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Introducing an equal opportunities policy.

[check] This checklist provides managers with the basis for introducing an equal opportunities policy. Increasingly, such a policy is a moral, legal and business imperative for all line managers.


An equal opportunities policy is a commitment by the organisation to the development of procedures and practices which provide genuine equality of opportunity for all employees, regardless of sex, marriage, ethnic origin or disability. Its remit goes beyond strict compliance with the law and ensures the effective use of all human resources within the organisation.

HR managers should be aware of the raft of existing and new legislation impinging on equal opportunities. The main Acts (as amended) include the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1986, in addition to various employment, employment rights, employment relations, human rights, pensions, health and safety acts, subsidiary regulations and EU Directives.

Advantages of an equal opportunities policy

* The ability to attract people with new ways of thinking, leading to a more diverse work-force with a richer mix of skills and experience.

* The ability to attract the best talent.

* A more stable work-force which retains the best people by ensuring their needs are fully met.

* An improved reputation for the company through higher ethical standards.

* Helps avoid costly litigation.

Disadvantages of an equal opportunities policy

* A dissatisfied work-force if raised expectations are not met in full.

* Higher recruitment and monitoring costs.

* Resentment or "backlash" among previously privileged groups of the workforce.

Action checklist

1. Secure the commitment of top management

Demonstrate that the organisation is serious about equal opportunities by giving overall responsibility to a senior manager, preferably at board level

2. Designate a post with specific responsibility for introducing and implementing

equal opportunities Appoint an equal opportunities officer to coordinate actions on a day to day basis. Define the responsibilities and level of responsibility clearly even if the post need not be full time.

3. Establish a working party to provide employee input

Set up a working party drawn from representative groups within the organisation including union or staff associations, management, personnel, women and ethnic minority groups and the disabled. Make it clear that the group is not a lobbying point for special interest groups.

4. Review policies adopted by other organisations

Obtain copies of the policies of other organisations in the same sector. Draw on these to prepare a first draft of your own policy. Take care to include only objectives and commitments that are appropriate to your culture and attainable within a realistic timescale.

5. Decide the scope of your policy and distinguish between law and good practice

The law only covers what should not be done. However, most policies, while laying down what people must not do in terms of the law go further and include good practice about what they should do. Make clear in yours where it is underpinned by law and where employees will be held liable for their actions.

6. Conduct an "equality audit" to establish a baseline for action

Conduct a workplace audit to provide information about the composition of the work-force in relation to gender, race and disability. If the information is not already held in personnel records, carry out an employment survey but make it clear that the information collected will be used only for equal opportunity purposes. Review how many women and men you employ: in total, by grade and salary, by hours of work, by marital/family status and by ethnic origin. Use this information to identify existing patterns of employment and under-representation.

7. Draw up a programme of action

Use the information captured to identify the areas for attention within the organisation. Consider whether you will require positive action: both the Sex and Race Discrimination Acts allow certain steps to redress any imbalances. At a minimum, the programme will need to cover: recruitment, selection, induction, flexible working, assistance for careers and training.

8. Set targets for under-represented groups

UK law allows employers to set a numerical objective for the groups which have previously been underrepresented in the workforce; for example, that 30% of line managers should be women by the year 2005. Set targets that are challenging enough to stretch the organisation to change but realistic enough to show existing employees they have a fair chance of promotion.

9. Provide equal opportunities training

Provide specific equal opportunities training first to priority groups such as senior executives, personnel specialists, recruiters and selectors, reception staff and other "gate keepers". Where applicable, these groups should then cascade training through line managers to all employees.

10. Offer flexible working arrangements to employees of all grades, such as parttime

work, flexi-time, job-sharing and term-time working Assume that all jobs can be done on a flexible basis unless there is a clear occupational requirement for a full-time employee. Ensure that flexibility in hours is available to all employees - not just to women.

11. Review job descriptions

Review all job descriptions objectively when a vacancy arises, based on the organisation's needs, not on the needs or preferences of the person currently doing the job.

12. Review selection and recruitment practices

Shortlist candidates only on the basis of whether they meet essential skills and knowledge requirements of the job, rather than personal characteristics. Remove personal details (such as name, date of birth, nationality and marital status) from applications before they are seen by selectors.

