Equality and diversity in society

In this section we will look at:

  • the nine protected characteristics
  • where inequality can occur
  • understanding and respecting differences between people
  • types of discrimination and how people can be affected
  • identities and characteristics of individuals and groups

Dictionary meaning: the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities.

Equality is the ‘state of being equal’. It is even, balanced and fair.

Equality is about making certain that people are treated fairly and are given fair chances. However, equality is not about treating everyone in exactly the same way. It is about recognising the importance of treating each person as an individual, and making sure that their needs are met in a variety of ways.

Equality is based on the principles of:

  • fairness – working and living in ways that do not discriminate against anyone
  • respect – encouraging a culture where everyone receives respect and can express their views and be heard
  • honesty – ensuring that policies and practices are transparent (clear) and open to scrutiny
  • providing opportunities – working and living in a culture where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential

Equity is the fair treatment ad equal access to opportunity for everyone – so removing the barriers that might have prevented the full participation of some groups and individuals in the workplace.

Equity is about ensuring a level playing field for everyone regardless of their personal circumstances.

Dictionary meaning: variety, assortment, range, mixture.

Diversity refers to the wide range of attributes, backgrounds and skills that are in our society. In the UK, we have people of many races, religions, abilities, ages and so on. They bring a diverse and colourful range of cultures, traditions, ceremonies, skills, languages, backgrounds, experience and other attributes to our society.

A diverse approach aims to recognise, harness and manage differences, so that everyone can contribute to society and realise their full potential. Diversity challenges us to recognise and value all sorts of differences in order to make society more inclusive, fair and comfortable for everyone.

Dictionary meaning: treating less favourably due to prejudice, unfairness, intolerance, favouritism, bigotry.

Discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably than another person in the same situation because of their race, gender, disability, religious beliefs etc. For example, in the past, sex discrimination was tolerated and it was legal to pay men and women at different rates for the same job. This only became illegal in the UK in 1970.

Discrimination can be seen in many forms, such as:

  • excluding people – e.g. from jobs, promotion, education or other opportunities
  • making assumptions – e.g. about different abilities
  • physical assault
  • verbal and non-verbal abuse
  • avoiding people – e.g. refusing to mix with people from different races or religious backgrounds

Inclusion is the act of creating an environment where everyone is welcome, respected, and supported, regardless of those different characteristics.

Please note: Diversity is a reality; inclusion is a choice.

Dictionary meaning: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

Prejudice is based on preconceived and unfounded opinions, where someone does not know all of the facts about a person, group or situation. It is the act of prejudging someone or something, usually judging them to be of less worth or value.

It can lead to dislike, hostility or unjust behaviour. Examples of prejudice include:

  • racial prejudice (racism) – e.g. when individuals or groups direct prejudice, discrimination or antagonism against someone of a different race, based on the belief that their own race is superior
  • sexual prejudice (sexism) – e.g. prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination, often against women, on the basis of their gender

Dictionary meaning: an oversimplified or generalised image or idea about a particular type of person, group or thing.

A stereotype is usually based on limited or incomplete knowledge about the person, group or thing. It is often based on an exaggeration of characteristics, and can relate to, for example, race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

For example, the stereotype of a person who receives a pension might include descriptions such as: grey hair, inactive, dependent, bad-tempered, slow and not very mobile. However, the diversity of characteristics of people who receive pensions is as broad as for any other group – e.g. any hair colour, all levels of fitness and activity, and so on.

The terms ‘stereotyping’ and ‘prejudice’ are often thought to mean the same thing. However, there is a difference:

  • stereotypes are based on simplified or generalised (often incorrect) information about a group of people with whom there is some familiarity
  • prejudices are preconceived (usually negative) judgements about a group of people, made without knowledge or familiarity

Labelling is when we identify individuals as members of particular groups (based on a stereotype) and categorise them in society. The individuals are then expected to conform to the behaviour associated with the stereotype with which they have been labelled.

Word labels in our culture represent specific aspects of a person’s life, such as religious affiliation, race, gender, age or education levels. For example, if you are labelled by your religious beliefs, you might be called Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Sikh.

Labelling can be positive or negative, but both shape the way people perceive themselves and others. Negative labels can often build barriers between people who are actually very similar to each other, by highlighting differences rather than similarities. Positive labels can help a group to bond and feel valued and included, such as a football team’s supporters who all wear the team’s kit and colours to a match.

Protected characteristics
The Equality Act 2010 means that all people are now protected from discrimination due to their:

  • age – everyone over 18 is protected at work and in training
    disability – organisations must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate
  • staff, customers and visitors with disabilities
  • sex – equal pay, training and opportunity for males and females
  • gender reassignment – people changing from male to female, or female to male
  • marriage or civil partnership – preventing discrimination on the grounds of being married or in a civil partnership at work and in training
  • pregnancy or maternity (including breastfeeding) – only reasons of safety are not covered – e.g. equality may not be possible for pregnant women in some circumstances if the activity could harm them or the baby
  • race – wherever they were born, their parents’ and their own race and ethnicity are protected
  • religion or beliefs – any religion, lack of religion or personal belief is protected sexual orientation – heterosexual, gay, lesbian and bisexual people are covered

Under the Act, these are called protected characteristics. These characteristics are protected in most circumstances, and organisations need to have sound operational reasons for discrimination.

