There are nine 'protected characteristics' within equality and human rights: age; disability; gender; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion and belief; sexual orientation; and gender reassignment. Typical responsibilities of equal opportunities officers include:
- maintaining knowledge and awareness of current discrimination legislation
- designing and evaluating equal opportunities monitoring schemes
- providing advice about equal opportunities legislation to other staff in relation to recruiting, training and retaining staff
- liaising with external equal opportunities organisations such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission
- investigating sources of grants and practical assistance (eg to assist with employing people with disabilities)
- designing, organising and running equal opportunities training courses
- ensuring that promotional opportunities are handled fairly
- writing job advertisements and promotional materials that are free from discrimination
A wide range of public and private sector organisations employ equal opportunities officers including universities, colleges, private companies, government departments, local authorities, professional bodies, trade unions and police/military establishments. Large organisations may employ a dedicated equal opportunities officer. In smaller organisations equal opportunities officers often have other human resources tasks (such as the recruitment, training and development of staff; salaries, pensions and benefits administration etc).
Vacancies are advertised in newspapers, via the internet and in specialist publications such as The MJ, Opportunities and Personnel Today, as well as their online equivalents. Recruitment agencies also advertise positions.
There are routes into becoming an equal opportunities officer for both graduates and school leavers.
It is beneficial, although not essential, to have a degree to become an equal opportunities officer. It may also be a requirement for some posts (particularly those at senior levels). Relevant subjects could include psychology, sociology and law.
It is important to possess an appropriate personality for the job: equal opportunities officers need to be approachable, diplomatic and able to interact well with people from a wide range of backgrounds. Relevant paid or voluntary experience is particularly helpful and can be gained via volunteering work, work placements and taking on an equal opportunities role in university societies or the student union.
To find out about how you can get into other public sector careers via a school leaver route (eg an apprenticeship or school leaver training programme) see the public sector section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.
Good analytical, problem-solving, teamworking and verbal/written communication skills are essential. Equal opportunities officers also need strong interpersonal skills, listening skills and the ability to relate to people from a wide range of backgrounds. It is desirable to have an awareness and understanding of the key discrimination laws.