13. Provide parental, family or adoptive leave and career breaks to female and male employees and assistance with child and elder care

Offer schemes for parental leave, child care and flexible working to all employees, not just to enable female staff to combine work and family; otherwise they are unlawful.

14. Regularly review the existing qualifications and training needs of all employees

Monitor take-up of training by different categories of employee. Where necessary, make special training available for employees who have traditionally been discriminated against.

15. Ensure your training programmes provide for comparable on and off the job training for all employees at every level

Distinguish between training to improve job performance and training to acquire new skills. Make clear the links between acquiring new skills and the possibility of regrading.

16. Introduce a written and accessible grievance procedure which is widely publicised and which employees can use to pursue allegations of gender discrimination, harassment or equal pay

Assume all allegations are well-founded while they are being investigated and deal promptly and sensitively with them.

17. Introduce monitoring and review procedures

Your equality audit will only give details of your current work-force. Set up monitoring systems, to capture details of all job applicants and those recruited; and establish performance indicators to review progress against your targets and action plan. Monitor internal and external appointments by gender, marital status and ethnic origin: you may also want to include age.

18. Communicate policies and practices clearly

Send a copy of the policy to potential and actual applicants, new recruits and existing employees. Use every opportunity to publicise the policy, including company literature.

Dos and don'ts for introducing an effective equal opportunities policy


Consult employees and trade union representatives.

Use positive action measures to meet your equality targets.

Monitor and review progress annually against the targets and consider whether positive action is needed.

Beware of bias in interview techniques.


Set unrealistically high targets.

Fall into the trap of positive discrimination.

Target flexible work and child care schemes only at women.


Targets are forecasts of the percentage of ethnic minority, women or disabled employees that employers realistically aim to have by a specific date. Targets are generally lawful in the UK.

Quotas are a fixed percentage of posts reserved for a particular group. They are generally unlawful in the UK.

Positive discrimination means discriminating in favour of someone from a previously disadvantaged group because he or she is a woman or of a particular ethnic origin. It is illegal in the UK, except in exceptional circumstances and where there is a "Genuine Occupational Qualification" (very limited exemptions which allow you to recruit from a particular racial group or sex - for example, where authenticity is required in the serving of food or drink)

Positive (or affirmative) action involves taking action to promote equality of opportunity in access to a post for a previously disadvantaged group (eg special training to allow ethnic minorities to compete on more equal terms for a particular type or level of work such as management). Positive action is legal in the UK, provided the employer does not guarantee a job or promotion at the end of it.

Direct racial discrimination occurs if a person is unfavourably treated on racial grounds. These are widely defined to include: colour, ethnic or national origin, race or nationality.

Indirect racial discrimination occurs when a requirement or condition is applied with which only a "considerably smaller proportion" of persons in different racial groups can comply (eg accepting only British qualifications).

Direct sex discrimination occurs if a person is treated unfavourably because: she is a woman; he is a man.

Indirect sex discrimination consists of applying to a woman a condition or requirement the same as that for a man but which is a condition that only a small number of women would be able to comply with.

Useful reading

Discrimination and the law: does the system suit the purpose, Patricia Leighton London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2004

Equality diversity and discrimination: how to comply with the law promote best practice and achieve a diverse workforce, Lynda A C MacDonald London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2004

Employment equality sexual orientation regulations: guidelines for employers London, Stonewall: 2004

Gender based equal opportunities in SMEs: establishing policy and practice, Carol Woodhams, Ben Lupton and Sapphire Raydon-Rennie Manchester: Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, 2004

Sexual orientation and the workplace: putting the Employment Equality Sexual Orientation Regulations 2003 into practice for employers and their staff Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service, London: 2003

Religious discrimination: an introduction to the law, Annabel Rutherford and Robert Pullen Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, London, 2003

Useful addresses

Equal Opportunities Commission, Arndale House, Arndale Centre, Manchester M4 3EQ

Tel: 0161 838 1733

Commission for Racial Equality, St Dunstan's House, 201 - 211 Borough High Street, London SE11 1GZ

Tel: 020 7939 0000
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Title Annotation:Checklist 062
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: Human Resources, Training and Development
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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