Understanding and improving equality in the workplace
What is equality in the workplace?
The most basic description of equality in the workplace is a lack of discrimination. It is the fair treatment of people regardless of any protected characteristics, such as race, gender, disability, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or age.
It’s important to note that an equal workplace isn’t just one without discrimination – true workplace equality means that all employees have access to equal opportunities. Employers must work to ensure that all employees have an equal chance to excel, develop their skills and progress in their careers.
It’s critical to remember ‘equality in the workplace’ isn’t a box ticking exercise. In fact, it’s almost impossible to say it’s ever ‘done’. Working towards equality means making sure you have an inclusive and safe work environment, provide equal opportunities, equal pay and above all – accept and celebrate everyone for their differences. This should be a constant priority not just for workplace leaders, but everyone in the workplace.
What is discrimination in the workplace?
Discrimination in the workplace can be shown in many forms. In the UK, it is against the law to discriminate against anyone due to:
- Race, including nationality, ethnic, or national origin
- Being married or in a civil partnership
- Being pregnant or on maternity leave
- Gender reassignment
- Religion or belief
- Sex or sexual orientation
You are protected against these in many circumstances, including at work.
According to the UK government, discrimination can be displayed in four ways:
- Direct discrimination: not treating someone with a protected characteristic as well as others
- Indirect discrimination: putting rules or arrangements into place that apply to everyone, but that put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair advantage
- Harassment: unwanted behaviour linked to a protected characteristic that violates someone's dignity or creates an offensive environment for them (this can be avoided with a dignity at work policy)
- Victimisation: treating someone unfairly because they’ve complained about discrimination or harassment
These are all forms of discrimination to be aware of in your workforce.
Creating equality in the workplace:
When it comes to diversity, inclusion and creating equality, it can help to take a close look at different elements of your workplace, rather than looking at it as a whole. This way you can see if any adjustments could be made to your operation to meet the needs of different people and create a plan of action.
Start at the hiring process
To truly embrace equality in the workplace, you should start with the hiring process.
Take the time to closely look at your job descriptions. Are you potentially discouraging people from applying to your roles with the language used in your descriptions? Your language and wording is important – your company may be unintentionally wording descriptions in a way that positions certain roles towards a certain demographic, making others feel excluded.
Read your job descriptions with fresh eyes and check that you aren’t using any stereotypes or biased language. Use phrases such as ‘they’, rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ and think about whether you are excluding potential applicants by asking for requirements that may not really be necessary (such as requiring a masters degree, when experience might be just as valuable).
Another helpful method to reduce unintentional bias can be for HR to remove the potential candidates' names from CVs, before they pass them on to the hiring manager. At the end of the day, the candidate’s name is not important for evaluating the CV, so taking this away ensures that managers are simply looking at credentials rather than taking anything else into account.
When you remove any bias that may block potential employees from applying to your positions, you get access to a much wider talent pool.
Create and encourage a safe work environment
Everyone in the company should feel that they are in a safe place. They should feel like their voices are heard and respected. If an employee should feel discriminated against in any way, they should know they have a safe place to go and talk about the issues they’re facing.
HR has an important role within this. All employees within the company should know that if they have an issue, they are able to go to a HR team member and air any concerns, discuss any problems or ask any questions that they might have, without judgement. Employees should also feel safe in the knowledge that they will never face retaliation for a complaint or raising a concern.
Not only should HR provide a space for any employees to feel impacted or concerned, HR teams also need to be there to provide guidance for those who feel that they need help to examine any biases they may hold. It’s important that employees feel able to uncover any biases in a safe environment, without harming others, and get the guidance and resources to tackle these.
Help employees to educate themselves
No workplace is perfect but by equipping employees with educational resources, you can help to drive awareness and change.
Find resources and educational material that include examples of different types of discrimination – whether this is indirect discrimination, unconscious biases or offensive language. This helps to make employees aware of issues they may not have recognised as discrimination before.
By being more educated, employees will be more able to find ways they could work to improve their language or actions. Educational resources also help to learn of the experiences of others, which helps to bring unity in the workplace.
Don’t just accept differences, celebrate them
Equality isn’t simply accepting people from different backgrounds – it’s about celebrating them.
Carve out time to hold important conversations between employees in the company. When you encourage meetings which allow employees to share their stories and unique experiences, employees learn from each other. This also helps to bring people together.
Overall, this will make stronger, more unified teams.