The protected characteristic ‘disability’, for example, covers many people including those who have:

  • physical disabilities – e.g. unable to walk due to a problem from birth, a degenerative disease or following an accident
  • mental health issues – e.g. problems since birth, following a mental breakdown or behavioural problems
  • learning disabilities – e.g. behavioural issues, lack of literacy, numeracy or communication skills for whatever reason
  • progressive conditions – e.g. cancer or multiple sclerosis
    visual impairments – e.g. complete blindness, partial blindness, poor eyesight due to age, degeneration or accident
  • hearing impairments – e.g. complete deafness, partial deafness, poor hearing due to age, degeneration or accident

Anyone can experience a disability or impairment at some point in their lives. Just think of the number of people who break a bone, have surgery, experience panic attacks or have debilitating cancer treatment, and nearly everyone has to deal with age-related impairments eventually. As a caring society, it is important to make allowances and provide assistance where we can – it may well be our turn one day.

Equal opportunity
Equal opportunity means the right to be treated without discrimination, especially on the grounds of someone’s gender, race, age or other protected characteristic. It means treating people who have different skills and abilities as individuals, and not making judgements based on stereotypes. For example, men and women of any age or race have an equal opportunity to be considered for a job if they have the necessary skills, experience and knowledge. The best person for the job should be selected, regardless of their gender, disability etc.

Equal opportunity policies and practices of organisations and the public sector make sure that everyone is entitled to freedom from discrimination, and that they all have equal access to opportunities – e.g. in education or employment.

Positive action
Positive action is where an organisation provides support or encouragement
to a particular group. It is only allowed where a specific group suffers a disadvantage connected to a shared protected characteristic, or if their participation in an activity is disproportionately low.

Examples of positive action by an employer can include:

  • encouraging applications from under-represented groups – e.g. through targeted advertising
  • offering pre-application training to particular groups where this meets a need – e.g. updating people’s skills ahead of the recruitment process
  • offering work shadowing opportunities to people from a particular group, to encourage individuals from this group to apply for the job
  • holding open days or ‘taster days’ which are held exclusively for the targeted group
  • The Equality Act 2010 makes it easier for employers and service providers to take positive action. The Act allows employers, on a case-by-case basis, to recruit or promote employees because of their protected characteristic, if they are as qualified as other candidates.

Discrimination by association
Discrimination by association is discrimination against someone because they associate with another person who has a protected characteristic.

For example, it would be illegal if an employer withdrew a promotion from someone after finding out that their mother, who lived with them, had been affected by a stroke. The employer would be discriminating against the employee because of their mother’s disability.

Sometimes we feel that we are not given equal opportunities within our society. However, there is strict legislation that protects us in many areas of our lives, the Equality Act 2010. It is based on preventing discrimination on the grounds of the nine protected characteristics that we saw earlier:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Sex
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • pregnancy or maternity (including breastfeeding) race
  • religion or beliefs
  • sexual orientation

These characteristics cover most forms of discrimination and the law is very wide- ranging, so we are protected in most of our activities. However, not everything can be covered by laws, and there are parts of our society that we may feel are unequal.

There is a government body that deals with equal opportunities, The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). It monitors rights and protects equality for the nine protected characteristics, such as marriage for same sex couples, or access for guidance dogs into tourist businesses. They provide a great deal of information, which can be found on their website: www.equalityhumanrights.com

In the UK, there are equal opportunities in many aspects of our society. This means that we all have an equal opportunity to have access to things such as:

People have equal opportunities in the UK and can access education regardless
of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, religion or social background. Access to learning applies to all groups and communities, including ethnic minorities, travellers, asylum-seekers, faith communities, young offenders, older people, and people with disabilities or learning difficulties.

Legislation changes frequently as the age range for free education changes. Full-time education has been compulsory for all children aged 5–18 since 2015.

Schools, colleges and other training providers give a broad range of opportunities to students, so that they can all reach their individual potential. There are government schemes to help people to gain access to education and training – e.g. further or higher education, apprenticeships, transport and finance packages. Although there is equal access to mandatory education, people have to meet certain criteria to enter into further and higher education.

Employment and recruitment
All employers are covered by the Equality Act 2010, and the law is generally applied to all workers, including temporary staff, trainees, apprentices or business partners.

People are not allowed to discriminate, harass or victimise other people because they have a protected characteristic, are perceived to have one, or are associated with someone who does have one. The Act protects against discrimination in employment, when seeking employment, or when engaged in occupations or activities that are related to work.

The Equality Act covers the whole recruitment process so that people applying for a job have equal opportunities. They cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of their gender, age, disability or any of the other protected characteristics.

As customers
All businesses are covered by the Equality Act. They can be any size and can be sole traders, partnerships, limited companies or any other legal structure. Goods, facilities and services can be charged for or be provided free of charge.

Customers and service users have equal opportunities and cannot usually be discriminated against on the grounds of any of the nine protected characteristics. There can be exceptions, such as separate services for men and women when there may be physical contact – e.g. health screening for conditions that affect only one sex.

Criminal justice system and national security
The police, law courts, tribunals, prison service and other parts of the criminal justice system are also covered by the Equality Act and must not discriminate on the grounds of the protected characteristics. Victims, witnesses, suspects and convicted criminals cannot be discriminated against because of a protected characteristic.

