What does discrimination look like? Promoting equality and diversity in your company.

What does discrimination look like? Promoting equality and diversity in your company.

Posted on Jan 08, 2016

What does discrimination look like? Promoting equality and diversity in your company.



Why are we blogging about this? Good question. It’s because of something that actually happened at flick HQ. I very quickly add that it wasn’t between the flickfam – it happened to the flickfam:

Team flick member, Sarah, answered the phone to a “gentleman”, a lawyer who described himself as having a mutual client with flick said he wanted to speak to the MD and asked if HE was available to speak to. When Sarah told the “gentleman” that the MD was a woman, he proceeded to LAUGH and exclaimed ‘What kind of company has a female Managing Director?!’ followed by more laughter. The response from Team flick? Putting the phone down on him.

The persistent soul he was, he rang back and got Suzee. After repeating this appalling behaviour, Suzee offered him a few choice words and put the phone down on him too.

While we’re all reeling in disbelief that this kind of discrimination would actually happen, it seems like an appropriate time to look further into this topic.


What is discrimination?

Within the workplace, your obligations are governed by the Equality Act 2010 and it follows on that what discrimination means in this context is also defined by the same legislation. Discrimination involves the unfavourable treatment of an individual or group based upon one or more protected characteristics and is typically broken down into four types.


What are the types of discrimination?


1. Direct discrimination

This is where you’re treating someone less favourably because of a protected characteristic; a protected characteristic of someone they are associated with (known as direct discrimination by association); or a protected characteristic you believe someone to have, whether your perception is correct or not (known as direct discrimination by perception).


2. Indirect discrimination

Given the ‘indirect’ element of this type, it is understandably harder to define exactly what this is. Typically, we’re talking about a practice or certain criteria that, whilst applied equally to everyone, has (or will have) the effect of putting people with one of the protected characteristics at a disadvantage, AND the employer is unable to justify why that practice is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

Taking a common example, citing the number of years’ experience a candidate must have to apply for a vacancy at your company may indirectly discriminate against younger candidates because, by virtue of their age, they simply can’t have been doing the job for that long. You’d need to be able to justify why that number of years was necessary for the role.


3. Harassment

For behaviour to be considered as harassment it must be unwanted conduct, related to the relevant protected characteristics or be of a sexual nature. The unwanted conduct can be written, verbal or physical and is based upon the victim’s (reasonable) perception of the conduct rather than how the harasser intends it.

If you need a way to bring this to life, simply think of Michael Scott in The Office US.




4. Victimisation

This occurs when an employee is treated less favourably than others because they’ve:

  • Made an allegation of discrimination; and/or
  • Supported, or given evidence in, a complaint of discrimination; and/or
  • Raised a grievance concerning equality or discrimination; and/or
  • Done anything else connected to the Equality Act 2010 (the catch-all)


We’ll go through some examples of what these look like beyond the jargon later in this blog.


What are the nine protected characteristics defined in the Equality Act 2010?


1. Age

protected characteristics - age

2. Disability

protected characteristics - disability


3. Gender reassignment

protected characteristics - Gender reassignment


4. Marriage and civil partnership

protected characteristics - marriage and civil partnership


5. Pregnancy and maternity

protected characteristics - Pregnancy and maternity


6. Race

protected characteristics - race 

7. Religion or belief

protected characteristics - Religion or belief

As an additional point, it is unlikely that political affiliation would be covered as a protected characteristic within this.

8. Sex

protected characteristics - sex


9. Sexual orientation

protected characteristics - Sexual orientation


Do all protected characteristics carry equal weight?

Yes. In the eyes of the law, there is no hierarchy of protected characteristics so harassing someone based on their sexual orientation isn’t “less acceptable” or “more acceptable” than victimising someone because of their sex.


Is bullying a form of discrimination?

Actually, no. Not unless the unwanted conduct is because of one (or more) of the protected characteristics. To cite discrimination, an employee needs to be able to demonstrate less favourable treatment due to a real or imagined comparator (ie, a fellow colleague or counterpart).


Practical examples of what could be considered discrimination


Direct discrimination

There’s probably a wealth of examples coming to mind for you right now as this is the most overt category. With this, we’re talking about things like the gender pay gap – this isn’t just on the agenda for Hollywood A-listers, the UK pay gap between men and women is 19.7%.


Indirect discrimination

Here we’re talking about practices that may cause discrimination through their existence. Think about where you might ask potential employees, clients or service users how they define their gender. What need does asking for or displaying this information actually fulfil? It’s a question being debated nationally in the UK by Maria Miller and the committee for trans equality over whether to remove gender from passports and driving licences. It’s being argued that official documents bearing this information causes problems for the trans community and removes the unconscious bias associated with gender stereotypes.



On the topic of sexual harassment, check out what West Indies cricketer, Chris Gayle, said in response to Melanie McLaughlin’s (an Australian sports journalist) perfectly professional and legitimate question about the sport. HINT: it has nothing to do with cricket.



A team member (let’s call them Fred) whistle-blows about some activity going on within the team that doesn’t seem right to him to his manager. The manager investigates and determines that practices need to change as they aren’t best practice but the other team members aren’t happy about having to do things differently. So now, they all refer to Fred as a snitch, make a point of not inviting him to join in things and not telling him necessary information as he’s a grass. Fred could now make a complaint of victimisation as his colleagues are treating him unfavourably as a consequence of his whistleblowing.


It doesn’t need to happen within the workplace

This week’s trending #PennySparrow highlights just how far inappropriate comments made on social media can travel and, legally, comments of this nature made can be cause for dismissal. In fact, it doesn’t need to travel this far through the Twittersphere to be a legitimate reason to get sacked... a scary moment of realisation.


Want to see this in action for yourself?

try equality & diversity for free


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