Equality and diversity issues and your graduate job hunt

If you are concerned you might be at a disadvantage due to an issue related to equality and diversity – for example, being LGBT+, having a disability or on the grounds of gender or race – how do you ensure recruiters give you the best chance to show your abilities and treat you fairly?

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Focus on: Sexual orientation | Transgender | Sex | Disability and mental health | Race | Social and class background | Religion and belief | Age | Refugees and asylum seekers | Making a complaint | The Equality Act 2010 and positive action | Diversity monitoring | Key legal information

Most UK graduate employers promote equal opportunities and diversity during their recruitment and selection processes and in the workplace. They recognise that employees from different backgrounds bring unique knowledge, skills and experience to their businesses.

targetjobs provides advice on a range of key equality and diversity issues. We examine your rights during the recruitment process and give you our advice on issues around disclosure (if appropriate) and marketing yourself to employers. However, we always recommend seeking guidance from a university careers adviser, so that you can discuss your individual circumstances and concerns.

Sexual orientation

The law: The Equality Act 2010 makes unlawful any direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation on the grounds of sexual orientation, which covers heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. See ‘The Equality Act 2010 and positive action’ below for possible exceptions to the act.

We cover legal issues relating to transgender people and job hunting in more detail below, but will use LGBT+ here as a readily recognisable acronym.

Should you come out at work or during the recruitment process? This is an entirely personal decision; you do not have to disclose your sexual identity at any point during the recruitment process and you should not be asked about it by an interviewer.

If you want to highlight any actions you took as part of an LGBT+ student society or similar – as good evidence of your skills – you can do so without having to disclose your sexual identity.

How to find LGBT+ positive employers: Stonewall has long been a champion for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people and compiles the Workplace Equality Index , which scores employers according to ‘their progress on lesbian, gay, bi and trans inclusion in the workplace' (note: not all employers are listed).

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The law and trans employment rights: In England, Scotland and Wales, the Equality Act 2010 makes unlawful any direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation due to gender reassignment. (See ‘The Equality Act 2010 and positive action’ below for possible exceptions to the act due to there being an occupational requirement.) Gender reassignment refers to ‘people who are proposing to undergo, are undergoing, or have undergone a process (or part of a process) to reassign their sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex’

During the Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover (2020) case, it was found that 'gender reassignment need never be a biological process'. So, neither the proposal of nor the carrying out of physiological changes, such as through surgery, is required in order to be protected by the act.

In the UK, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 enables trans people who have transitioned at least two years previously to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). This ensures that in law they have the rights and responsibilities associated with their gender identity, so, for example, they can receive the state pension and other benefits at the relevant age. Employers are not permitted to disclose the gender history of someone with a GRC – or plans to apply for one. Trans people who are required to undergo a criminal record check by the Disclosure and Barring Service or Disclosure Scotland as part of a recruitment process can have a confidential check so that their previous name/gender isn’t disclosed to an employer.

Do you need to disclose that you are trans at work or during recruitment? No, there isn’t a legal obligation and you do not have to disclose your gender identity to be protected by the Equality Act 2010.

Particularly if you plan to transition, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and other organisations recommend that you discuss your gender identity with your employer so that they can support you, but it remains a personal choice.

How to find trans-positive graduate employers: Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index ranks a selection of employers on their LGBT+ inclusiveness. It’s also worth checking the equality and diversity policies of the employers in which you are interested. Even if an employer does not have a specific policy around the treatment of trans employees, check to see whether the organisation uses non-binary or gender-neutral language in the information it provides on its activities and career opportunities. If so, it may be a clue that it is trans-positive.

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The law: In England, Scotland and Wales the Equality Act 2010 makes unlawful any direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation on the grounds of a person’s sex: male or female. However, the act allows for certain cases where sex is an occupational requirement and can be stipulated in a job specification. Note that, within the act, sex does not refer to issues of gender reassignment or sexual orientation, which are dealt with separately.

Acas spells out that it is illegal for employers to pay men and women differently for work that is the same or broadly similar, work valued as equivalent by the employer’s job evaluation or work found to be of equal value with regards to effort, skill or decision making. However, an employer could potentially successfully justify a pay difference if they can point to a reason that isn’t due to sex.

The Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 require public, private and charity/voluntary organisations with 250 or more employees to publish their gender pay gaps.

Gender and positive action recruitment initiatives: Many employers take part in positive action recruitment initiatives in order to address gender-related underrepresentation in their industries (see below for more on positive action). targetjobs runs a number of these events on behalf of employers, including:

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Disability and mental health

The law: The Equality Act 2010 makes unlawful direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation related to a disability and discrimination/unfavourable treatment arising from the disability itself. The act defines disability as ‘a physical or mental impairment’ that has ‘a substantial and long-term adverse effect’ on a person's ‘ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

An employer is legally required to make reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process and in the workplace to prevent the disabled person being at a disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person – as long as they could be reasonably expected to know about the disability. It is illegal for employers not to hire a candidate because they’d have to make reasonable adjustments – however, there may be exemptions if, for example, a certain level of physical fitness is an absolute requirement. See ‘The Equality Act 2010 and positive action’ below.

Disclosing a disability to employers: There is no legal requirement for you to disclose a disability to an employer either during recruitment or in the workplace; it is entirely up to you and, if you do disclose, you can ask HR to keep it confidential.

There are strict restrictions on which health-related questions can be asked before a job offer is made, but employers can and should ask whether you would like any reasonable adjustments made (or have any access requirements) during the recruitment process. Graduate employers strongly advise you to tell them of any such adjustments or requirements, if it will help them to ensure that you are assessed on a level playing-field alongside non-disabled applicants.

How do you best disclose your disability if you choose to? You can do so at any point in the recruitment process, once you have received a job offer or at any time in the workplace.

You may want to add a note to your CV or covering letter or to upload a short statement to an online application form when given the option to upload relevant documents. Give this particular consideration if illness or disability has meant longer time periods to complete education or led to gaps in employment.

If you do disclose, we advise keeping the explanation of your disability brief and factual. You may want to avoid medical terms if there are popular misconceptions around them. Stress what you have achieved despite (or because of) your disability instead.

How to find disability-friendly employers: Signs that an employer has disability-friendly policies or a disability-friendly workplace culture include the following:

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The law: The Equality Act 2010 makes unlawful direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation on the grounds of race, which includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins.

Race and positive action initiatives: A number of employers run initiatives in the workplace and during recruitment for those from a BAME background. These include (but are not limited to):

A number of professions, including law, have diversity networks for employees.

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Social and class background

Social and class backgrounds are not protected under the Equality Act 2010 or similar legislation. However, many graduate employers are increasingly alert to the potential disadvantages that may affect university students who come from a ‘widening participation’ background – that is, those who have faced barriers to accessing higher education due to coming from a less privileged socio-economic background or similar. These disadvantages could include candidates being inadvertently sifted out during the recruitment process because, for example, they were unable to take up unpaid internships or to access expensive extracurricular activities.

Many employers are taking steps to remove the effects of possible disadvantages, for example by moving to a strengths-based recruitment process .

Your careers service can provide advice on how to present your achievements to the best effect and they may also have specific initiatives to help students from a widening participation background. For example, many universities offer funding to help with expenses incurred while undertaking internships.

Religion and belief

The law: The Equality Act 2010 makes unlawful direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation due to religion and any religious or philosophical belief or the lack thereof. (See ‘The Equality Act 2010 and positive action’ below for possible exemptions.)

What constitutes a philosophical belief has been tested by the courts: a 2015 Employment Appeal Tribunal case found that ‘philosophical beliefs’ included political beliefs. (NB: political beliefs are explicitly protected by legislation in Northern Ireland, but not in England, Scotland and Wales.)

An employer is not legally required by the act to allow time off or facilities for religious observance, but it is good practice for them to do so.

Do you have to disclose your religion or beliefs to employers? No, you are not legally required to; it entirely depends on what you feel comfortable with.

If your involvement in activities related to your spiritual or religious beliefs has developed essential skills and competencies, most careers advisers will encourage you to add them to your CV as evidence of your capabilities – but, again, this is a personal choice.