Local government and central services
Organisations that provide goods, facilities or services to the public are covered by
the Equality Act and this includes public sector organisations – e.g. local councils; government departments in Westminster (for England), Edinburgh (for Scotland) or Cardiff (for Wales); other public bodies and executive agencies. They all need to provide an equal opportunity of access to services for people with a protected characteristic.

Despite the far-reaching power and influence of the Equality Act and other legislation, there are still elements of our society that are unequal. This can be for a variety of reasons:

  • organisations or individuals do not comply with equality legislation
  • organisations or individuals are not within the scope of the law, so there is no legal basis on which to challenge them
  • we treat each other unequally and discriminate on grounds that are not one of the nine protected characteristics – e.g. discrimination on the grounds of weight or body shape
  • there are unequal factors that cannot be covered – e.g. salary level, commuting time or access to transport.

It would be very difficult to legislate for every characteristic or difference, and some people believe the law shouldn’t interfere too much in people’s lives.

Inequality can arise in many forms, for example:

Levels of income vary hugely and can depend on, for example:

  • education and training – e.g. where we study, what we study and how far we go with our qualifications can all have an effect
  • experience – e.g. at work or in other aspects of our lives
  • contacts and networks – e.g. people that we meet who help to introduce us to new opportunities
  • employment record – e.g. success in previous tasks or jobs can affect the level of pay
  • qualification for benefits – e.g. some people will qualify for higher levels of benefits than others
  • savings
  • inheritance
  • bankruptcy and business failures
  • the amount of state and workplace pensions received
  • changes in personal circumstances – e.g. divorce or bereavement
  • where people live and work – e.g. salaries in London are much higher, on average an employer’s pay scales and bonus schemes

The level of people’s income changes throughout their lives, and the changes are not always because of their own choices or within their own control.

Standard of housing
The standard of housing can vary a great deal, and sometimes it seems very unfair and unequal. The factors that can affect the standard can include:

  • the cost of houses in different parts of the country – e.g. houses in London and the south east of England cost considerably more than houses in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
  • the type of house – e.g. flat, bedsit, semi-detached suburban house, or farmhouse on a large plot of land
  • the age, quality and condition of the housing stock
  • the housing estate – e.g. some estates are undesirable and houses and property are often vandalised or not kept in good condition
  • whether the person owns or rents the property – e.g. a tenant may not have the same choices about decor, length of tenancy and so on; landlords may neglect their obligations to maintain the property; homeowners may be unable to afford repairs and upgrades
  • whether the house is in an up-and-coming area that is being developed and improved

The standard of housing in an area can change over decades, as money moves in or out.

Standard of education
Despite great efforts over many years, there are many differences between schools and colleges all over the UK. Some perform to an excellent standard, whilst others are considered to be failing and are given special measures to try to bring them up to a better standard.

Differences can be caused by factors such as the location of a school, the characteristics of the surrounding community, the way a school selects students, and the resources the school has available. For example, a state school where most pupils are from an economically disadvantaged background is likely to have lower exam results than a fee-paying independent school.

Provision of health and social care
Within the UK, there are differences in the provision of health and social care. Scotland and Wales make different decisions about who pays for what, and this
can be seen as being unequal when compared to the UK as a whole. For example, prescriptions have been free in Wales since 2007, but many people in England have to pay; nursing care and support services for people over 65 are free in Scotland, whereas people are means-tested in England and often have to pay.

There can also be inequality between different hospitals, and in different regions. This is not deliberate and the NHS has centres of excellence so that specialist care can be concentrated in one place, to give the best level of care and research.

The general public have access to statistics and league tables. Whilst these can show the inequality between healthcare providers, they can also help people to make an informed choice about where they want to be treated, if possible.

Although the law covers all aspects of recruitment and employment, there is still inequality at work between different people. The EHRC produced their report on the state of equality and human rights in 2015, called ‘Is Britain Fairer?’. According to the statistics for Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) in 2013:

  • men were twice as likely as women to be a manager, director or senior official men earned 20% more than women on average (22.5% in 2008) 16-24-year-olds had the lowest employment rates
    men were more likely to be unemployed (7.3%) than women (6.7%)
  • women were more likely to be in part-time work (43%) than men (13%)
  • unemployment rates increased more for disabled people (11.1%) compared with non-disabled people (6.4%)
  • Muslims experienced the highest unemployment rates of any religious group
  • people on zero-hours contracts were more likely to be women from both young and old age groups

Many of these inequalities can be down to personal choices, family commitments, education, career gaps, cultural differences and so on, and some of them are down to luck and opportunity. The law can only help us to have an equal opportunity, it cannot provide complete equality.

As we have already seen, diversity is about:

variety, assortment, range, mixture

In the UK, we have a very diverse society. People come from many different backgrounds, races and cultures, and we all bring a rich variety of attributes, an assortment of religions and beliefs, a range of abilities and a mixture of traditions to our society. There are many visible and non-visible differences between people.

