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The term ‘equality’ is bounded around Boardroom and HR departments across the country usually when an employer is talking about how far and wide ranging their employee population is. More often than not, equality is incorporated into a businesses ‘corporate social responsibility’ (CSR) position and for the most part, the company gets a great big tick from the wider business community and they can get back to the task of making money.

The questions that most lay people actually want to know however, is what is equality and why should they care? Most people will generally have had a working experience where they have been recruited, managed and assessed based on their abilities, and never had a situation where there have either been barriers or have been treated differently primarily because of the colour of their skin, their sexuality or what they believe in. What may or may not come as a surprise to a lot of people however, is that in 2016, there are still work places across the United Kingdom where this behaviour is still happening. For this reason alone, equality is still something that needs to be discussed and championed across the business community to bring an end to these kinds of situations.

So what is equality? According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, equality is defined as ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents, and believing that no one should have poorer life chances because of where, what or whom they were born, what they believe, or whether they have a disability.

In modern day society, equality recognises that historically, certain groups of people with particular characteristics e.g. race, disability, sex and sexuality, have experienced discrimination.

So what does equality mean for you as a business and why should you care? This is a big question for the typical SME, and to give the topic real justice, this article would probably be the size of a small book. What you will take away however are a few key pieces of advice and some tips that could help you when thinking about equality and its impact on your business.

  • You need to have an awareness of The Equality Act 2010. This piece of legislation encompasses previous legislation such as the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and its aim is to ensure consistency in what you as employers and your employees need to do to make your work place a fair environment and comply with the law. What the legislation also did was give us a concise list of 9 protected characteristics that as an employer you should not either treat someone or let your employees treat another member of the team differently because they identify with one or more of them. None of the 9 characteristics is more important than another.
  • Risks – discrimination and tribunals are a very real risk for businesses. There is no qualifying period of employment that an employee must have served for them to raise a claim for discrimination. There is no cap for an award for discrimination and the cost of getting some sound HR advice would be significantly cheaper than any award a tribunal may make.
  • Policy and Procedures – is it time to take stock of your current polices and processes? When was the last time these were updated? If you are actively recruiting people into your organisation for example, have you reviewed your Recruitment Policy for example to include reference to being an equal opportunity employer?
  • Positive Action – does your business reside in a community or an industry where you would like to recruit under represented sections of society in your workforce? With good HR guidance and careful planning, this can really boost your position in the community where you’re based, or potentially have very positive commercial effect in the wider business community.
  • Unconscious Bias – We may have a bias that we are not aware of based on our experiences and personal feelings. Sometimes it can be the unconscious bias’s that we have that can be the small beginnings of bigger problems. These are behaviours, characteristics or traits in other people that we as people either don’t identify with, take issue with or have strong personal feelings. As an employer, it’s not acceptable to let these biases’ affect our decision making. The risk of letting such bias influence our business decisions is the very real danger of discriminating against an employee. Ask yourself, do you or the people who work in your business have the tools to be able to identify when your unconscious bias is influencing your decision making? If this is something that you feel could become an issue within your business, you should seek advice on how to deal with this.
  • The gender gap. Take a look around your business. Do Women and Men hold similar positions and remuneration, or is there an unplanned leaning in one particular area? In 2016, the gender pay gap will become a very hot topic for businesses and one that can have a very real financial consequence. Ensuring that that your business has a consistent and planned approach to equality could just protect you from a very costly issue.

How do I look at Equality and ensure our business has a planned approach? A great way you as an employer can remove any unnecessary risks is to look at your job descriptions, appraisal system and any other tools used across your employee population to ensure that they are fair and balanced. Having a trusted HR partner such as Sagegreen HR will help you formulate a clear strategy for your business and knowing that you have experts who will not only provide you with commercially astute but also legally compliant advice to protect you from the risk of tribunal.

Adrian McShane-Chapman

Area Director – Sagegreen HR West Yorkshire