Why focus on equality, diversity, and discrimination?

Without an understanding of how prejudice and discrimination arise and operate, it is hard to make sure that you work in ways that are inclusive and fair to everyone. It is also hard to challenge others.

It’s all very well having equal opportunities policies – the idea is to be able to put them into practice and make sure that they are meaningful on a day to day basis.

If you employ or manage staff, you will need to make sure that they comply with any legal requirements as well as working in ways that are fair to all. You may also need to think about issues around institutional discrimination and be aware of the implications of decisions and actions.

If you are an employee, you must treat people equally if you don’t want to fall foul of the law or indeed fall foul of your organisation’s equalities policies and practice. You also have a responsibility to be fair to your colleagues and may be held liable for actions which are held to be discriminatory, including bullying and harassment.

The changing world of equality legislation

The world of equalities has changed dramatically over the last few years and continues to do so. Parliament has not only passed the Equality Act 2010 but has also made changes to the codes and duties that underpin the Act.

Although most people now take a commitment to equalities as a given, it’s important that there is something written that encompasses specific values and gives people an idea of how they can know that they are working to the principles.

Question: what does ‘equality’ mean to you?

Equality is about fairness, and not discriminating against individuals or groups because of individual characteristics. The Equality Duty covers: age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation. The duty to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination also covers marriage and civil partnerships.

Reflections from the field:

Equality:

  • everyone should be able to access the same service
  • it’s not about being treated the same
  • about striving for fairness
  • beware of labels – identity is more than one particular characteristic
  • important to name both covert, as well as overt racism
  • we need to link to structural inequality and the wider effects
  • consider the value of collecting monitoring information if the structures don’t change

The Equalities Review 2007 recognised that while ‘equality’ as a belief that citizens should be treated as equals  is a core principle underpinning many societies, there is much discussion, debate and competing interpretations and perspectives of what this might mean for our society and therefore what it will take to move closer to it.  The Review examined the different interpretations in order to arrive at the most appropriate definition that would help in terms of the development of public policy in the 21st century and came up with the following definition:

An equal society protects and promotes equal, real freedom and substantive opportunity to live in the ways people value and would choose, so that everyone can flourish……..it recognises people’s different needs, situations and goals and removes the barriers that limit what people can do and can be. Ref p 17

Equality is about making sure that people from different groups and communities have the same life opportunities. It is not about treating everyone the same as they may have different needs to achieve the same outcomes.

Question: What does diversity mean to you?

Diversity is about respecting and valuing difference in a way that adds value to your work with communities. It is also about recognising and understanding the mix of people and groups who use services, whilst focusing attention on their diverse needs and making them central to your work.

Reflections from the field:

Diversity:

  • the richness we all bring
  • valuing our differences
  • richness of culture
  • broad – diverse ways of ‘doing things’
  • all unique individuals
  • no need to label people
  • inequality gets hidden

Obviously equality and diversity are linked but it is useful to be aware that, while they are sometimes used interchangeably, they emphasise different perspectives. Diversity is about people and equality is about the equality of outcomes experienced by individuals and groups in diverse communities. Equality of outcomes is a requirement of equality law. The danger of focusing entirely on ‘diversity’ is that structural inequalities and actual discrimination and disadvantage is more likely to remain hidden as ‘everyone is treated the same’.

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