading to stronger working relationships.  Additionally, you tap in to a wide and exciting knowledge and talent pool.  Ideas and creativity come from a wide range of experiences and this can benefit your business enormously.

The impact of discrimination

No-one wants to feel that they are not respected or worth less than the people around them, whether that is financial or through their treatment.  We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.  Bullying, harassment and discrimination are not acceptable.  The impact of discrimination can be felt in many ways.  The legal costs of discrimination cases, tribunals and compensation are the most obvious considerations.  These could run in to thousands of pounds and every business wants to avoid this happening to them. 

There’s also the operating impact.  An employee who finds themselves being discriminated against is not going to perform at their best and if that discrimination spreads to multiple employees, its impact increases.  Happy, accepted and respected employees will repay you with energy, engagement and effort. 

Identifying discrimination

By the time a member of staff is making a complaint about discrimination, it could be too late to do anything about it.  Knowing how to spot discrimination that exists through either your businesses behaviour, documentation or policies is the only way to deal with it at source. 

Make sure that your policies and working practices are brought up-to-date that everyone in the business is schooled in these policies.  Monitor your workplace and ensure that people are communicating effectively and that everyone is being treated fairly.  Monitor your leavers and their reasons for resignation and look for similarities and pinch points. 

Develop your knowledge

Understanding the Equality Act, the protected characteristics and how to avoid harassment and workplace characteristics are essential management skills.  EEF offers a one-day Embracing diversity in the workplace training course.  This course teaches delegates how to spot the signs of discrimination, how to deal with and manage complaints and the appropriate action to take.  

Blog Author: Alison Valente, L&D Consultant - HR and Legal specialist

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