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Equality and Diversity Issues – An Example

An understanding of the Equality Act 2010 and how it applies to various day to day operations is important to all organisations.  It is not enough to simply have good intentions in terms of fairness and support, as the following scenario shows.  You also need to be aware of how your decisions and actions can impact on others, and how it is possible in some cases for your decisions and actions to have a discriminatory impact, contrary to your intention.

Let’s look at the following example:

John, the departmental manager, wanted to appoint one of his skilled and experienced workers to act as a team leader for a short term, high profile project.  Two of his workers, Andy and Sue, expressed an interest in being considered for the position and he interviewed them both.  It was clear from the interviews that the best person to take on this role was Sue. Her technical skills and experience were excellent. But John was a bit concerned about giving Sue the job because he knew some of the workers in the team had quite macho attitudes and behaviours, and he thought they might react negatively to being supervised by a woman.  On the basis of this, and in order to protect Sue, John decided not to appoint her to the acting up role and appointed Andy.

Do you think that John made the right decision?

Could his actions amount to unlawful discrimination?


Points to Consider

John has made a decision based on good intentions, i.e. to protect Sue from a potentially difficult situation in which she could experience hostility, lack of co-operation or even harassment and bullying.  However, Sue is clearly the best candidate for the job based on the job criteria she has been assessed against, and to deny her the opportunity would be both unfair and potentially unlawful discrimination, since John’s rationale and decision is based on gender.  It is highly unlikely that John would have made the same decision if Sue were a man, with the same skills and experience.

This example highlights a number of points:

  1. The importance of identifying the correct criteria for the job at the beginning of the recruitment and selection process.  To change the criteria once the process has begun is unfair as it could put some candidates at a disadvantage, and could amount to unlawful discrimination.
  2. To some extent John has made an assumption about how the workers would react to a female manager based on some inappropriate attitudes and behaviours within the group. John’s assumption may not be correct, and if Sue has the appropriate skills to carry out the job, which should include the ability to challenge inappropriate behaviour and command respect, she may be able to turn things around.  Though it shouldn’t just be left to her to do this.
  3. Decision such as these should be based on the evidence provided by candidates to demonstrate how well they meet the selection criteria, not on assumptions.  As the decision maker, John should be able to objectively justify why he has appointed Andy rather than Sue.  He would find this difficult to do as Sue is clearly the best candidate and will have scored more highly than Andy
  4. The questionable attitudes and behaviour of some of the workers within the team is something which management and the organisation should address, irrespective of whether anyone has complained or not.  They have caused concern for John regarding the appointment of a female manager, and are, therefore, likely to be of concern to others now or in the future.  The key point here is that these attitudes and behaviours should not be tolerated in the workplace as they are inappropriate, unprofessional and discriminatory.  Organisations have a responsibility to  take action to prevent and address these types of attitudes and behaviours in the workplace.


Thanks to Eve Winston for contributing this article.

Equality & Diversity Training

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