Eight emerging themes

Eight emerging themes: Diversity and discrimination

DIVERSITY AND DISCRIMINATION

Demographics, migration, globalisation and social trends all are drivers of increased diversity. Employers increasingly recognise that a diverse organisation reflecting the heterogeneity of its community and enabling it to attract and retain the best people makes business sense.

This is especially important now employers increasingly need to look outside their traditional recruitment pools to address skill shortages (see demographics). Some organisations in the US are reportedly now recruiting 14 and 15 year olds to address skills shortages in the fast-food sector.

This increased diversity is apparent in all walks of life in the UK, whether it be across the media, in leading sports teams or among our political leaders. But there is still a way to go. It is just over a century since women first gained the right to vote in the UK (1918) and just over 50 years since gay sex was legalised (1967). Discrimination laws were not enacted until the past half-century or so, with some appearing only during the last 20 years: sex discrimination (1975); race discrimination (1976); disability discrimination (1995); sexual orientation discrimination (2003); religion and belief discrimination (2003); and age discrimination (2006). The law continues to play a role in combating discrimination. Momentum is currently building, for example, to extend protection to those going through menopause. The law also has to grapple with issues of conflicting rights, such as between religious freedoms and sex or sexual orientation discrimination, and between gender-critical feminists and trans-activists.

The issue of homeworking creates risks of discrimination on grounds of sex, age and disability for employers who fail to take the necessary steps to avoid this (see Covid-19 – agile working; and emerging themes – flexibility).

Diversity and discrimination

Language

Language

Inclusive language continues to come under scrutiny. In the last year, in cricket, “batsman” has left our lexicon to be replaced by gender-neutral “batter”. Many no longer use “Dear Sirs” in correspondence, preferring gender neutral terminology. Other terms which are uncontroversial today may well not be so in the future. Inappropriate or outdated language can cause others to feel excluded and contribute to inferences of discrimination being drawn.

Algorithms

Algorithms

Establishing whether there has been unlawful treatment and in particular whether there has been discrimination entails understanding the reason for the treatment. With algorithms, and especially with AI and machine-learning, this is often not possible, These are the ultimate “black box” decisions. Algorithms have the potential to act rationally, avoid sub-conscious bias and reduce discrimination, but subjecting these decisions to scrutiny will be an issue in the years ahead.

Home working

Home working

Home working raises equality issues. If an employer encourages home working, does this disadvantage younger workers often with less suitable home accommodation? Should an employer allow home working during quarantine for those who can, disadvantaging other staff who cannot work from home? What about an employer’s duties to make adjustments to home premises for disabled staff? Home workers are often predominantly female. Will they be out of sight and out of mind for promotion? 

Proving discrimination

Proving discrimination

In larger organisations with statistically significant numbers, data can be used to establish discrimination through a pay gap or unequal bonuses or promotions. Establishing that an individual has or has not been discriminated against is, however, in many cases, not easy. In the UK, the burden is on the individual to prove discrimination unless they can draw inferences of discrimination whereupon the employer must prove it did not discriminate. 

Part 1 

DRIVERS OF CHANGE

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Part 2 

EMERGING THEMES

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Part 3 

PREDICTIONS

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