Equality in the Workplace Created By Adam Anderson

What is Equality & Diversity.

Equality is a term that businesses and individuals need to take into account due to increasing changes in legislation. Equality is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the state of being
equal, especially in status, rights or opportunities” (2010) academically, it can be defined as “equality is about creating a fairer society, where everybody can participate and has the opportunity to fulfil their potential” (Department of Health, 2004). Definitions of equality seem very vague; giving no indicators of how and why things should be equal. However once equality is linked to a purpose/situation such as diversity in the workplace the reasoning behind it becomes much clearer.
A simple meaning of diversity can be seen in the picture on the left, it pretty much sums up what academic definitions are getting at. Academically, diversity can be defined as “seeing the differences, distinctions, and dividing lines of others with a soft gaze but with a clear vision” (Johnson, 2010). ‘Seeing the differences’ refers to groups in which may be targeted as differences exist. Here are a few: Gender, race, age, religion, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, appearance, mental and physical disabilities ( Esty, 1995). When referring back to ‘soft gaze’ from the definition it’s just a fancy way of saying that we should see others ‘without judgement’. It’s in human nature to judge people, whether you would admit it or not. However when applied to diversity in the workplace businesses have to think whether judging will serve a legitimate purpose or get them in trouble. Judgement may refer to stereotypes of specific groups such as race or gender and employers and individuals need to not judge a book by its cover so to speak.


Equality in the workplace takes the previously defined terms and applies it to that of a business situation. Equality in the workplace can be defined as the equal treatment of employees or future employees that posses similar qualifications and cannot be discriminated against in all aforementioned areas. The new change in legislation has led businesses to re-think their management and employability styles to enable equal opportunity to everybody regardless of who they are. Due to new legislation, managers and human resource teams have had to tread carefully when job openings arise. Discrimination against groups previously mentioned cannot arise, although this is the case discrimination against some groups are still slightly present. Discrimination can be defined as treating someone different Discrimination in the workplace occurs when an employee/employer treats another employee or employee to be in a favourable or discriminative manner.


Legislation That Make Up the Equality Act (2010)

Equal Pay Act

Womens_rights.jpgThe Equal pay act was the first kind of legislation that promoted equality in the workplace between men and women. It was introduced in 1970 however it didn’t pass until 1975. The reasoning behind the act was to identify and remove the unjustifiable differences between the male and female inequality. This involved equal pay rates for men and women who were in the same line of work and various other conditions of employment. In 1983 the act was amended to specify three circumstances in which men and women should be equal.

Sex Discrimination Act

genderequality.jpgThe sex discrimination act was introduced in 1975 and the aim of the act was to reduce discrimination that occurs between men and women in the workplace. The act made it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the grounds of gender or relationship status. For example not hiring a woman because she is married, the employer may believe she’s likely to have children therefore may not be able to work the hours they want. (Parliament, 1975)

Race Relations Act

The Race relations act was introduced in 1976 and was bought into place by the parliament of the United Kingdom. The acts sole purpose was to prevent discrimination on the grounds of race. The act states it protects individuals and groups on the grounds of race, colour of skin, nationality, the availability of goods and services, fields of employment and public functions. The act incorporates previous versions to allow one act to be used for the manner.

Disability Discrimination Act

The act was introduced in 1995 and is in place within the United Kingdom and replaced the old ‘1944 Disabled Persons Working Act’ as it was widely accused of being ineffective as only eight prosecutions took place in this fifty year existence. ( Torrington, 2005) The act makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against those with a disability. It encourages businesses to provide however the act states that if the disability, whether physical or mental drastically reduces the performance in which the job could be carried out then the law doesn’t cover this. ( Parliament, 1995)


crest_tcm31-194260.jpgThe Equality Act (2010)

The equality act of 2010 combines all other acts of equality and discrimination laws into a single act. In fact it’s brought together over 116 separate pieces of legislation. Primarily, The Equal Pay Act 1970, Sex Discrimination Act 975, Race Relations Act 1976, Disability Discrimination Act and various other smaller acts that protect discrimination against grounds of age, The new act provides discriminatory laws with a legal framework that will protect the rights of individuals from discrimination and unfair treatment and pushes that everybody should have equal opportunities. It will also mean individuals/organisations/employers can be more aware of the arising issues in equality by removing inconsistencies playing all policies relevant to their business in a single document.

