Equality & Diversity – A Glossary of Terms

Equality & Diversity – A Glossary of Terms

Posted by Jan Lawrence


A brief explanation of the main terms used when discussing Equality & Diversity:

Fair treatment of individuals or groups, ensuring they are treated equally and no less favourably in areas including those of age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, gender re assignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity.

Direct Discrimination
Treating a person less favourably than another is being treated, or would be treated, because of their protected characteristic(s).  Direct discrimination also includes:

  • Associative Discrimination – when an individual is discriminated against because of their connection with someone who has a protected characteristic(s).
  • Perceptive Discrimination – being discriminated against because it is believed an individual possesses a protected characteristic(s).  It applies regardless of whether the individual possesses the protected characteristic(s) or not.

Acknowledging, valuing and respecting people’s psychological, physical and social differences in order that their full potential and contribution can be realised.

A sense or feeling that an individual or group are welcome, respected, supported and valued in order that their unique needs, working and learning styles are met.  An inclusive environment will embrace differences and offer respect both verbally and in actions to ensure that everyone can fully participate.

Indirect Discrimination
Happens when an organisation’s conditions, policies or practices which, on the face of it appear neutral, have an impact that particularly disadvantages those who share a protected characteristic(s); unless whoever applied it can provide ‘objective justification.’

The Equality Act 2010 defines harassment as, “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.”

Harassment applies to all the protected characteristics except, Marriage and Civil Partnership and Pregnancy and Maternity.  Employees can complain of behaviour that they find offensive even if it is not directed at them and they do not possess the relevant protected characteristic themselves.

Positive Action
Is distinct from unlawful positive discrimination (which involves the practice of favouring an individual who belongs to a group which suffer discrimination). Positive action is lawful when an employer takes steps to counteract the disadvantages it believes people who shared a protected characteristic face.  Any decisions taken following positive action must then be made on merit (unless section 159 of the Equality Act 2010 applies).

Protected Characteristics
The Equality Act 2010 specifies 9 features which, for the advancement of equality and opportunity, are afforded protection from discrimination, harassment, and victimisation.  In alphabetical order they are:  Age, Disability, Gender, Gender Reassignment, Marriage and Civil Partnership, Pregnancy and Maternity, Race, Religion or Belief, Sexual Orientation.

Reasonable Adjustments
The duty to make reasonable adjustments is covered in the Equality Act 2010 to ensure positive steps are taken to remove the barriers those with disabilities face so they are not substantially disadvantaged.  The 3 main areas organisations and establishments need to consider are:

1.  To change provisions, criterions or practices which may provide a barrier unless it is unreasonable to do so

2. To change a physical feature of a business or premises which may make access or use difficult for those with disabilities

3. To provide auxiliary aids or services, which may include additional services, in order to help a person with a disability to either access or do something

A widely held, positive or negative, image or idea which an individual believes about the characteristics of a certain group.

Occurs when an individual is singled out for unfair treatment or discrimination as a result of making a complaint/grievance, threatening to make a complaint/grievance or supporting a complaint/grievance made by a third party.


Our thanks to Eve Winston for her help with this blog article.

Please Note: The information on this website is for general guidance only and does not constitute legal advice.