Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion

The global 'Me Too' campaign that dominated employment news and the recent Black Lives Matter movement have both provided an opportunity for many of us to take a step back and re-open our eyes to the discrimination and equality that still exists in our societies all over the world. If we are serious about progressing towards true equality, diversity and inclusion across societies and workplaces we must ask ourselves, can we do more to stamp out inequality at work?

The most exciting environments to work in are those that value diversity and equality. Working in a team of individuals who are varied in their beliefs, cultures, ideas, backgrounds, talents, experiences, ages, choices and orientations inspire creativity, collaboration and innovation. It should come as no surprise that the companies and institutions who have committed themselves to diverse leadership and talent teams, are achieving more.

Our younger generations, for the most part have been raised in such a vastly diverse world that they have grown up with a clear understanding and a zero tolerance attitude towards any form of discrimination, especially workplace discrimination. Coming from a slightly older generation, I remember a time when a large proportion of society was shall we say, 'below par' in their diversity acceptance levels. But since then I naively thought we had come quite far, so far in fact that I couldn't quite believe we were even still seeing threads of inequality, exclusion and discrimination in the workplace. 

Despite my naivety, the UK is in fact still lagging behind in the balancing of equal opportunities. Women remain underrepresented at the top of corporations globally and here in the UK they account for an average of just 12 percent, it is not just women who are underrepresented though, 78 percent of UK companies still have senior-leadership teams that fail to reflect the country's diverse cultural population. 

These statistics show a clear delay in gender and racial inequality being eradicated from our workplaces but what about other forms of discrimination? A 2019 study carried out by The ADP Workforce View in Europe indicated that discrimination and workplace harassment are also still very much an issue in the UK. 

The ADP surveyed over 10,000 employees in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain in a bid to find out how employees feel about issues in the workplace. 38% of those surveyed from the UK, reported that they had been discriminated against in the workplace. The most common types of discrimination in the workplace reported were, age (11 %), gender (9 %), appearance (7 %) and race / nationality (7 %). 

With so much acceptance and recognition for the beauty of human diversity in the world today, how have we not quite nailed this in our workplaces yet? How can we make people see that strength, inspiration, creativity, success and innovation stems from our uniqueness, that we can all be different without being treated differently? 

For me, the answer has to lie in education, leading by example and casting out those who would seek to disrupt. 

What is diversity?

Diversity means varied & different. I really like this acrostic sentence for the word Diversity:




Each other 

Regardless of 



Talents, or 


It sums the meaning up perfectly. 

What is Equality?

Equality means celebrating the unique and promoting everybody's right to be different, be free, and be an individual.

The law protecting equality and diversity

Legal legislation is in place under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure we have inclusive working environments and that difference does not play a part in candidate selection, employee treatment, career progression or opportunity. The aim of the Equality Act in particular, is to improve equal opportunities and fairness for all employees and job applicants. 

It is illegal for employers to discriminate against any of these protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Marriage & Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy & Maternity
  • Religion or Belief
  • Race
  • Gender Reassignment

Discrimination acts are in place to ensure that all employers adhering to and we would hope, exceed the minimum standards set out. With this clear definitive legislation in place, all employees should enjoy the freedom of individuality throughout their career. 

Unfortunately, this is not always the case and while it is arguably less common, it is still a topic that we need to continue raising, encouraging employees to speak up for themselves and for others against discrimination in the workplace.

Recognising discrimination

Recognising, highlighting and rectifying instances of discrimination and inequality helps to keep us all vigilant, we will know what we are looking for and we will notice when something is not quite right. Both employers and their employees can be held responsible and liable for their actions if they discriminate.

Direct discrimination

When a person is treated differently than another person because of a protected characteristic they have. If for example, an employer refuses to offer you a job because of your gender even though you have the skills and competencies required for the position. 

Indirect discrimination

When a rule, procedure or policy indirectly discriminates against an employee. For example, if an employer requests that all employees be clean shaven, they would indirectly discriminate against anyone who couldn’t shave because their religious belief doesn’t allow them to.

Associative discrimination

When someone suffers discrimination because of their association with someone with a protected characteristic. For example, if an employee who has a disabled child is turned down for promotion because the employer thinks they will be unreliable and need more time off and a less qualified colleague is given the job.

Perception discrimination

Where someone thinks a person has a particular protected characteristic, even if they do not. Such as, an employer rejecting a job application from a person who has an African or Eastern-European-sounding name.

Conscious or Cognitive Bias, in the form of harassment, bullying and exclusion is a form of discrimination too. Threats, jokes, gestures, aggressive physical behaviour, exclusion and repeating behaviour a person has previously objected to are all forms of bullying and harassment, under no circumstances should this type of behaviour be tolerated.

You can find out more about bullying and harassment protection under the Equality Act 2010 act here.

Implicit or un-conscious bias

When an employer or employee unconsciously or unintentionally discriminates against someone. 

Affinity Bias

A subtle, but real form of unconscious bias where we tend attribute good personality traits to people whom we can relate to. In recruitment, this can come into play during the interview stage. If an interviewee is similar to the interviewer or acts in a certain way that reminds the interviewer of a person, they like they are more likely to consider offering them the job. 

When an interviewer has things in common with a candidate, such as where they are from, where they went to school, what their background is, they may prefer that candidate over one with whom they do not share those types of similarities, regardless of who is better suited for the job. 

This kind of bias is often seen in organisations where the general ethos is to find people who are a good "culture fit".