Personal characteristics vary greatly and can include differences in, for example:

  • age
  • appearance – e.g. colour of eyes, skin or hair; tattoos or piercings; body shape
  • clothing styles – e.g. hoodies; burkas; headscarves; biker jackets; sportswear; high fashion
  • disability – e.g. physical or mental health issues from birth; impairment following accidents or illness; age-related degenerative disorders
  • gender – a range of gender identities, including transgender e.g. male, female, non-binary
  • health – e.g. being affected by poor health; having addictions; being extremely fit; weight management
  • intelligence
  • race
  • sexual orientation – e.g. gay, straight or bisexual

Cultural identities can include differences in, for example:

  • clothing styles and other physical markers
  • communication methods – e.g. body language, eye contact, ways of speaking, physical contact, displays of emotion
  • cultural beliefs – e.g. about family values or morality
  • cultural heritage – e.g. based on a group’s historical events and traditions
  • ethnicity – e.g. groups with common national or cultural traditions
  • food – e.g. curry, burgers, sushi, vegetarian, kosher or halal food
  • language – e.g. different languages; having English as a second language; using words and phrases that are unique to a specific cultural group
  • practices – e.g. attending religious services or meetings race – e.g. European, Nordic, Aborigine, Asian or African traditions – e.g. celebrations, weddings, festivals nationality

People have different beliefs and attitudes about, for example:

  • codes of behaviour – e.g. how to bring up children; alcohol consumption; smoking crime
  • education
  • marriage and relationships
  • morality
  • politics
  • religion – or having no faith or religion
  • values

People are sometimes classified according to their age and can be described as, for example:

  • pre-school
  • children
  • teenagers
  • middle-aged
  • young
  • old

We have a variety of lifestyles with differences in, for example:

  • employment status – e.g. employed, unemployed, self-employed, working as a volunteer, retired
  • family structure – e.g. single parents, blended families or several generations living together
  • housing
    location – e.g. of house, job or family
  • marital status
  • socioeconomic situation

The range of interests is infinite and can include:

  • work-based interests – e.g. work tasks, union membership, staff welfare, pay and conditions
  • leisure – e.g. playing sports, supporting teams, travelling, reading groups, music, socialising
  • education – e.g. taking evening classes, following an interest alone or in a group, discussion groups
  • community – e.g. volunteering, supporting food banks, campaigning for local issues, working with youth groups
  • family – e.g. supporting family members, socialising as a family unit, adoption and fostering, celebrating weddings and so on, childcare
  • health and fitness – e.g. gym membership, being a first-aider or first responder, supporting health campaigns, salsa lessons

There are many benefits of having a diverse society. Embracing diversity means that we can benefit from better relationships at all levels – e.g. at work, in education, in healthcare, in family life or in social situations.

A diverse environment is essential to encourage the exchange of ideas and to improve cultural understanding. A society that has a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-faith population has a wide range of strengths, talents, skills, abilities, history, experience and knowledge that can be drawn upon to promote better relationships and to enhance education, learning, creativity and personal growth for all.

We just have to think about the wide variety of foods that we now enjoy in the UK to appreciate the benefits of welcoming and including diversity in our lives. Cuisines from all around the world have become a major part of everyday life, when socialising and at home. Curry is as popular as fish and chips in modern Britain. The same applies to clothing, art, music, philosophy and many other aspects of life where colour and variety enrich all of our lives.

People with different attributes bring different things to society. For example:

  • older people can bring a wealth of experience and knowledge
  • younger people can often bring fresh energy and curiosity to a situation
  • people from different countries and backgrounds bring ideas, music, food, fashion etc. from a rich mixture of cultures
  • people with religious beliefs may bring compassion, peaceful solutions to problems, a willingness to help, or patience and understanding that they can use to help others with problems

However, it is important to remember to go beyond any stereotypes and treat everyone as an individual. Only by treating each other and respecting each other as individuals can we all benefit from the diverse attributes that each person offers.

Acceptance, understanding and tolerance of differences make a stronger and safer society. By removing fear, prejudice and ignorance, we can work together to include everyone and encourage participation in society. When people are not excluded because of their age, size, race, gender, sexual orientation and so on, they can use their individual gifts and strengths for the benefit of all society.

Diversity and the individual
Embracing diversity can have benefits for individuals as well as communities and society in general. An individual’s life can be enhanced by, for example:

  • a richer life experience – from being open-minded and accepting new ideas and experiences
  • greater knowledge and understanding of people and their issues
  • increased tolerance and understanding of others
  • removal of barriers and prejudices between the individual and other people friendships and working relationships with a wide variety of people
  • a better sense of belonging
  • access to information about all aspects of other cultures and issues – e.g. increased knowledge about disability and impairment as a result of interest in the Paralympic Games
  • greater opportunities to try things from other cultures and backgrounds – e.g. music, food, traditions or festivals
  • finding out about different ways of looking at life and solving problems – e.g. exploring other religions and philosophies, or finding out about how older or younger people deal with problems

Respecting people’s differences
Respect is the foundation of all good relationships. It is not necessary for people to share beliefs, interests or personal characteristics, they just need to be able to respect differences without prejudice.

It is important to respect people’s differences so that, for example:

  • people can live and work together harmoniously
  • people do not feel unfairly excluded
  • creativity and innovation can flourish
  • we can learn from each other
  • we can benefit from characteristics that we do not have ourselves
  • society can be safer and stronger for everyone
  • division, prejudice, fear and hate crime can be minimised

It helps if people treat others as they wish to be treated themselves, and help others to value themselves. People cannot be forced to respect each other, but we can respect each other’s differences. We can remain open-minded and learn to accept differences, even if we do not agree with them personally.