Key Terms From Equality Act ( 2010) & How Business’s Are Effected With (New )Change

The equalities act 2010 is something that every business needs to take into consideration when targeting new or current employees. The act states that it doesn’t matter how large the organisation is, what sector of work you are in, whether you have few workers or thousands of workers and finally, whether or not the organisation uses formal processes or forms to help inform decisions, you still have to follow the laws from the act. When the act was first implemented it was predicted that it could have a net cost to the businesses in Britain of over £189 Million and a net annual recurring cost of £3.56 (Roper, 2010).
Most people understand direct discrimination and identify this as the only discrimination factor however there are two as recognised by employment laws in the UK. There are two methods of contact in which discrimination can occur, direct and indirect. In addition to these are also various others, five to be precise, however these cover ways in which people can be discriminated against, all of which will be looked at briefly.

The table above shows the changes that have been implemented in the new 2010 Equality Act. Below I have included what each point means and included some examples/case studies.


Direct discrimination occurs when an employer treats somebody unfavourably due to the direct fact that they are different, factors that could affect this could be gender, marital status or other factors previously mentioned in the diversity section. An example of direct discrimination could be a manager refusing to hire a male worker to be a secretary as they think the job should be done by a woman (Torrington, 2009). An example of direct discrimination could be the theory that men and women get paid differently. The majority of people believe men get paid more than woman; somehow this is still the case even with the new equality act. Evidence shows however that since the equality act of 2010 was introduced that woman’s play rates are slowly closing that gap between males. Statistics show
The Average women’s wage has increased by 7.6% in the last decade and 2% since the implementation of the 2010 equality act. ‘Women earned 82.8% of the median weekly wage of men in the second quarter of 2010, up from 76.1% for the same period a decade ago and the highest ever recorded, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports’ . ( Cauchion, 2010). That 2% may not seem like a lot but for business’s it could be a huge cost as wages are often the highest expenditure for the firm. The Media is still aware of the situation and is still trying to promote equal rights for women.


Indirect discrimination could occur unintentionally and can be defined as ‘the effect of certain requirements, conditions or practices imposed by an employer has an adverse impact disproportionally on one group or other’ (Compact Law). Indirect discrimination can be relatively confusing however using examples it’s easy to understand. For example if a modelling firm states that they are looking for people 5ft 10 and over then this limits the results as proportionally few woman are over this height, therefore indirectly affecting the application results. (Martocchio, 2004) (Torrinngton, 2009).

Disability Discrimination

This occurs when you treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability and you cannot show that what you are doing is objectively justified. This would only apply if you know or could reasonably be expected to know that the person is disabled. Furthermore, new laws within the Equality Act State that it is now unlawful, except in certain circumstances, for employers to ask about a job applicant’s health or disability prior to offering them the job in order to afford better access to employment for the disabled. For example whilst in an interview an employer can’t ask about any possible health conditions unless they have previously been acknowledged of the disability or health condition.

Discrimination by Association

This is when an employer or employee treats a person wrongly or differently to that of others because they believe they are associated with a person that could affect the work rate. An example of this could be refusing to hire a woman as she is a part time carer for her husband who is wheelchair bound. ( check out the link below which provides a a very cool flash game, click on the ginger one for an another example of discrimination by association. the boss doesnt want his employees getting involved with the victim)

Discrimination By Perception

Discrimination by perception can occur if an employee or manager incorrectly assumes the person is trouble due to stereotypical attributes, for example a manager wrongly refusing to serve a man who they assume is gay and wants nothing to do with him. In this situation it’s likely that the man has been unlawfully discriminated against because of his sexual orientation. http://www.healthyworkinguk.co.uk/uploads/resources/resources/ID_OCC_01_003/d/ELFH_Session/325/new_3.html


