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What’s the Point of Equal Opportunities Forms?

I’m sure many of us have applied for jobs or filled in surveys, and wondered why at the end are yet more questions about your ethnicity, age and religion? What have they got to do with anything? Wouldn’t ignoring these make us all more equal?

Well, yes and no.

For this post, we’ll use the example of a job application. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to ask these questions because in most cases the answers do not reflect on the ability to do a job (“most cases” because some roles are legitimately gender specific).

Remember, an equal opportunities form must not be used to influence a decision on employment. If you believe that this has happened, then you have a case to take up against the prospective employer.

If you are an employer, hopefully you do not consciously discriminate, but there may be unintentional biases in your recruitment and advertising processes that do not target certain groups.

This is not necessarily a criticism. It is easy to assume that because a job is advertised on your website it is therefore open to everyone equally and you have done your job to seek out diversity. But when you look over your equal opportunities forms, do you notice the numbers of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) or disabled people have applied? Is there a significant gender imbalance?

working-womanIt is worth pondering over these figures as they often reflect something much deeper than simply who has applied for your job. Does your organisation actively promote equality in its output? Are there visible role-models used in your marketing campaigns? Does your organisation ‘feel’ like a welcoming place to someone concerned about ‘standing out’?

Unfortunately, these questions are not straightforward or easy to answer.

The equal opportunities forms on your desk can represent the end product of years of cultural and social barriers erected to stop certain types of people feeling as if they can succeed. We know there aren’t enough women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) jobs, we know there aren’t enough Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people in positions of influence, and we know there aren’t enough disabled people employed across the board. We know this from monitoring not just who is in those jobs but who is applying for them.

shutterstock_131916311However, for the vast majority of employers using this information correctly can help their recruitment in the future. If there aren’t enough of a certain group applying, adverts can be placed more strategically to attract those candidates. As our post on equality said, just because you are actively trying to encourage more applications from certain groups it does not mean you are discriminating against the rest.

As for the candidate, why should you fill out the form? Of course, a good equal opportunities form should always give the option “prefer not to say” for all questions and whilst you are entitled not to disclose, there is a wider benefit to giving this sort of information as we’ve discussed above.

Our standard form can be found here, and we are happy to discuss any thoughts or queries on helping to improve yours.


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