To develop respect, we need to avoid:

  • insulting and putting down others
  • abusing, hurting, mistreating or harassing others
  • making rude or insulting comments
  • making unwanted personal comments about a person
  • making fun of others
  • taking advantage of other people
  • holding back information that people need to enable them to make decisions
  • stopping other people expressing themselves or practising their own attitudes, beliefs or values

Using good communication skills
When talking, it is important to speak in a respectful tone and to listen carefully to replies. We may need to give some people extra time to communicate, especially if there are language, hearing or learning difficulties. We may need to repeat something, try different words, write things down or draw a diagram or picture to communicate successfully.

Communication is a two-way process, so it is important to take responsibility for getting a message across in a way that works for the other person, and to not make them feel inadequate or incompetent if at all possible.

Some people may be unable to read and write, due to language or educational difficulties, and we need to be sensitive to this and remember to respect them as individuals. We can use speech, gestures and pictures to help.

Body language can vary between cultures and individuals. Some people do not like physical contact, for instance, and will be offended by it, whilst others touch as a normal part of everyday communication. We all just need to be aware of possible differences and respect the boundaries, especially while we get to know each other.

Letting people express and practise their own attitudes, beliefs and values
Some people fear difference and view it as a threat. However, everyone has the right to have their own beliefs and values, so long as they are not harmful to others. We need to try to be open-minded and make sure that we listen to others’ points of view and develop an appreciation and understanding of other groups and individuals.

It is normal to be curious about others, and we need to give each other the time and opportunity to express ourselves. Asking polite questions, doing research and learning from the answers can be good ways to show respect for differences.

We also need to allow time and space for people to practise their beliefs and values without harassment – e.g. colleagues might cover each other for different national or religious festivals and holidays; employers might allow time for prayers; dress codes at work might be flexible if health and safety are not compromised.

We all use stereotypes to make sense of the world. We create ‘shortcuts’ based on our past experiences in order to make day-to-day living a bit easier. If we had to evaluate each and every person, and each and every situation based on their unique characteristics, we would be evaluating each other all of the time.

Stereotyping is part of an important process called generalisation. Just about everyone has this ability to generalise. It is an involuntary, subconscious process that learns from our experience in order to predict the future. However, our experience might be based on wrong information, incorrect judgements, ignorance or negative and unbalanced opinions, so we need to be careful about how we process our perceptions.

We can benefit from associating ourselves with stereotypes and labelling. For example, it can help:

  • to enable us to identify ourselves as part of a group
  • the individuals in the group to bond
  • to make us feel valued and included, increasing self-esteem
  • to give a sense of control over other people and events
  • to reduce uncertainty and minimise the risk of harm

People use stereotypes as a tool when they are evaluating each other. Stereotypes help them to make the first judgement and analysis of a person, group or situation. This quick review can help us to work out if we are safe or if we need to run away – part of the ‘fight or flight’ process that we use instinctively when we feel threatened. However, in a civilised society, we need to go beyond this first impression and look at the individuals in more detail, to develop a deeper understanding so that relationships and society can thrive and develop.

Damaging effects of stereotyping and labelling
As we can see in the scenario on the previous page, stereotyping and labelling can be useful initially. However, they can be very damaging if people do not go beyond those first judgements and opinions. Nobody likes to be stereotyped too much and individuals can also be affected in negative ways, for example:

  • having a sense of injustice, feeling angry or over-reacting because they are being judged wrongly
  • frustration at people’s assumptions, ignorance and incomplete knowledge about the group
  • frustration at not being given respect as an individual
  • being subjected to prejudice because they seem to be part of a group that is discriminated against, maybe experiencing distress, bullying or other negative reactions or consequences
  • being punished or discriminated against because of historical problems that no longer apply to the group or the individual – e.g. modern German people being stereotyped and discriminated against because of actions by Nazis during the Second World War
  • being associated with extremists, even though the vast majority of the group does not support extremist behaviour or beliefs
  • isolation and loneliness from refusing to (or not being allowed to) mix with friends or a group that have a negative image, even if it is not a justified judgement – e.g. children not being allowed to play with children from a different housing estate
  • lack of inclusion within other groups – e.g. an older male employee might not be invited to go clubbing with younger colleagues, who just assume that he is too old to enjoy a night out with them


How society perpetuates and encourages stereotyping and labelling
Stereotyping is sometimes perpetuated or encouraged in society, keeping it going. This can be for positive and beneficial reasons, but it often just happens without us thinking consciously about it. We often make assumptions based on what we see or hear, without finding out more about the individuals involved.

Stereotyping continues in society in a variety of ways, for example:

Dress codes or uniforms
How we dress can define our role, gender, religion, interests etc. Society will make assumptions about all sorts of things from how we look – e.g. our income level, our position in the company, which team we support, or our ethnic origins.

Codes of behaviour
How we conduct ourselves can perpetuate a stereotype – e.g. rugby fans drinking beer and singing songs at a match; everyone following formal procedures and rituals during a service, meeting or assembly.

Ways of speaking
How we speak can perpetuate a stereotype – e.g. having a regional accent; pronouncing words in different ways, maybe leaving off a ‘t’ or ‘h’ or speaking in a ‘posh’ way; using different vocabulary; speaking English with a foreign accent.