Victimisation is when: ‘An employer victimises workers if it disadvantages them in any way simply because they have sought to exercise their legal rights or have assisted others in doing so’. (Torrington, 2009). This basically means that you treat a person wrongly due to complaints they have made about discrimination, in addition this can also occur is somebody is complaining about discrimination on somebody’s behalf. (Torrington, 2008) For example a customer complains that a member of staff told her that she was not allowed to breastfeed her baby in the shop. Because she has complained, the shop tells her that she is now barred altogether. This is almost certainly victimisation.


12824.jpgHarassment can be defined as physical or vocal abuse to individuals or groups that is humiliating and could cause a unfriendly working environment. ‘Typical examples of harassment include derogatory comments about a person's age or excluding/ignoring a person on the basis of their age. Harassment may not necessarily be targeted at an individual or individuals; for example, an office culture of telling and tolerating 'ageist' jokes may qualify as harassment.’ (Jones, 2011). Sexual harassment is the most obvious form of harassment this occurs when one employee or employer treats another employee differently due to their gender. Sexual harassment can be both unwanted physical contact and even verbal in nature (Torrington, 2005) is a ‘uk based organisation that aims to promote and protect the fairness of work opportunities for all regardless of ethnicity or gender’ (Searle, 2003). Recently harassment has sprung up in the news; the Prime Minister will sign up to the council of Europe’s convention against women to cut harassment to woman from employees to members of the public (Hill, 2012) Stalking has now become a criminal offence as of 9th March, ‘Wolf Whistling’ or ‘Cat Calling’ as also been encouraged by many including Home secretary Theresa May do become unlawful as "We think wolf whistling is part of the culture of people thinking women's bodies are public property and I don't think that's acceptable. Previous to this, Builders in the workplace have had to agree to the considerate construction code to help prevent actions such as verbal sexual harassment; numerous complaints were made against the construction society. ‘We think wolf whistling is part of the culture of people thinking women's bodies are public property and I don't think that's acceptable.’ ( Hill, 2012) However Walden’s evidence suggests that women like her like to be wolf whistled as they take it as a complement and didn’t see it as harassment from builders and were upset to see that it was against the considerate construction code (Walden, 2008). This didn’t really affect business it just enabled passersby to feel more comfortable knowing that the builders can’t say anything.

Pay Secrecy

One of the new additions to the act could have large effects on businesses. The Act stops employers from preventing employees discussing and comparing their pay, making terms of the contract of employment relating to pay secrecy unenforceable. This new policy has meant that employees can now discuss pay rates with each other. For businesses and employers this has meant that if workers identify pay differences they are likely to be confronted, in which they must be able to explain the reason for the difference in pay rates or they could be likely to pay a fine. However Insight (2010) state ‘many employees simply do not wish to share such private information with colleagues’. Research showed that employees who weren’t subject to pay secretly preferred not to share the information with fellow employees due to personal security and cultural factors. So it seems that the new implementation of the pay secrecy policy could have mixed effects. Let’s put this theory into perspective. If a man working at Sainsbury’s decides to share his wage rate with other members of staff, in which then realising he’s being underpaid relative to other workers, the worker could confront the manager to ask reasons why, if the manager can’t provide a legal reason then the manager is in the wrong and the employees wage rate should be sorted out otherwise a court order could occur. On the other hand if the same man decided not to share his wage rate due to the fact that he believed to be personal information, then he would have never had found out and the manager couldn’t be prosecuted.

