How to write an equal opportunities policy that makes a difference
People do not all start life on the same playing field.
Our chances of success in life are shaped by hundreds of invisible social forces that are outside any one person’s direct control. Our skin colour, our ethnicity, our gender and physical sex, and what kind of income our families had.
Equal opportunity policies exist to open doors for people who deserve them but lack access because of circumstances beyond their control. They help to promote equality and help build a path to a better, kinder world.
A lot of companies look at creating an equal opportunities policy as making a checklist of boxes to tick. I disagree with this approach.
Your equal opportunities policy is a statement of your commitment to creating a workplace where everyone is treated fairly and feels accepted, heard and seen. Creating a diverse workplace benefits you as a business owner as well, because it creates an environment where team members do their best work and stay with you for the long run.
I’d like to use what I learned leading the equality, diversity, and inclusion efforts at Charlie to offer a process for creating an equal opportunities policy that goes above meeting legal requirements, but creates a culture that values inclusivity and respect.
What is an equal opportunities policy?
Your equal opportunities policy outlines your company’s commitment to preventing unfair discrimination based on protected characteristics like age, race, sex, gender and religion.
The purpose of your equal opportunities policy should be to provide a framework for fair treatment and quality at your organisation, in a way that applies to all your employees, contractors, and anyone else who works for you.
The legal framework around what an equal opportunity policy is and what it should look like is outlined in the UK Equality Act of 2010.
I should add that the scope of equal opportunities policies is evolving beyond this definition. The term people use more often - including my team here at Charlie - is the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Policy (DEI). It’s a small distinction but an important one. The focus now is to include initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion, rather than merely ensuring equal opportunities.
Why your business needs an equal opportunities policy
Why do you need an equal opportunities policy in the first place? For starters, it’s just the right thing to do.
Having an equal opportunities policy creates a business that treats people fairly and equally, regardless of the hand of cards they were dealt in life. It provides you with legal protection as well. Having a policy in place serves as a safeguard for your business in case of discrimination lawsuits.
Lastly, there are long-term benefits for your business of having such a policy. It can help improve employee morale and create a more positive work environment.
Crafting your equal opportunities policy
An equal opportunity policy isn’t just an ethical business practice, but it can help set the foundation of your company culture. Putting a little thought into what it is and what it looks like can help determine what kind of company you want to be.
Here’s how I advise you to go about making yours.
Key elements to include
You can start by outlining the characteristics protected under the Equality Act of 2010. That sets the stage for what’s to come.
Make it crystal clear that all employment processes, from hiring to firing to everything in between, will be done in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.
Make it clear also that there are consequences for violating these policies. Include details on what to report, who to report it to, and how investigations will be done.
Transparency is the key here.
Tips for writing an effective policy
There are a few things I advise you to keep in mind as you make your equal opportunities policy.
Try looking at the Charlie equal opportunities policy template here below for an idea of what your own policy should look like and what should go in it.
Equal opportunities policy template
Equal Opportunities statement
[COMPANY NAME] aims at all times to promote equality and diversity in the workplace and to provide a working environment that is free from discrimination. We wish to ensure that all of our team members feel respected and valued, that they can achieve their full potential, and that all employment decisions are taken without reference to irrelevant or discriminatory criteria.
About this policy
This policy applies to everyone who works for the Company, or who act on the Company’s behalf. All team members have a role in ensuring that equality is promoted at work. We all have a personal responsibility to comply with the policy and to ensure, as far as possible, that others do the same.
The [COMPANY NAME] is responsible for this policy, and for ensuring that all in the Company understand their rights and obligations as detailed within it, and for any necessary training on equal opportunities.
This policy does not form part of your contract of employment, and we may amend it at any time.
The legal framework
As well as being morally wrong, it is illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of any of the following Protected Characteristics:
- Gender reassignment
- Marital or civil partner status
- Pregnancy or maternity
- Race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin)
- Religion, religious belief or similar philosophical belief
- Sexual orientation (ie homosexuality, bisexuality or heterosexuality)
There are four basic types of unlawful discrimination:
This means treating someone less favourably than you would treat others because of a Protected Characteristic. For example, rejecting a job applicant because they are Jewish, or not promoting someone because they are gay. This includes any less favourable treatment because you perceive a person to have a Protected Characteristic (even though they do not in fact have it), or because they associate with a person or group who has a Protected Characteristic.
This means placing someone at a disadvantage through a policy, practice or criterion that applies to everyone but adversely affects people with a particular Protected Characteristic. For example, if a company insisted that all employees work on a Sunday, this would adversely affect Christians. And requiring that a job be fulfilled full-time would adversely affect women as they generally have greater childcare commitments. If such a practice or criterion cannot be justified as a reasonable means to an end, then it could be considered unlawful.
Harassment related to any of the Protected Characteristics will be unlawful if it consists of unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive, degrading or humiliating environment for that person. If you feel that you have been the subject of harassment please refer to our Bullying & Harassment Policy for more information and guidance.
This is the unfavourable treatment of a person because they have taken action to assert their own legal rights under discrimination law, or assisted someone else to do so. For example, if a disabled employee asserts in a grievance that their employer is not complying with its duty to make reasonable adjustments, and is then systematically excluded from meetings.