Body language
How we shake hands, use eye contact, kiss and hug, smile and hold ourselves can all perpetuate stereotypes – e.g. men doing a three-second hug with a double back slap; successful and confident people holding eye contact for a long time; less confident people looking away or down when speaking; kissing cheeks once, twice or three times; avoiding physical contact altogether.

Portraying people in advertising and the media
Stereotypes are often perpetuated and encouraged to continue in advertisements, television programmes, movies, newspapers and so on. Minority groups in particular are often portrayed as stereotypes – e.g. travellers; homeless people; ethnic minorities; people with strong religious beliefs; people with drug or alcohol problems. Different socioeconomic groups are also often shown in a stereotypical way – e.g. shown as ‘typically’ rich, working class, middle class, unemployed etc. There is also strong stereotyping in marketing for children and families – e.g. different toys sold for boys and girls; gender-specific advertising for adults.

Following customs and traditions
Certain groups have very defined traditions and customs that perpetuate a stereotype, sometimes excluding certain people from their groups – e.g. women or men being excluded from certain private social and networking clubs because of their gender; having physical and mental challenges as rites of passage into a group.

Through families and other groups
Many stereotypes continue from one generation to the next within a family or other social group – e.g. the men always do the gardening and the women always do the cooking in three generations of one family; for other families, activities and tasks are always allocated between members in the same way for festivals such as Christmas, Diwali or Hanukkah, with stereotypes being handed down to the next generation as they mature and take on the adult and decision-making roles.

Dictionary meaning: Prejudice: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.

Dictionary meaning: Discrimination: treating someone less favourably due to prejudice, unfairness, intolerance, favouritism or bigotry.

People develop prejudices when they form a negative opinion without knowing all of the facts. These opinions might be based on someone else’s race, religion, ethnic background, gender, age, disability, or even income or education level. Prejudice can turn into hatred or unfair treatment of a person belonging to a particular group. Rather than building bridges between people, prejudice puts up barriers when it is expressed.

People who show prejudice often fear diversity for some reason. Prejudice can sometimes lead to discriminatory behaviour when an individual, or a group of people, is treated less or more favourably than others in the same circumstances because of factors unrelated to their merit, ability or potential.

People become prejudiced for many reasons. They may perceive economic injustice – when they believe that another group is receiving preferential treatment. They may perceive cultural injustice between what ‘we’ do and what ‘they’ do, often in terms of dress, religion, language, values, morality and manners. Lack of contact, information and positive encounters can make the prejudice spread and continue.

Discrimination can occur in many areas of our lives, and most of them are protected under the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination is not allowed by law:

  • in the workplace – e.g. offices, retail, voluntary workplaces, factories, farming
  • in education – e.g. schools, colleges, training companies
  • as consumers – e.g. in shops, on the Internet, in cafes and restaurants
  • when using public services – e.g. healthcare, libraries, transport, councils, civil service

The following protected characteristics are covered: age; disability; sex; gender reassignment; marriage or civil partnership; pregnancy or maternity; race; religion or beliefs; sexual orientation.

Discrimination can also be experienced in other places, such as private clubs, and against other attributes and characteristics that are not covered by legislation.

How people can develop prejudices
Prejudices develop when there is a lack of information about something or someone, and when people do not go beyond the obvious differences to find out more about the individual or subject. People may develop prejudices in a variety of ways, for example:

From family
Children are influenced by the people around them, especially during their early years. They learn their attitudes from the adults and other children around them. As a child, they do not have the analytical skills or knowledge to be able to challenge stereotypes, and will absorb prejudice from their family as being a normal and correct way of thinking and behaving.

It can be difficult to challenge prejudice within a family, especially when views are expressed strongly. Family members might be uneasy, scared or worried about questioning each other’s prejudices, possibly due to strict discipline, cultural beliefs or other psychological pressures.

If one generation is prejudicial, lacks education and awareness, and fears diversity, their behaviour can easily be passed on to younger generations who might be too frightened or respectful to challenge the prejudice.

From community or the workplace
Some people develop prejudices in their community or workplace if there are divisions between people on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, social class etc. These attitudes can be influenced by political beliefs, law and public policy, religious beliefs, school, friends or other people.

When prejudice occurs, people can worry about repercussions if they challenge the group’s views – e.g. recriminations, victimisation, exclusion or isolation. This makes the prejudice continue, even if individuals do not really believe in the negative opinions of the group.

Lack of social and multicultural contact and events, both in the workplace and the community, can make it hard to bring groups of people together. It can lead to a lack of familiarity between groups, therefore encouraging further prejudice.

Even if parents are tolerant and teach their children about fairness and embracing diversity, members of the family can still be exposed to prejudice away from the home when they mix with other groups – e.g. at school, in after-school activity groups or among a group of friends.

Through the media
People can easily be influenced by negative opinions and prejudices expressed in different types of media – e.g. television, radio, films, advertisements, magazines, newspapers, social media. Adults and children observe and are exposed to prejudice by watching television, using the Internet, reading books, newspapers and magazines, or even studying school textbooks that present stereotypical views of various groups of people. If the stereotypes are not challenged, questioned and discussed, they can form the basis for prejudice and discrimination as the negative views are based on a lack of information.

