The introduction of the Equality Act 2010 sought to prevent discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, race or religion in the workplace, but, despite this, problems continue in the workplace.

Whilst improvements have been made since the legislation was passed by parliament eight years ago, there are still areas which need more work. Most British businesses and workplaces will now have a framework to address and rectify transgressions against the terms of the Equality Act.

Although this approach is effective in addressing explicit discrimination, it can miss more implicit forms of the problem. Recent research by HR training providers Developing People Globally (DPG) has uncovered numerous examples of implicit discrimination that have had a negative impact on working environments and employee well-being.

What is Explicit Discrimination?

Explicit discrimination occurs when someone consciously chooses to discriminate against someone based on one of the categories protected under the Equality Act 2010. This discrimination can be wide-ranging in form but in the workplace largely relates to preventing someone’s employment, promotion or equal pay based on one of the protected qualities.

Explicit discrimination is the result of deliberate thoughts and acts. As such it can, to some extent, be regulated, evidenced and policed. It is in this area that the Equality Act has been the most effective.

What is Implicit Discrimination?

Implicit discrimination in the workplace can be harder to track. Implicit discrimination stems from unconscious thoughts and will not be as easy to evidence as explicit discrimination. It is here that the biggest improvements still need to be made.

Examples of implicit discrimination can include using language which may be offensive to some people or unconsciously favouring some groups over others in the workplace. Recent research by DPG has shown that implicit discrimination still exists in a number of UK workplaces.

DP|G have surveyed UK workers to find examples of implicit discrimination, and the results unveiled some shocking statements. These included exclamations such as “Hey sex pot” to address a female worker, and “Have you just got back from court” to greet a smartly dressed black employee.

In these instances, the people making the statements are not recognised by the individual saying them as discriminating against a group. As a result, their intent is harder to evidence than, say, someone refusing a candidate a job because of their age or a disability. It’s important to remember, however, that this does not mean that their words are any less harmful.

The Impact of Implicit Discrimination

As HR professionals, it is a key part of our job to create, nurture and encourage a happy and accepting work environment for our staff. To do this we must attempt to overcome implicit discrimination.

Implicit discrimination can feed into the recruitment process as unconscious bias. If left unchallenged, people may allow their perceptions of certain groups to affect who they choose to hire and promote within their company, leading to more explicit forms of discrimination.

What can we do?

A number of actions can be taken which will help to eliminate unconscious bias and implicit discrimination from your workplace:

  1. Be aware: Conduct exercises to inform you about the makeup of your staff and if certain groups are over represented without there being an obvious reason. Carry out anonymous surveys with your staff to make sure people aren’t witnessing examples of discrimination.
  2. Train your managers: Hosting sessions that inform your managers of what they need to be looking out for and how they themselves might be holding onto unconscious bias are incredibly important. Book these regularly to keep the issue at the forefront of people’s minds.
  3. Proactively promote diversity: In your recruitment process, try to have representation from a number of different groups. Keep an open mind about people’s pasts and qualifications, especially for entry-level jobs when a period of training is likely to be necessary anyway.
  4. Have diverse interview panels: Having a panel made up of people from different groups and backgrounds can help prevent a concentrated unconscious bias as there is more chance that someone will recognise what is going on and be able to pull others up on it.
  5. Try blind recruitment: Blind recruitment is already being introduced by some companies. It involves accepting applications without the visibility of a person’s personal details (such as gender, name, or age). This removes unconscious bias in selecting candidates to interview.

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