Equal opportunities in employment
We commit to avoiding unlawful discrimination in all aspects of employment including recruitment, promotion, opportunities for training, pay and benefits, discipline, and selection for redundancy.
Recruitment and selection
Person and job specifications will be limited to those requirements that are necessary for the effective performance of the job. Candidates for employment or promotion will be assessed objectively against the requirements for the position, and on the basis of merit. Similarly other selection exercises such as redundancy selection will be conducted against objective criteria. A person’s personal or home commitments will not form the basis of employment decisions except where justified and necessary.
We will generally advertise vacancies to a diverse section of the labour market. Our advertisements should avoid any kind of stereotyping or wording that may discourage particular groups from applying.
Job applicants should never be asked questions which might suggest an intention to discriminate on grounds of a Protected Characteristic. For example, you may not ask an applicant if they plan to have children.
We will consider any possible indirectly discriminatory effect of our standard working practices, including the number of hours to be worked, the times at which these are to be worked and the place at which the work is to be carried out. When considering requests for variations to these working practices we will only refuse these if we have good reasons for doing so.
Part-time and temporary employees
We will treat part-time and fixed-term employees the same as comparable full-time or permanent employees, and will ensure that that they enjoy no less favourable terms and conditions (albeit on a pro-rata basis where appropriate), unless different treatment is justified.
We will not ask job applicants about their health or any disability before offering them a position, unless it is to check that they can perform an intrinsic part of the job, or to see if we need to make any particular arrangements to accommodate them at interview. Where necessary, job offers can be made conditional to a satisfactory medical check. Health or disability questions may be included in equal opportunities monitoring forms - these must not be used for selection or decision-making purposes.
If you are disabled or become disabled, we would ask you to tell us about your condition, in strict confidence, so that we can support you as much as possible, and discuss with you any adjustments that may help you.
Breaches of the policy
All staff members have a right to equality of opportunity and an obligation to uphold this policy. Managers must take responsibility for implementing the policy and for taking positive steps to promote equality at work.
We consider any violation of the Equal Opportunities policy to be a serious matter, and, where appropriate, we may invoke the disciplinary procedure when dealing with a breach. Serious cases of deliberate discrimination may amount to gross misconduct resulting in summary dismissal. Unlawful discrimination may also result in legal proceedings against you personally and against the Company, and may leave you and the Company liable to pay compensation.
If you believe that you have suffered discrimination you can raise the matter through our grievance procedure, or you can talk to your manager, HR person or a trusted colleague in the first instance if you feel more comfortable doing this. Complaints will be treated in confidence and investigated as appropriate.
You must not be victimised or retaliated against for complaining about discrimination. However, making a false allegation deliberately and in bad faith will be treated as misconduct.
1. Get an expert’s point of view
As a small business owner, it’s not likely that you’ll have the hands-on expertise to ensure your policy is in line with the UK Equal Opportunity Act.
It’s a good idea for you to get in touch with an HR expert who can guide you through that process. I or another Charlie HR advisor can assist you here in making a policy that is aligned with the law, and your values as a company.
2. Make it easy to access
Your equal opportunities policy should be stored somewhere any of your employees can view it if they need to. The Charlie document storage feature can be a great way to do this.
Your entire team can use Charlie to have a look at the equal opportunities policy you made whenever they have a question or want to file a dispute. GoSquared, a Charlie customer, uses it for document storage themselves.
“One of the things I like about Charlie is that there's a lot more transparency to the team. They know this is the place where information resides. They can upload documents themselves and they know they will be in Charlie rather than lost in some ‘cloud’ or email thread.” James, CEO at GoSquared
3. Update it regularly
It’s good practice to review and revise your equal opportunities policy regularly. The laws and expectations for workplace diversity and equality change as the social norms surrounding them change, and your policy should reflect that.
4. Get your team’s input
You’re a small team of people. Diversity arguably is more felt within a small business where people play multiple roles and work very closely together. What they think matters.
Consider getting input from your team with CharlieHR’s automated employee pulse surveys.
Implementing and enforcing your policy
So much for the nuts and bolts of your equal opportunities policy. Now you need to get your team on the same page and make sure your core leadership adheres to it.
You implement and enforce your equal opportunity policy through training and monitoring.
Equal opportunities training and awareness
When you put your equal opportunities policy into place, you need to educate your employees about it. Regular training sessions can help make sure everyone understands why the policy exists and how to follow it.
Monitoring and review
After you put your policy into action, you’ll need to do regular policy audits to make sure it stays current and effective. That can help you find any areas where they need improvement or adjusting. The Charlie HR software can be a good place to store and manage your equal opportunity policy and other employee records, which makes it easier to conduct these audits.
Move beyond equality and towards diversity and inclusion
Your equal opportunity policy is so much more than a legal and compliance issue, it’s a chance for you to create a work environment that helps celebrate the diversity of the human experience.
It is a legal and moral compass for your organisation and creates a workplace where people are treated fairly regardless of their background.
A policy is only as good as its implementation. Not only does it need to cover the bases in clear language, but it should be on display where anyone at your company can see it, it should apply to everyone, and it should be continually updated to keep it current.
A free trial of Charlie can help you get started on this process. Get started on a free trial today, and you’ll start to see how an equal company is not just a kinder company, but a better business.