Gender Equality

Gender equality has been discussed and analysed over the years and it has recently been a focus on gender equality in the workplace. Numerous statistics revealed the inequality in the workplace and employees and managers started to look for strategies and change management techniques to achieve gender equality in the organisations. In 2007 Gender Equality Duty (GED) was introduced by Equal Opportunities Commission which affected all public bodies in the country. ‘GEDgender_equality.png
presents an opportunity for gender to be considered in all areas of policy making. The duty requires more than simply the equal treatment for men and women. Public bodies must promote and take action to bring about gender equality, which involves looking at issues for men and women, understanding why inequalities exist and how to overcome them, creating effective service provision for all, so that everyone can access services that meet their needs’ (Local Government improvement and development, 2009). Therefore, from 2007 all local authorities were obliged to produce a Gender Equality Scheme (GES). It needs to be developed with the help of the employees, service users and others such as trade unions. GES includes information of how gender inequality affects relevant policies and practices in the organisation and any gender pay gaps. ‘It should be a catalyst for real change in the way that public sector organisations think about their work, and the way that public policy and public services are designed and delivered’ (Watson, 2006). For example, The London Borough of Waltham Forest has developed a GES and in this way promoted gender equality for both men and women. First of all, they researched the legislation and the requirements. Waltham Forest’s GES focused on equal pay, improving women’s safety, promoting men’s and women’s involvement and participation in decision making and supporting parents and careers in the workforce. After finalising their GES Waltham Forest has improved their gender equality and gained much more information on the issues that both males and females are facing in the workplace.

Legislation has been changed in order to achieve gender equality in the workplace but actually managing it in the organisations has become a great challenge. As a result, there were some projects developed to improve this task of managing equality and provide recommendations and advice for the organisations. In 1999 the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions approved a research project ‘Promoting gender equality in the workplace’. The main aim was to ‘analyse the impact of human resource management on equal opportunities (here referring to gender) at corporate level’ (Olgiati and Shapiro, 2002). In order to achieve gender equality five fields need to be considered: economic life (difference between male and female income), equal participation and representation, social rights, civil life, gender roles and stereotypes. The project emphasised that ‘equality plans’ (a plan that incorporates equality perspective into all companies policies) should be developed. 21 case studies from 7 countries were examined in the project. The research could be divided into deconstructing approaches to gender equality in the workplace in which case studies were analysed in depth. The case studies were analysed by the motives and influences affecting gender equality action, the content, the process for implementing and the result of equality action. The other part of research provides recommendations based on case studies analysed about working towards sustainable gender equality in the workplace in which blocks that could prevent an organisation to sustain equality in the workplace, different challenges and choices that are going to be faced in developing equality are identified.
Report concludes that change management is a great challenge to the organisations and that such complex change needs to be supported by planned and detailed change management process. In order to achieve the objective and implement sustainable gender equality in the workplace an organisation needs to include these elements (Olgiati and Shapiro, 2002):
  • Monitoring (important for organisational learning)
  • Embedding equality in an innovative human resource management approach so that all activities and areas of the organisation are covered
  • Addressing organisational culture and behaviour
  • Through social partnership, involving all the actors in the organisation
  • Embedding equality in other organisational change strategies

Furthermore, there have been tools developed which are created for the purpose of helping people to determine if there is gender inequality in their workplace. These tools can provide information about their rights that have been improved over the years. Internet site Business Link is offering an online tool which helps in assessing the gender equality performance in an organisation. ‘This tool will help you identify where your working practices could be changed to ensure that men and women are treated fairly and have equal opportunities in your business’ (Business Link, 2012). In order to get the assessment a person needs to answer a relatively short questionnaire based on recruitment practices, training and development, work – life balance and written equality policies in the organisation. At the end of questionnaire you receive information on all of these areas, links to documents that refer to the rights and policies that need to be met in the organisation and advice on how to achieve gender equality. All of this can be saved and printed out as a PDF document file and be shown to the managers in the organisation.
Gender equality in the workplace is definitely a big issue in achieving equality in the workplace altogether. Therefore, the management of this issue is essential. Knowing and analysing the legislation as well as promoting the gender equality in the organisations is a good starting point to achieve sustainable gender equality.

Managing equality

Managing gender equality and the concept of the 'glass ceiling'

What is the ‘glass ceiling’?

