Equality strands are a good starting point but don’t let them restrict your scope, argues Iain Mackinnon
Is it a badge of honour in your place to be able to name all nine protected characteristics? If it is, how do you ensure that colleagues who do not fall within the nine protected characteristics also get a fair deal? The fat, the bald, the left-handed, those with red hair, those who are simply a bit odd (i.e. different from you)?
We’ve been debating these questions at the college where I’m a governor. When everyone’s on side it can be hard to get some real focus on matters of equality and diversity — and how we can do better — so we spent some time considering how far our approach should be framed by the nine protected characteristics.
We decided that while they helped secure the floor by setting a statutory minimum, they were rather limiting as a guide to action. And we decided that our starting point for every initiative and proposal was a simple, broad and rather demanding question: “might this adversely affect any group of students?”.
If the answer is “yes”, we’ll dig further, and have plenty other subsidiary questions we can use, but we felt it important to keep the first question broad. Nothing will stop the tick-box people if they’re determined to dodge around the intention of such a question, but our hope is that if we’re honest with ourselves, this catch-all will serve us better than anything limited by our imperfect memory of the list of nine protected characteristics.
And if you’ve been testing yourself and want to check, the nine are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex, and sexual orientation.