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The law: The Equality Act 2010 makes unlawful direct or indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation on the grounds of age, whatever that age may be. (See ‘The Equality Act and positive action’ below for possible exemptions to this.)

In most cases – and unless they can prove it has a legitimate and justifiable purpose – graduate employers cannot set an age limit for graduate schemes. They may, however, be able to say that a graduate scheme is suitable for those who have graduated within the last few years, and specify a date range for eligibility.

Marketing yourself to employers: You do not have to put your age or date of birth on your CV and most employers no longer ask for it on application forms. Whatever your age, you should present your skills and experiences in the best light during applications and interviews; your careers service can help with this. Our CV advice can help you to create the best possible CV: start with ‘Chronological or skills-based: which CV is best for you?’ .

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Refugees and asylum seekers

Your employment rights depend on whether you have the right to work in the UK; it’s best to seek expert advice. If you do have the right to work in the UK, you can apply for any graduate job or scheme. If there is information on your application or CV that may lead an employer to question whether you do have the right to work in the UK, you may wish to be explicit about your right to work in the UK in your application.

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Making a complaint about discrimination

Job applicants and employees can seek redress if they feel that they have been discriminated against due to one or more of the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010. This includes during the recruitment process, in the workplace, and on and following dismissal. Methods of redress include raising a grievance or taking the employer to an employment tribunal.

If you are considering taking such a step:

  • Think about what your aims are in taking action. For example, do you want a financial settlement? Would you like a formal apology?
  • Seek advice and support (legal and emotional). Good sources of support include: your careers service (most offer advice to their alumni after graduation) or the Equality Challenge Unit ; the Equality and Human Rights Commission ; your trade union, if appropriate; your local Citizens Advice office; the Law Centres Network ; and a relevant charity or pressure group.
  • Bear in mind that, in the workplace, employers will seek to resolve complaints or grievances informally initially, before pursuing a formal grievance procedure. Formal grievance procedures will need to be followed before a case can be taken to an employment tribunal.
  • If you are a job applicant, you will usually focus on the aspect or aspects of recruitment process that you believe are discriminatory. If you are in the workplace, you should create a detailed account of the discriminatory incident(s) and keep a record or copies of subsequent actions, conversations and correspondence; ensure you call upon any witnesses.
  • Note that, as of July 2017, there are no fees for taking an employer to an employment tribunal.

The nine protected characteristics covered by the act are: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex (gender); and sexual orientation.

The Equality Act 2010 and positive action

There are a few cases where positive action is allowed and employers can prefer a job applicant or an employee with or without a protected characteristic, without it being deemed discrimination. For example, there are a few cases where a protected characteristic may be deemed an occupational requirement. Acas, the free and impartial advice service for issues in the workplace and employment legislation, gives the example of requiring a practising Catholic to work as a chaplain in a Catholic chaplaincy at a university. The bar of proof that a stipulation relating to a protected characteristic is truly an occupational requirement is set high.

An employer can also run positive action schemes during recruitment and in the workplace. If the action is aimed at those who are judged to be at a disadvantage because of a protected characteristic, are under-represented at the organisation or have ‘specific needs connected to a protected characteristic’, an employer can take steps to negate any barriers and disadvantages. Employers, however, do need to show that these actions are ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'. One positive action that many graduate recruiters take is attending networking and recruitment events aimed at particular student demographics, after which graduates can be fast-tracked through parts (but not all) of the recruitment process.

Employers’ diversity monitoring forms

Many employers add a diversity monitoring questionnaire to their application forms (usually it is the last section). This is usually intended to help the company track their record of attracting a diverse workforce and inform any positive action initiatives they wish to take. The information you supply shouldn’t be seen by anybody involved in your recruitment or be passed to your future line manager but, if you do not want to answer the questions, the form should contain a ‘prefer not to say’ option.

Key legal information

This feature was last written and updated in April 2018 and while we at targetjobs have made every effort to ensure the information given was accurate at this time, we strongly recommend that you check out the latest legal situation for yourself. Ask for information from your university careers service and refer to the following sources for updates:

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