Wirth (2001) describes the ‘glass ceiling’ as a term that clarifies the fact that often there is no objective reason as to why women do not rise to the top of organisations as men do.Although no objective reasons stop women gaining top-level managerial roles discriminative structures and processes within society do pose a threat. The ‘glass-ceiling’ problem can occur at any level of management depending on the organisation.

Wirth (2001) recognises two issues that surround women progressing into top-level management. Firstly the career path (chosen or imposed) on women has a significant impact on their abilities to progress into management, many taking roles in non-strategic departments, which will never lead to promotion. Secondly the difficulty of balancing home and work life, especially when children are involved.

Despite a number of societal changes, for example, choosing to marry later, developing formal education and government law enforcement, the rate at which women are progressing into management is slow. This suggests that there are other, somewhat unseen forces at work restricting the development of women’s careers.

What are the connections between the Equality Act 2010 and the ‘glass ceiling’ concept?
The Equality Act 2010 contains the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, offering guidance for both management and employees on how to ensure gender equality within the workplace.

This is a summary of the guidance provided surrounding employment.

A number of topics are covered by this Act, those that closely related to, and are in place to avoid the ‘glass ceiling’ problem are: career development, working hours (flexibility) and management issues (dress code and breastfeeding).

Career development:
This section highlights the need for equal opportunities in terms of training and promotion, in particular avoiding discrimination against pregnant women.

‘Employers must not stop someone doing training because they are pregnant, on maternity leave or due to take maternity leave…’ Equality Act Summary (2010: 18).

‘An employer must not deny someone promotion opportunities because they are pregnant…employers should tell women about promotion opportunities when they are on maternity leave.’ Equality Act Summary (2010:19).

Working hours:
This section relates to flexible working hours under a number of circumstances, however those most closely related to the ‘glass ceiling’ concept are: flexibility to work around school term-times, flexibility to work from home, adjustment of start and finish times, the ability to work longer hours one day in order to have the hours in lieu and offering flexible hours based around pregnancy related sickness. This flexibility offers women additional support when balancing work and home life.

Management issues:
  • Dress code must not discriminate against any vulnerable group (including women).

  • Employers must provide an area safe for women who are breastfeeding or wish to express milk, although no formal time off or breaks are provided for this activity employers should try to be helpful when this is the case.

The Equality Act of 2010 highlights a number of laws that should enable better integration of women into management positions, however despite these legalities the rate at which women are being introduced to these jobs is slow.

What are the implications when a business lacks female employees?
Opportunity now works alongside businesses campaigning for zero tolerance towards race and sex discrimination. In 2008 they created a ‘Women and work’ fact sheet which contains statistics regarding women, their work and their home life. These statistics highlight some considerable implications if businesses do not have female employees. Possibly the most considerable are:

1.63.5% of girls get 5 or more GCSEs grade A*-C (compared to 53.8% of boys).
2.Women obtain 56.6% of all first class degrees awarded.
3.Women make 80% of consumer purchases.

Compare these figures with the fact that just 28% of all business directors are female and the potential and expertise being lost becomes obvious.

Statistics from: Women and work: the facts by Opportunity Now (2008:2).

So what are these invisible forces that stop women from developing their career?
Wirth (2001) attempts to identify obstacles that are stopping women from breaking through the ‘glass ceiling’. Research conducted by Quack and Hanche (cited in Wirth, 2001) suggests that the obstacles women face tends to differ depending on whether they are trying to enter junior, middle or senior management.

In al three categories of management the culture of a male dominant environment was a primary obstacle. As identified earlier strategic roles within a business are often male dominant, pushing women into less strategic departments and roles. Interestingly those aiming for senior management found that most obstacles fell into the ‘structural barriers’ section including problems such as gender bias in promotion, barriers to entering specialised management and informal promotion without advertising (Wirth, 2001). Where as those entering junior and middle management struggled against personal barriers such as lack of training, wrong education and family commitments (Wirth, 2001). This research highlights not only the variety of obstacles that women feel they face, but also establishes where each type of obstacle is most likely to occur. Understanding where these obstacles lay in a women’s career can help businesses in supporting their female workforce in every stage of their career development.

