Creating an inclusive workplace: top tips to avoiding discrimination

By Sarah Naylor

Published In: Business Services

In today's diverse workforce, creating an inclusive environment is not just moral requirement but also a legal requirement. Discrimination can have far-reaching consequences, not only for the affected employees but also for the reputation and success of a business. For employers, fostering a workplace free from discrimination is crucial. In this blog we will explore some common examples of where discrimination can occur in the workplace and provide some tips on how to avoid discrimination.

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Discrimination can arise in many different forms within the workplace. Some might be obvious but some might be more difficult to readily identify. Discrimination happens in all areas of a business such as recruitment, training, terms and conditions, pay, promotions, redundancy and disciplinary matters. Here are some common examples of workplace discrimination which will hopefully be thought provoking, as some may not obviously spring to mind.


Types of discrimination


1.               Recruitment bias: this happens when on hiring a new staff member, you might favour or discriminate against an applicant based on certain characteristics. This can include race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion or disability rather than their qualifications or abilities. For example, you might overlook a qualified candidate because of their age. Often this type of bias is unconscious, a good way to tackle this is to undertake unconscious bias training. You can also consider strategies such as blind hiring techniques to remove as much information as possible that could cause bias to kick in.


2.               Harassment: harassment can take various forms including verbal, physical or conduct that creates a hostile or offensive work environment for someone. This could include derogatory comments, inappropriate jokes or offensive gestures based on an individual’s race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or other protected characteristic. Even if the perpetrator views this as simple “workplace banter”, if the person subjected to such treatment is offended  or upset by the comments, there is a potential issue of harassment.


3.               Age related discrimination: this can often happen without employers realising it, on the basis that people often unconsciously make assumptions and stereotypes based on the age of an individual. For example, you intend to introduce a new IT system and need a focus group to help with development and testing. You do not offer the opportunity to join the group to older employees as you assume they might struggle with new IT. If you overlook an older person in this way they would be entitled to ask why. Age should not be a barrier to employees learning new skills and they should be given the same opportunities as all other employees to do so.


4.               Redundancy consultations: It is crucial when going through a redundancy process that fairness and equality is a key consideration. For example, where anemployers has an employee on maternity leave who is potentially affected by a redundancy process, the employee has additional legal rights which must be upheld. If those rights aren’t upheld, this is potentially discriminatory. You might have an employee at risk of redundancy, with a disability that impacts their performance at work. This has to be factored in when going through scoring criteria, to ensure that the person with that disability is not unfairly disadvantaged due to that disability. It is crucial to obtain legal advice early on in any proposed redundancy or restructure to ensure that the process adopted will not be discriminatory in any way.


5.               Retaliation: this type of discrimination happens when an employee has reported discrimination to their employer. The employer might then take adverse action against the employee for exercising their rights in this way, such as termination of employment, demotion, overlooking for promotion or pay rises. This can take place deliberately but can also be by unconscious bias.


For many employers, particularly those running small businesses perhaps without the benefit of having dedicated in house HR support, the term discrimination can provoke feelings of fear. Understanding what discrimination, fair treatment and equality means is an important step to tackle that fear. Fear can provoke avoidance or cause leaning too far in a particular direction.


Nine top tips for managing discrimination in your business


1.         Education : this is the first step in preventing discrimination. Gain a clear understanding of what it is and how it manifests in the workplace. Educate yourself and your employees about various forms of discrimination. Consider offering training sessions and resources to increase awareness and sensitivity.


2.         Clear policies and procedures : Establishing clear policies and procedures that explicitly prohibit discrimination is essential. These policies should outline the types of behaviour that are unacceptable, the consequences for engaging in discriminatory acts, and the process for reporting incidents of discrimination. Make sure these policies are readily accessible to all employees and that they are consistently enforced.


3.         Promote diversity and inclusion : Actively promote diversity and inclusion within your organisation. Encourage the recruitment and retention of employees from diverse backgrounds. Foster an environment where different perspectives are valued and respected. Celebrate cultural events and holidays to demonstrate your commitment to inclusivity.


4.         Lead by example : As a leader, your actions set the tone for the business. Demonstrate your commitment to a discrimination-free workplace through your words and behaviour. Treat all employees with fairness, respect, and dignity, regardless of their differences. Show zero tolerance for discriminatory attitudes or actions among your staff.


5.         Implement fair recruitment and promotion : Ensure that your recruitment and promotion processes are fair and unbiased. Avoid making assumptions based on stereotypes or prejudices. Develop and use objective criteria to evaluate an applicant’s qualifications and abilities. Consider implementing blind hiring techniques to minimise unconscious bias.


6.         Equal opportunities for development : Offer equal opportunities for professional growth and development to all employees. Provide access to training and career development opportunities fairly to all.


7.         Establish a safe reporting system : Create a safe and confidential mechanism for employees to report incidents of discrimination or harassment. Assure employees that they will be protected from retaliation for speaking up. Take all complaints seriously and investigate them promptly and thoroughly. Implement appropriate disciplinary measures for offenders.


8.         Get feedback : Regularly evaluate your workplace culture and practices to identify any potential areas of discrimination or bias. Solicit feedback from employees through surveys, focus groups, or anonymous suggestion boxes. Use this feedback to make continuous improvements and adjustments to your policies and practices.


9.         Seek legal advice : If you're unsure about legal requirements or how to handle a specific situation, seek advice from legal professionals specialising in employment law. We can provide guidance on compliance with discrimination laws and help you navigate complex issues effectively.


The prevention of discrimination in the workplace is a legal requirement but also essential for the success and sustainability of your business. By implementing these strategies, employers can create a positive work environment where diversity is celebrated, and everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive.


To discuss how to keep discrimination out of your business contact Sarah Naylor at or call 01302 320621.


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Sarah has over 18 years’ experience in the legal sector. She is a Director and Solicitor as well as the Head of our Commercial and Disputes team

Director and Solicitor

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