Make it known that your company stands for equality and create a culture to support it
There should never be a question, internally or externally, of what your company stands for. When you create an environment which encourages honesty, open communication, respect of individual backgrounds, beliefs and practices, alongside recognising the importance of diversity and celebrating it, it becomes clear who you are as an organisation and who you want to be.
Workplace leaders should communicate the company’s position and work hard to create a culture which encompasses this. Any actions taken by leaders should uphold and display these cultures and values too.
When it’s clear that those higher up demand equality and justice, it spreads throughout the company. Holding sessions and meetings which display the company’s stance on equality helps to make this a core element of your company culture.
Speak to your employees about wider issues
Employees are affected by current affairs and what’s going on in the world outside of your company – but certain topics can have a particular impact on mental wellbeing.
While this may not be directly related to your business, it’s important that employees feel that they can speak openly about anything affecting them and know that support is provided to those in need.
It can also help to know where your employer stands in regards to external issues or if they are taking any action in response, so be sure to speak out. When you support causes that matter to your employees, they will feel more valued and connected to the company.
Hear from other voices
Bringing guest speakers in to talk to your people helps to bring new viewpoints and conversations around the question of diversity to your workforce.
Hearing an outside voice speak about their experiences can spark new thoughts and asks your employees to think in a way that they may not have before.
Focus on a work/life balance
Allowing your employees to work flexibly can have a huge impact on equality.
Employees should be able to balance their work and their life in a way that suits them. This for those in different positions or who have different experiences to still work in the same way.
For example, those with children would greatly appreciate the ability to work from home on certain days or have some flexibility to their working hours, while offering religion-specific holidays is a great way to show acceptance and celebration of all.
When you focus more on the output rather than a fixed style of working, it offers room for your diverse workforce to thrive and excel.
Read next: How to improve diversity and inclusion in your workplace
Why diversity and equality is important:
When you have people in your workplace from all different backgrounds, you create a group of people who have a variety of experiences to draw from, and can therefore bring a wider range of ideas to the table.
The benefits of this are endless. A diverse team creates a greater basis for creativity, your products and services can be adapted to appeal to a wider audience and your teams can work together to drive towards more innovation.
Maximise your reach
Today, the market is global. This means that people from all over the world can be your audience.
As a diverse workforce, you can better understand a wider audience. This allows you to more easily serve and appeal to customers across the globe and potentially give you an upper hand against competitors.
With employees from different backgrounds, nationalities and who speak different languages, you can take your business to new places and competently serve different customers. It also makes your business more relatable to different audiences. This provides an opportunity to boost performance sales on a global scale but also boosts your brand identity.
Attract and retain top talent
A culture which treats its people like equals is one that warnants loyalty. In a workplace which focuses on equality, people feel valued and appreciated for their contributions and also feel that they will be listened to if they ever have an issue or idea to raise.
Not only will this inclusive culture create loyal employees with lower turnover rates, by creating this kind of culture, you become an attractive employer to a wider range of employees too. That means you’ll succeed in boosting your talent pool and beating competitors to the top hires.
In turn, you can enhance your brand reputation
You want your company to be perceived in a positive way. A strong brand helps you to attract staff, sell your products/services and build customer loyalty.
A brand reputation precedes your company. Potential candidates now have access to a wealth of information about your company before they even consider applying to a role, the same goes for customers before they make a purchase. This means that a strong brand reputation of equality and fairness is vital to long lasting success. If your company is perceived as unfair or lacking in diversity, it will almost certainly affect your performance.
Equality boosts employee engagement
No one wants to feel that they are putting in the same amount of work for less reward than those around them.
By letting your employees know that you are working to boost equality – including initiatives such as releasing gender pay gap reports or female leadership training schemes – it helps to keep employees engaged and shows them that the company is fighting for equality.
But it’s important to remember, workplace equality isn’t just down to the employer
Although employers must pave the way for a culture of equality, everyone in the company must also play their part.
The role of employers:
- Ensure that all employees and potential employees are not subject to discrimination due to any protected characteristics
- Set up training for workplace leaders and managers surrounding equal opportunities and correct actions
- Regularly communicate and promote equality and diversity to employees
- Distribute and provide access to educational resources to promote learning
The role of employees:
- Act in a way that never discriminates against any of their colleagues due to any protected characteristics
- Comply with company policies and contribute to a culture of respect
- Be aware of their own actions and how they may be interpreted and affect others