Implicit bias is much more difficult to protect against as it is our subconscious that is in control, not us. Many of us would be devastated at the idea that we have unconsciously discriminated against someone but with all of the following examples you will see that are so many types to watch out for, it is impossible to eradicate completely but critical to maintain constant vigilance.

Horn Effect

The horn effect is where first impressions create an unconscious bias. If, for instance, a person is seen to be too loud, or too shy, it could also be assumed that they will not be smart or clever, or good at their job. Any perception of an unfavourable characteristic creates an unconscious bias that overshadows their other traits, beliefs, and actions.

Leniency Effect

The leniency bias occurs when applicants might be rated too high because of the interviewers own personal context. For instance, an interviewer might rate an applicant leniently because they feel that it could reflect unfavourably on themselves, or it might affect their relationship with the person being rated. 

Stringent bias is the opposite of this, where a particular interviewee might be rated too negatively because of the interviewer's own context, or their negative view of certain personality traits. 

The Central Tendency Effect

The middle of the line, where a panel wants to avoid any hint of bias towards any particular gender or ethnic group, and so rates everyone in the middle irrespective of their suitability for the job.

Confirmation Bias

This is when you search for information that confirms your pre-existing beliefs. In an interview setting, if an interviewer has already made an implicit judgment based on a candidate's resume or their appearance that they are the best candidate for the job, they are likely to focus on information during the interview that confirms this belief. If on the other hand they have certain beliefs that a particular nationality, gender or ethnic group, or even University is the best, then they are likely to seek out that information that confirms those beliefs and potentially skew their judgment.

Conformity Bias

In a group, it is possible that one person has a different opinion to others, but if they notice others responding better to a particular candidate, they are more likely to do the same. Unconsciously deciding to agree with the majority and be swayed by it.

Contrast Effect

Our brains use comparisons to place things and people in context.  In an interview situation, if a candidate was particularly good, then the following candidate would not appear as suitable for the position. This can happen at the stage of shortlisting the candidates from their CV's too. 

Trying to select a candidate from batches of CV's makes it difficult to be objective in the selection process, employers can find that they are comparing candidates rather than judging each on their own merit, and their suitability for the job being offered.

It is not only employers taking on new staff who are at the mercy of implicit bias, it works both ways. The candidate can make a snap judgement on the organisation, the job, the culture and the environment simply by meeting the interviewer just as easily as the interviewer can about the candidate. 

Our subconscious is a complex and fickle thing and so it is difficult to completely avoid any unconscious bias in the interview process or in the workplace but with effective training and promoting a mindful attitude towards bias, discrimination and equality, we can work to minimise even the most subtle of biases. 

If an organisation is truly invested in ensuring diversity across their workforce, then they will employ strategies at the recruitment level that will help to widen the candidate pool.

If you feel you have been unfairly treated when applying for a job, click here to read more information about your protection from employment discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Ensuring businesses and organisations are held accountable

While we all know I love a good rant about injustice, it is important that I do not stand in a glass house throwing stones at passers-by. So, in the interest of full disclosure here is a snippet from Blue Arrow's Gender Pay Gap report.

“Blue Arrow has a median gender pay gap of 8.07% (last year - 6.86%). Due to the nature of our business, a large proportion of the people included on the date of the snapshot were temporary workers whose pay is fixed by our customers. Amongst our salaried people where pay is under our direct control, our median gender pay gap is 9.21%, an improvement on last year’s figure of 12.22%”

A gender pay gap shows the difference in average pay across all of the men and women in an organisation, industry or country as a whole. It is not the same as an equal pay comparison which looks at how much men and women are paid for carrying out the same role.

Statistics provide a learning and improvement opportunity. Through monitoring, tracking and reporting, we can identify areas for improvement, but we can also celebrate areas in which we are succeeding, for example, the Blue Arrow senior management team reflects a 55% gender split in favour of women. This is a great example of how change can often be led from the top. 

What can you do? 

If you believe that you have been subjected to discrimination, or believe you have witnessed discrimination in the workplace, you should feel confident in raising the matter with your employer. If you cannot then there are a number of resources available to you:

  • Citizens Advice Bureau: Adviceline (England): 03444 111 444
  • Acas: An impartial organisation that aims to help people solve problems at work. Helpline 0300 123 1100

Before you contact an organisation for help, it’s a good idea to be prepared with some information:

  • write down what happened so it’s easier to describe
  • collect documents relating to the problem, for example your contract or your company’s policy on dealing with problems at work
  • any emails or letters that will help you explain what happened

It is not only organisations but also individuals who need to be held accountable for their actions or lack thereof in protecting society from inequality. 

Businesses and employers cannot eradicate it from our workplaces alone. It will take employees at all levels to demand change but also to become the change we want to see, every single one of us, by challenging our own behaviours and beliefs – constantly questioning our decision-making processes, noticing the bias that may already be evident in our friendship and family groups. If our non-work world isn’t particularly diverse then it’s likely we’re bringing that unconscious bias to our workplace communities too. We need to support the amplification of voices calling out when things are wrong in every country, town and village and in every workplace and every school.

We must all be committed to:

  • Reporting any suspected discriminatory acts or practices
  • Co-operating with any measures introduced to ensure equality of opportunity
  • Not victimising anyone as a result of them having complained about, reported or provided evidence of discrimination
  • Not harassing, abusing or intimidating others

It is our responsibility to stand up for what we believe in, to insist on equality and diversity. The seamless integration and coexistence of unique individuals should be the norm, let us ensure that bias, exclusion, discrimination in the workplace and inequality become notions of the past.