The Equality Act 2010 – Ten years on…

This month marks 10 years since the government pulled together several small pieces of legislation into the Equality Act we know today. 

In October 2010, the protected characteristics were listed out, along with the extent to which the law will defend the rights of people of any marital status, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical and psychological characteristics, sexuality or race.

It was a landmark achievement for D,E & I enthusiasts, and since the introduction of the Equality Act, several other events have changed the landscape of diversity, equality and inclusion as we know it.  

The new Act along with the requirement of Gender Pay Gap Reporting in April 2017 has kept the conversation about inclusivity moving forward.

The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and of Sarah Everard in March 2021 also created shockwaves which amplified the messages of the #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo and #ReclaimTheNight campaigns pushing us into a new DE&I era of action. 

We seem to be in a new age of zero tolerance, and of proactivity – instead of passive acceptance of biases existing in the subconscious mind. The Cabinet Office was actually one of the very first employers to recognise that standard training on Unconscious Bias was difficult to track in it’s effectiveness, and started a trend towards training covering the recognition of the need for personal education, for the acceptance of privilege, and the importance of allyship.  

Many employers have begun their journey of recognising the depth of the duty of care they have to their people, responding to legislative changes and events in the news by prioritising their inclusion strategies to make sure their people felt safe, authentic, included, and empowered to thrive in their work and life.  

So what does the next ten years of The Equality Act now hopefully hold? And how can we collectively keep the conversation moving forward?

Here in October 2022 we find ourselves with a female Prime Minister again, Liz Truss having ascended to the position from her previous role of Women and Equalities Minister. 

Do we dare to hope that our new Prime Minister might take the ethos of equality into her new leading position…or feel concern that her new scaled back cabinet did not include a replacement Women and Equalities Minister to continue leading the way into the next era?

It’s worth mentioning that Section 106 of the Equality Act was never actually put into action. This was the section which required political parties to report on diversity and representation, and truly demonstrate that they are making decisions from lived experience. 

This decision and lack of a figurehead leaves us wondering who will be leading the conversation on equality moving forward, and be accountable?

The conversation on diversity is always moving, and as such, it feels like a great time to think about whether the Equality Act 2010 continues to provide what we and employers need to progress into the next decade. 

At GoTitleFree, the key characteristics in The Act which hold our attention are ‘Marriage and Civil Partnership’, and ‘Gender’. – Primarily because we believe that requests, usage and storage of marital status titles goes against the grain of what the Equality Act 2010 intends to achieve. 

When a business asks for this information about us as individuals, giving no option to opt out, as well as disregarding our need for authenticity, they’re creating the potential for differentiation in treatment based on gender, or on statuses which reveal more about women than they do about men.

It is sensitive information. 

Therefore, if we were to make a list of required updates to The Equality Act, top of the list is:

  • The demand for marital status titles to be made illegal, as part of the protected characteristic of Marriage and Civil Partnership, and GDPR. 

Employers who are eager to demonstrate best practice are also introducing initiatives which take additional characteristics into consideration, such as backgrounds of socio-economic underprivilege, class, employment status, location bias and political bias.

The Act currently does not address the existence of structural biases at play regarding many other backgrounds, including social/ financial under-privilege. 

Therefore, the second change we ask for is:

  • An additional characteristic to be added to the current list making discrimination against those with a financially or socially underprivileged background illegal. 

And what happens when several of the protected characteristics combine?

Identities are complex and unique, and the combination of associated challenges are therefore equally unique – and amplified in combination.

National Inclusion Week this year (September) themes also included a strong leaning towards ‘intersectionality’, which is the existence of several characteristics together, and therefore a range of challenges that cannot be understood through the lens of one characteristic. 

The Equality Act 2010 doesn’t cover this, and how factors such as race, faith, ethnicity, age, disability and sexuality, can combine with gender to create distinct and exacerbated experiences of bias and discrimination.

Therefore our third demand is:

  • For recognition that multiple biases and multiple privileges add up to a level that is greater than a mere sum of their parts. Intersectionality needs to be addressed and recognised. 

Finally, there is the futility element. It’s so difficult and expensive to ensure that The Act is meaningful in real life. 

Out of the 54,000 women who experienced pregnancy and maternity discrimination annually, only around 1% are ever able to bring their case before a tribunal due to the cost, and the limitation on time via ACAS. 

It takes time, money and a lot of courage to successfully get businesses to respond and change behaviours, to change policies and onboarding systems, and to take employers to tribunals. 

There have been very few high profile cases, and unless people can access justice, how do we ‘police’ all elements of the current Act, and any amendments in the future?

Until necessary adjustments are made to the Equality Act, we hope to see employers continuing to adopt best practices and demonstrate to the government that there is a business case as well as a moral case for inclusion.

The GoTitleFree survey remains open for all who wish to add their name to our petition for businesses to stop requesting, using and storing marital status titles. 

We also continue to work with employers to assess and progress with their diversity, equity strategies so that our campaign may be a specific, but nevertheless important part of achieving an inclusive future for the English-speaking world. 

To download our Business Best Practice Guide, click here.

To use our 40 step plan to being gender inclusive, click here

As always we thank our brilliant supporters and networks, and look forward to working with you to see what the next ten years of equality, diversity and inclusion brings. 

Stella Sutcliffe.

Photo courtesy of Gratisography

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