Types of prejudice
People can have prejudices and can discriminate against each other on a wide range of issues and differences. In society, prejudice can be based on, for example, people’s:

  • age – e.g. against children, young, old or middle-aged people
  • race and ethnicity – e.g. against people from certain countries or ethnic backgrounds
  • marital status or civil partnership – e.g. single, married, divorced, living together or in a civil partnership
  • gender and sexual orientation – e.g. male, female, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual
  • religious or philosophical beliefs – e.g. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Agnostic, Atheist or Humanist
  • ability, disability and impairment – e.g. physical or mental health issues that can be permanent or temporary
  • fitness, size or mobility – e.g. very large people; people with anorexia
  • lifestyle choices – e.g. drug-users; smokers; people who drink alcohol, maybe to excess; people who gamble
  • differences in socioeconomic group, income and spending patterns – e.g. people working in the City of London who receive large bonuses at work; people who have payday loans or large credit card balances; property owners; council house tenants; refugees and asylum seekers; travellers and gypsies
  • education and knowledge – e.g. literacy or numeracy issues; inability to use IT; being overqualified; readers of certain newspapers

However prejudice and discrimination start, in a democratic society, we need to correct the imbalances by, for example: working together to develop respect; adopting a national approach; educating people about different groups and how to interpret information in the media and other information outlets; constantly evaluating and researching related topics.


Types of discrimination

Direct discrimination
This means treating someone less favourably than others in the same circumstances.

Examples of direct discrimination include:

  1. Someone is dismissed from their job because of a protected characteristic, such as race or sex.
  2. A female member of staff is not selected for promotion and the post is given to a less experienced and less qualified male colleague.
  3. A heterosexual candidate with the best qualifications and experience does not get appointed following an interview, while a gay candidate with fewer qualifications and less experience is offered a post. The employer could be seen as refusing employment or training because of a protected characteristic, such as sexual orientation.
  4. An estate agent refuses to show someone a house that is for rent on the grounds of their race.
  5. A shop assistant refuses to serve someone on the grounds of their religion, maybe based on their dress code.
  6. A taxi driver refuses to take someone who has epilepsy, but does take their friend who does not have epilepsy.

Discrimination by association
Direct discrimination can also be by association. For example, if an employer refuses to promote a suitable and well-qualified employee because they have a child who has epilepsy, even though they can make up any lost hours of work, that could
be challenged as discrimination by association with someone with a protected characteristic. Employers are required to make reasonable adjustments so that employees are not put at a disadvantage, if it is practicable to assist and make changes.

Perception discrimination
This is direct discrimination against an individual because other people think they have a protected characteristic. It applies even if the person does not actually possess that characteristic. For example, if an employee is not allowed to do a presentation at a conference because their line manager thinks that they look too young, they have been discriminated against based on the perception of a protected characteristic, age.

Indirect discrimination
This occurs when there are rules or conditions that apply to everyone, but they affect one group of people more than another group, without a good reason.

Examples include:

  1. Staff at a care home arrange a shopping trip for all of the residents, and they book an ordinary minibus. This indirectly discriminates and excludes the residents who have severe mobility problems or need to use a wheelchair.
  2. Staff at a factory are suddenly told that they have to work night shifts to get their usual bonus (even though this was not in their original work contracts). This indirectly discriminates against staff members who cannot work nights due to family commitments or travel problems – e.g. female workers with childcare responsibilities could claim indirect gender discrimination.
  3. All of the residents in a nursing home are given pork for lunch. This indirectly discriminates against residents who are vegetarian, Muslims, Jewish or who just do not like pork.
  4. An advert for a technician states that 10 years’ experience is an essential requirement for the job, but this length of service cannot be justified and is not really necessary for the job. This could be deemed as indirect age discrimination because young people could be well qualified but unable to apply for the job.
  5. An old pub only has toilet facilities for men. They are indirectly discriminating against women.
  6. An employer’s dress code states that nothing can be worn on the head, even though there is no operational or health and safety reason for this rule. This indirectly discriminates against people because of religion or belief – e.g. Sikh men with turbans or Muslim women with headscarves or the hijab.

This is when offensive or intimidating behaviour is intended to cause humiliation or injury to the targeted person or people. Harassment can occur, for example, in the workplace or place of study. It can go on for a long time if it is not dealt with. For example, sexist or racist language name-calling or objectionable physical contact. 

This occurs when an individual is singled out for exceptional negative treatment. For example:

  • an obese customer is picked on and teased because of their size
  • a resident is picked on because they complained to the care home manager
  • a staff member is teased and picked on because they refuse to join a trade union

What makes us all different?
There are many factors that make us individual. No two people are exactly alike, even if they have many things in common. The sorts of things that make us such a diverse nation include:

Physical characteristics
Just looking around a group of people or watching the television will give us plenty of information about the potential physical differences between people. We can all vary in, for example:

  • height – e.g. short, tall, average, petite, towering
  • weight and body shape – e.g. stocky, athletic, slim, muscular
  • facial features – e.g. eye colour, nose shape, size of mouth
  • skin – e.g. colour, tone, freckles, moles, scars
  • hair – e.g. natural colour, style and cut, artificial colour, wigs or hair extensions

What we wear
The things that we wear say a great deal about us, and we have an infinite choice of:

  • clothes – e.g. uniforms for work or school; scruffy clothes for dirty jobs; our best clothes for going out; wedding outfits; designer outfits;
  • shoes and boots – e.g. working boots, high-heeled sandals, flat work shoes
  • jewellery and piercings – e.g. wedding ring, earrings or studs
  • accessories – e.g. scarves, ties or bags
  • tattoos
  • religious items – e.g. turban, burka, cross on a neck chain

Our likes and dislikes
These can be as infinite as our choice of clothing. We all establish our own individual likes and dislikes. Some may be genetic, others may be formed through a process of learning and association. Some likes and dislikes are beyond our control, or are linked to cultural and religious concepts. Likes and dislikes are personal to each individual and may well change over time as we mature or make different life choices.

