The nature of work is changing. Is the Equality Act 2010 still in play?

It’s been 10 years since the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 in the UK, but what has really changed?

Globally, societies have been discussing diversity and inclusion for decades, and in the UK, more formally, for 10 years since the introduction of the Equality Act 2010.

This October marked the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act 2010, which was launched to provide a framework and level of protection against bullying and harassment across all aspects of life, but also provide more equal opportunities for under-represented groups in the workplace.

The Equality Act 2010 cemented Britain’s reputation as a world leader on equality. It strengthened and extended protections for minority groups and unified anti-discrimination law in one place.

But, despite significant progress, many people remain disadvantaged in Britain today, and there is room for improvement, especially in the workplace.

When it comes to the workplace, the Equality Act 2010 has made a difference, but in 10 years, that difference has been negatable and unequal across roles and sectors.

British boardrooms

British boardrooms are a prime example of where progress has been slow. In the UK’s top-performing organisations, white males make up 62% of boards and occupy 83.8% of executive directorships. White females make up just 28.2% of boards, male Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) 6% and female BAMEs 3.8%, according to the DiversityQ FTSE 100 Board Diversity Report 2020.

DiversityQ’s research further found that nearly half (49%) of FTSE 100 companies still lack any BAME representation at board level. In total, there are 1,013 board members across the FTSE 100, comprising 326 executive directors and 687 non-executive roles. You can paint a very similar ratio picture across every industry in the UK.

Pay gaps

The UK introduced mandatory gender pay gap (GPG) reporting in 2017 to help close the workplace equality gap for women. There are also ongoing discussions about launching mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting, which will go some way in encouraging organisations to shine a light on the make-up of their BAME employees in senior positions.

Commenting on the positive role, GPG has played in highlighting just one of the disparities women still face in the workplace, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), said: “We welcome mandatory gender pay gap (GPG) reporting as a first step towards increasing employer transparency and reducing barriers in the workplace.

“Following our successful enforcement action against late reporters, we reached 100% compliance with over 10,500 organisations in Britain reporting their gender pay gap in 2019.”

While identifying the gaps is important work, the real challenge is closing them. As expected, the second year of mandatory GPG reporting has shown little progress, with some employers reporting an increased pay gap.

Workplace discrimination

There is also little evidence to show that pay gap reporting legislation alone is enough to push the needle on diversity and inclusion or even help put an end to the levels of harassment and bullying still taking place in the workplace that the Equality Act 2010 hoped to bring about.

Those pushing for faster change now want to see mandatory action plans introduced alongside GPG reporting, where employers outline time-bound, target-driven actions informed by analysis of their data.

The EHRC agreed: “Following the #MeToo movement, our Turning the Tables report warned that corrosive working cultures have silenced victims and normalised sexual harassment. We have since published guidance for employers on how to prevent and tackle harassment in the workplace.”

The EHRC also looked at the use of NDAs in workplace discrimination cases and discovered that they were routinely and inappropriately used to cover up, and stop workers from speaking up about, harassment. It subsequently published guidance for employers to clarify the law on when and how they can be used.

Said the EHRC: “We are hopeful that the Government will strengthen the law around harassment by introducing a new duty on employers that requires them to take steps to prevent harassment before it starts.”

While the nature of work is changing, employers must look for the best talent available, and the EHRC has called on the Government to share a commitment to promoting flexible working.

 “We hope to work together to make workplaces fairer by addressing gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps; we also want action to tackle other systemic inequalities in the workplace, including employment gaps affecting disabled people and ethnic minorities.”

Equality Act 2010

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to treat people unfavourably based on age, disability, gender, sexuality, religion, race or pregnancy and maternity.

There are different types of discrimination:

  • Direct discrimination – treating someone differently because of one of the above characteristics
  • Indirect discrimination – applying a policy or rule that puts certain employees at a disadvantage
  • Arising from a disability – where a person is mistreated because of their disability
  • Failing to make reasonable adjustments to support disabled employees
  • Harassment – where an employee is treated in a way that is offensive, frightening, degrading, humiliating or distressing
  • Victimisation – where an employee is treated poorly for complaining about discrimination

Recommended steps

Employers need to be proactive in avoiding discrimination at work by focusing on abilities. Here are some previously shared DiversityQ recommended steps.

  1. Equal opportunities policy

Most companies and large organisations have some form of equal opportunities policy. Those that don’t should create one. The policy should cover all the characteristics specified in the Equality Act, stressing the different types of discrimination and help staff to understand their rights and responsibilities.

  2. Education and training

The equal opportunities policy should be clearly explained to the workforce and included in the employee handbook if there is one. Include discrimination training in induction courses so that new joiners are aware of the dos and don’ts from the beginning. Consider training managers and supervisors to spot where discriminative behaviour occurs and how they should respond.

3. Company culture

Encourage a culture where people respect each other’s differences. If there is a cause for complaint, make sure it is dealt with quickly and in confidence. It’s important for people to feel that they are being listened to and their differences respected.

4. Enforcement and review

An equal opportunities policy is only as good as the paper it’s written on if it’s not appropriately enforced. Also, it’s important to review the policy regularly to ensure it’s being applied effectively.

Companies that fail to take their equal opportunities responsibilities seriously should remember that the law is there to protect victims of workplace discrimination.

A level of protection

Tali Shlomo, Former People Engagement Director at the Chartered Insurance Institute and most recently, Interim Head of Inclusion and Wellbeing at global law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP, said: “The Equality Act 2010 provides a level of protection for colleagues on the nine protected characteristics, and recognising how the Act can be leveraged to create inclusion is fundamental.

“Starting with practical day to day examples to explore how the nine protected characteristics can impact the judgements we make and the potential impact on inclusion, can help move the dial from regulation to inclusion.

“Learning through lived experience using the framework of the Equality Act can provide a foundation to explore the level of inclusion on a day to day basis.”
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