Is your equality approach creating discrimination?... It is if you haven’t considered this key thing

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

It is often assumed that any work done in the name of equality will be good work. However, both academia and organisations are realising that a right approach in the wrong environment can lead to a host of adverse outcomes that include increased discrimination, low retention rates and loss of productivity.

To implement approaches to equality that maximise positive impact and minimise adverse outcomes, you need to think behaviourally. That means you need to understand how your staff feel in the workplace.

Imagine this scenario

Your employees perceive your organisation to be unfair

This means they cannot trust that your organisation will look after them

They, therefore, have to look after themselves

This makes them less likely to act as a team, more likely to respond as an individual

It also makes them more likely to fear difference

When we fear difference, we are more likely to treat people with perceived differences with hostility and discrimination

Now imagine if you put an equality initiative into that environment

Is it fair to say that employees might think some people are being given even more of an unfair advantage by the equality approach and seek to balance the scales?

Can you see how an equality approach in this environment might make the situation worse?

However, now imagine your organisation looks like this

Employees perceive your organisation to be fair

This means they can trust that your organisation will look after them

This makes them more likely to act as a team, more likely to work collectively

When we act collectively, we tend to help support others, appreciate new ideas and give more to the organisation

Now imagine if you put an equality initiative into that environment

Having a fairly perceived organisation is just the starting point for equality, there is still much to be done, but without it, you are likely on the road to ruin.

The great thing is that fairness is a long-established sociological construct, put simply there are rules that have been measured and analysed, meaning we can help you embed it within your organisational culture. Fairness also comes along with a host of other benefits including increased productivity, team cohesiveness and employee retention. It even outperforms job satisfaction.

Find out how we can improve your culture with a free half-hour consultation.

Be warned though, if you only use the word fairness in place of equality, making no attempt to adjust your culture, you are very likely exasperating the problem. Employees have a genuine sense of what is fair and what isn’t if you try and tell them your organisation is fair and they perceive it not to be you risk a range of problems including decreased productivity, increased absence and even sabotage.

Our latest research demonstrates the above relationship between attitudes to equality approaches and perceptions of fairness. You can read it through the International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology from June 29th, free access from the same date via Loughborough University. If you would like access beforehand, please email me on for an earlier revision.

To surmise, if your organisation is not perceived fairly, there is a robust possibility that any equality work will result in increased discrimination. On a more optimistic note creating a fair culture will not only reduce discrimination but bring about real bottom line impact.

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