What is the new Equality Act really there to implement?

Compliance and Conformity; or Common Sense?  What is the new Equality Act really there to implement?

The passing of the Equality Act on 8th April 2010 was not the grand affair many hoped it would be.  There were some small controversies, for example around the protectionist stance taken by certain religious bodies.  However, the Act very largely sought to streamline the plethora of Equality legislation that has been introduced during the last half-century.

So the question is, how radical is the new Act and what does it mean for employers and service providers, whether in the public sector or the private sector?

Many people see Equality and Diversity as political correctness gone mad, and, “Oh … we have another piece of legislation to prove it!”  Interestingly, political correctness is one of the greatest misnomers going.  Various claims are made about its origins, one of them being that it came about in the 1970s when the women of Greenham Common took what was deemed as a correct stand against a political situation; the presence of Cruise missiles on the common. However other mentions of its use include one from as early as 1793. Its use as a pejorative term seems to have taken off in the early 1990s in the academic world of Cultural Studies, and since then spread into common usage, especially in the media. It is clearly still a highly emotive term.

Employees, and the general public, often use the term “Political Correctness Gone Mad” to indicate that they view political correctness as social tyranny, and that therefore allows them to feel justified in using inappropriate language in the workplace.  It is OK, they think, to poke fun at someone else’s name, disposition, ethnic origin, sexuality, etc, etc, all in the interests of having fun and banter which improves morale and productivity. But does it really do that?

Clearly we have a long way to go because, otherwise, why has there been a need to consolidate and strengthen Equality legislation?  The business world says that it’s a dog eat dog world out there and only the fittest survive, so they cannot afford to be too ‘nice’.  How does that square with the Business case for Diversity?  Why is the new Single Equality Scheme only applicable to the public sector? 

Well, surprise, surprise, the Single Equality Scheme actually applies to a much broader cross-section of the business community.  Any company that has a contractual relationship with a public authority, for example to supply banking services, should be on notice that it too potentially has to meet the requirements of the Equality Act.  Why?  Because under the legislation all contractors and suppliers to public authorities must be able to demonstrate that they, too, are in compliance with the directives of the Equality Act.

And, of course, it is all about good business sense.  Organisations such as the Employers’ Forum on Disability and Business in the Community have provided a great deal of information on why Diversity makes good business sense, but often this falls on deaf ears.

However, with a shrinking population, potential restrictions on immigration and fewer young people around generally, what is UK plc going to do when there are insufficient human resources left to manage its businesses?  Not only that, but it is only a question of time before global village equalisation kicks in.  A few years ago the New York Times ran a column where a journalist fondly recounts how parents used to force their children to eat all their vegetables because of the poor children in China.  The journalist laughingly told readers that, today, he reminds his children to do their homework or the children in China and India will get their jobs.

It seems that, regardless of how much legislation comes in, it is only when it hits the pocket that businesses sit up and pay attention.  Maybe there is a need for the new legislation, and maybe there is a need to have no ceiling on discrimination awards that tribunals can award. However, if organisations invested only half as much in their management and staff training, and corporate social responsibility agendas, as they do on their marketing, they would end up with fully integrated, functional teams. They would thus reduce and/or eliminate their exposure to litigation and start seeing an increase in loyalty and morale among their workforces.

Surely then, the new Equality Act is all about implementing common sense?

What do you think?

Article supplied by People Resolutions.

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