Managing diversity and equal opportunities is a large task for any organisation and it runs right from recruitment to senior management.

On the flip side…problems in recruitment

There are not only implications for organisations that lack women in certain departments but also problems that can arise from having mainly female staff.

Recently the Economist ran an article concerning the attachment of photographs to CVs, attempting to determine how the personnel / human resources department received these.

The article identifies that men who are generally perceived as good looking are benefitted by including their photo, however women who are generally perceived as pretty should are not benefitted by including a photo of themselves. A number of possible conclusions were drawn from these results, however the most insightful conclusion found that departments concerning recruitment i.e human resources and personnel (departments considered non-strategic) have a mainly female workforce. Women within these departments were less likely to invite a woman whom they perceived as beautiful to an interview than they are a man who was perceived as handsome. Interestingly the article suggests the adoption of an application process that does not include a photo or even the candidates’ name, rather than identifying removing the gender equality issue within the departments.

There are clear connections between this article and Wirth's views towards the placement of women in non-strategic departments. However this article considers the problem from another viewpoint. It recognises the difficulties that may surround the hiring of more female employees, especially if the current females work in the human resources department.

Successes in gender equality in the workplace

Opportunity Now runs an award ceremony called 'Opportunity Now Excellence In Practice' these awards aim to recognise and appreciate all the work that their partner companies are doing to support women in the workplace. This year (2012) British Telecommunications (BT) were awarded the 'Santander award' for providing inspiration for young women through their 'Work Inspiration' event. This event aims to provide young people, in particular young women with information regarding possible career choices, not only with themselves but also with other large companies. There is also the opportunity to speak with female staff within BT, asking them questions regarding their work life balance and equal opportunities.

This event creates positive networks between not only, males and females, but also young people and senior management, with the aim of finding a balanced and equal future workforce. Raising awareness through educational projects is identified by Wirth (2001) as a primary strategy. It has to be adopted so that women can break through the glass ceiling within any organisation.

Finalising the Points

The awareness of the equality in the workplace and the Equality Act in 2010 has tightened the barriers for human resource teams and employers. Upon future employees. The New equality act sets these points out for employers in an easy format informing them of the laws behind job applicants. Employers will need to know what they can and can’t do whilst in the application process. Employers will have to aware of the issues risen in this wiki page so not to cause discrimination accidently. So how businesses can’s become more aware? Training courses and programs have been created for the use of businesses in the format of flash games and videos, a perfect example is JTL. JTL is a firm that specialises in career advice. They have created a free flash game for organisations or employees to access to bring equality to the attention of those who are interested. The training program looks into the following four areas
  • Subtle Discrimination
  • Bullying and Harassment
  • Direct Discrimination
  • Sexual Harassment
So what benefits does bringing equality to the workplace bring? Firstly a business which promotes equality won’t just have positive effects in the firm. It’s likely that many stakeholders will exist. This could included possible employees to be, current employees and customers. Customers may not feel judged when entering a shop which promotes equality. Aswell as benefits for employees, believe it or not but there are actually potential disadvantages of the new change. A perfect example of a disadvantage is pay discrimination; a business could employ immigrant workers as they will work for cheaper however with the new policies it would increase the business’s labour costs.

To conclude, equality occurs everywhere where people have differences, to gain equality business's need to understand that there are differences otherwise known as diversity group. If the correct procedures are used then equality in the workplace can be kept in tact however those who disobey the rules are likely to be penalised. I personally believe that the laws are still not as tight as they could, although they are a lot more specific than the previous laws i think they seem to lack depth and instant understanding. Further research should be done in the area of equality in the workplace and i believe it should diverse into more areas such as international immigrants. in addition more training schemes should be available to employees, managers etc.



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Further Reading or Sources
Age UK: www.ageuk.org.uk
Carers UK: www.carersuk.org
Directgov: www.direct.gov.uk
Equality and Human Rights Commission: www.equalityhumanrights.com
Government Equalities Office website: www.equalities.gov.uk