Equality and diversity FAQs

This page answers some of the questions we are frequently asked about equality and diversity.


What do we mean by ‘equality’?

There is no single definition of equality and everyone will have their own personal interpretation of what it means to them. We would define equality as essentially being about fairness and ensuring that we all have the best possible chance to succeed in life whatever our background or identity.

The right to fair treatment is underpinned by the Equality Act 2010. The Act entitles us all - as students, employees and users of services - to be treated fairly and not be subjected to discrimination on the basis of our age, disability, gender identity, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Equality and fair treatment are sometimes perceived as being about ‘minority rights’. However, we can all identify with at least some of these characteristics. We all have a sex, an age and an ethnic group, for example, and are all equally protected from discrimination on these grounds. 

What do we mean by ‘diversity’?

Diversity essentially means difference. The University community is itself incredibly diverse. One of the more visible aspects of this diversity is our global community of students and staff and the wide range of cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds that we are all drawn from. But we are diverse in other ways too. Our experiences of life will be coloured by our sexuality, our gender, if we have physical or mental disabilities, our age and experience or the challenges of balancing careers and study with caring responsibilities. 

Diversity is about recognising, valuing and celebrating these differences. It is about creating a University environment that is inclusive of these differences, where we all feel welcome, valued and supported to succeed whatever our background or identity. 

Does equality mean treating everyone the same?

Yes and no. Yes in the sense that everyone should be treated fairly regardless of their race or gender or any other protected characteristic. However, treating someone fairly can sometimes mean having to treat them differently, in order to take into account their circumstances and enable them to participate on equal terms with everyone else.   

For example, treating someone with a disability ‘the same as everyone else’ and not taking into account the impact of their disability on how they do their job or undertake their studies would not be fair treatment.

Equally, requiring a member of staff who has been on maternity leave during part of the REF census period to submit 4 research outputs ‘the same as everyone else’ would not be fair treatment, as they would not necessarily have been engaged in research during their maternity leave period.

In circumstances like this, treating everyone the same can place people with particular needs and circumstances at a disadvantage and is likely to be discriminatory. Sometimes we do need to treat people differently to create a 'level playing field' and enable them to participate on equal terms with everyone else. 


Is positive discrimination legal?

‘Positive discrimination’ means recruiting or selecting someone over others regardless of their ability or qualifications because they are from a disadvantaged or under-represented group. Positive discrimination is illegal under UK law. In fact it would be considered a form of discrimination.  

For example, if we were to recruit a female candidate to a senior post over a male candidate who was better qualified, on the grounds that females are under-represented in senior roles, the male candidate could bring a sex discrimination claim.

The University does have a duty under the Equality Act to take action to advance equality of opportunity. Addressing the under-representation of particular groups is part of this duty. In this regard it is lawful to engage in ‘positive action’ measures to encourage greater participation by under-represented groups. For example, targeted advertising or development activities to enable and encourage greater participation by a particular group.  However, actual recruitment and selection decisions must be based on ability in order to be lawful.

Very occasionally you may see a job advert that specifies a person must be of a particular gender or ethnic background to apply for a job. The law allows for a very limited range of circumstances where it is lawful to make this specification. Typically these are jobs of a very personal or sensitive nature where this factor is essential to that post. For example, if a job involves providing personal care for an individual, it would be lawful to specify that applicants be of the same sex as that person.

Any other questions?

Have a question about equality and diversity that you would like included on this page? Contact us at equality@contacts.bham.ac.uk.