Things that we may like or dislike could include, for example:

  • food and drink – e.g. hot curry, alcohol, vegetarian food, halal meat, low-fat food, brown bread, organic food, home-cooked food, fast food, sweets and chocolates
  • sport work
  • other people – e.g. family members, colleagues, fellow students, people in our community
  • animals
  • cleaning the house
  • music, movies and TV programmes talking or silence
  • going out or staying in
  • different countries and languages

Values and beliefs
Our personal values and beliefs are established traits that are representative of an individual’s moral character. Our values are our principles, standards and judgements about what is important in life. Our beliefs can be associated with a religion or faith, but can also mean a conviction or opinion about something in which we have trust or confidence.

Our values and beliefs might include:

  • honesty
  • responsibility – e.g. for our own actions; for our children
    loyalty – e.g. to friends, family, colleagues, country or sports team friendliness and openness
    religion and faith – or that we have no faith or religion
  • family values – e.g. not believing in divorce; how we decide to bring up our children
  • sexual behaviour and morals – e.g. no sex before marriage; belief that one-night- stands are acceptable
  • moral courage – to have the confidence to follow through with what we believe to be correct
  • how we dress, eat and drink – e.g. our attitudes to alcohol or eating meat
  • law and politics – e.g. supporting one particular political party; obeying or breaking laws
  • equality and diversity – e.g. our beliefs about other cultures, religions; how we treat people who are different to us

Personal interests
This is another area that is infinite. We often join together in groups of people who share common interests, and sometimes we enjoy our personal interests alone. Group or solo activities might be, for example:

  • sport – e.g. supporting a favourite football team; playing in a netball team; watching international athletics on TV; running in a marathon
  • different hobbies and pastimes – e.g. reading, watching TV, cinema, knitting, painting and drawing
  • music – e.g. singing in a band or choir; playing an instrument; going to music concerts; listening to music at home
  • technology – e.g. using mobile phones, tablets, consoles and computers for games, research, work or leisure
  • current affairs – e.g. news stories; fashion; celebrity gossip; world events
  • volunteering – e.g. for major events such as air shows; supporting local food banks; visiting people in care homes or prisons; puppy walking for The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association; working in a local hospice or hospital
  • politics and community issues – e.g. getting involved with local road safety campaigns; setting up youth groups; becoming a local councillor
  • food and drink – e.g. going out for meals; cooking at home

Religious and cultural beliefs
Some of these factors will have been included within likes and dislikes, or values and beliefs. They can also be merged within our choices of food, drink and clothing, which all go to show how a diverse range of topics can overlap. Factors that come to mind when considering religious and cultural beliefs include, for example:

  • dress codes – e.g. covering the head, shoulders or the whole body as a mark of respect
  • attending meetings, services, rituals – e.g. going to a church or a mosque
  • codes of behaviour – e.g. how men and women are allowed to mix; whether the consumption of alcohol is permitted; body language rules; different roles for men, women, girls and boys
  • food choices – e.g. Jewish people not consuming beef and milk products at the same meal; Muslims eating only halal meat
  • rituals and celebrations – e.g. feasting during Christmas and Easter; fasting during Ramadan or Lent
  • services to mark important stages in life – e.g. weddings, baptisms and funerals
  • family and moral values – e.g. no sex before marriage on religious grounds; hierarchy and task allocation within the home
  • working within the community – e.g. spreading a religious message to others; working as volunteers to help others; running church social groups
  • having no particular religious or cultural beliefs – e.g. being tolerant and accepting of all religions and cultures, and not believing in any deity or religious leader

Where we live and work
We often classify each other because of where we live and work. Different factors can include:

  • the part of the UK we live in – e.g. in the north or south, in London or by a coast
  • the city, town or village we live in – e.g. a large industrial city, medium-sized market town or a tiny village
  • the location of our home – e.g. on a council estate; on a new housing estate; on the edge of a village; on a remote hillside with no other houses around for miles; a houseboat on a river; in an established prosperous area of town
  • the type of home – e.g. bedsit, flat, terraced house, semi-detached or detached house or bungalow
  • the industry in which we work – e.g. city finance; heavy manufacturing industry; food production; hotel and catering; public sector, such as a hospital or tax office; transport; construction and property
  • our job within that industry – e.g. manual and unskilled labourer; manager or director; semi-skilled or skilled worker; administrator; pilot; driver; freelance or self- employed business owner
  • not working due to wide range of reasons – e.g. retirement; bringing up a young family; unemployment and redundancy; health and personal issues that prevent work; running a home and being supported by a working partner; caring for sick or disabled relatives

All of the different factors come together in an infinite number of ways to make us who we are.

Life expectancy is lower for:

  • men than women
  • people living in deprived areas than those in more affluent areas
  • people with serious mental health problems than those without
  • people with learning disabilities than those without
  • members of the gypsy and traveller communities than others homeless people than others

(EHRC ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ report 2015)