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Principle Two: We do not tolerate discrimination


This document is aimed at raising awareness of various types of discrimination, what they look like and how they might occur. It is a reference point for signposting resources, specialist organisations and University departments that can provide assistance in these areas.

Discrimination, Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

The University of Warwick is committed to creating an environment where the freedom to voice ideas is at its core, a place where staff and students operate with mutual respect, with the confidence that equality of opportunity is accessible to all.

Our University Strategy, launched in September 2018, firmly puts Social Inclusion at its heart and states that we will:

"ensure that, irrespective of background, disability, faith, gender, age, race or sexual orientation, all staff and students have access to equal opportunities to thrive and progress at Warwick”

Our commitment is more than being compliant with legal obligations, we commit ourselves to addressing discrimination in all forms wherever we find it.

We acknowledge that discrimination in society breeds hatred and in extreme cases can result in physical harm, injury or even death, and that it is part of a lived everyday experience for some people in our society. We also acknowledge that it exists within our own institution. We know that we have at times fallen short of our ideals, we know we still have much to do, but we believe that fostering inclusiveness and diversity should underpin all our actions and act as a moral compass in the delivery of everything we do as a first-class research and education institution. Everyone in our community has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their status, background, grade, belief or any protected characteristic. Above all, life at Warwick should be underpinned by an unchanging set of values based on openness, diversity, respect and trust.

In the fulfilment of our obligations to educate, enlighten and innovate, we are strongly committed to providing an environment in which not only are views and ideas that are well received expressed, but also one in which conflicting and controversial views can be brought forward, heard and challenged. Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom are fundamental to the role of universities as places where the boundaries of knowledge are tested; they are central to our purpose and values. Freedom of Expression is a fundamental right protected under the Human Rights Act 1998 and by article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Academic Freedom is protected under the Education Reform Act 1988. These legal rights are not without limits; both freedom of expression and academic freedom are limited in law by factors such as restrictions on Hate speech or the incitement of hatred or violence.

Freedom of speech is not an absolute right, and all members of our community who wish to exercise their right to freedom of speech are expected to do so in a way which does not incite violence, hatred or which is discriminatory.

As a community we are committed to listening, learning, and we will take action in order to change and to deliver our second Principle ‘we do not tolerate discrimination’.

Our Principles

We have come together as a community and drawn up a statement of principles which affirm our values. These principles represent our expectations of how we should behave as a University Community, both at the individual and institutional levels. They also inform our approach to taking appropriate action when these expectations are not met.

  • Principle 1: We treat everyone with respect.
  • Principle 2: We do not tolerate discrimination.
  • Principle 3: We do not tolerate sexual misconduct, violence or abuse.
  • Principle 4: We keep our campus and community safe.
  • Principle 5: “We” means all of us, students and staff alike.

What is discrimination?

Broadly speaking, discrimination refers to the different or unjust treatment of different categories of people from the way other people would be treated. There are two types of discrimination – direct and indirect—each of which is explored in more detail below. The University has a legal duty under the Equality Act to eliminate discrimination, harassment, and victimisation.

This obligation is established in the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), created by the Equality Act. The PSED came into effect in 2011, aiming to place a responsibility on organisations to actively promote equality. You can read more about the PSED on the ED&I website.

The Equality Act was introduced in 2010, bringing together over 116 separate pieces of legislation into one Act to ensure consistency and a single framework for tackling disadvantage and discrimination. The Equality Act covers nine 'protected characteristics', namely:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

Direct discrimination

This is when someone is treated less favourably than others because of a protected characteristic.

This can include direct discrimination:

  • By perception. This is when someone is treated less favourably than others because they are thought to have a protected characteristic, whether or not this perception is correct.
  • By association. This is when someone is treated less favourably than others because of a connection to an individual who has a protected characteristic (for example, a family member, friend, or colleague).

Examples of direct discrimination might include:

  • A person informs their manager that they do not identify with the gender assigned at birth and that they require support from their employer during their transition. The employer moves the person from their current role to prevent them from engaging with people outside the institution.
  • A student with Specific Learning Differences (i.e. dyslexia or dyspraxia) who is entitled to consideration when marking as a reasonable adjustment, is marked down for grammar, syntax and structural errors on their written work, when those do not form part of any specific assessment criteria.
  • A manager disciplines an employee because they have to take time off to care for their disabled child. Other staff who have had similar amounts of time off work are not disciplined. This could be direct discrimination by association under the protected characteristic of disability.
  • A heterosexual student wishes to conduct their dissertation on a topic relating to LGBTUA+ equality. A staff member refuses to supervise them in the belief that the student is gay. This is direct discrimination by perception. It does not matter whether or not the student is gay.

There are no grounds to justify any practice that would constitute direct discrimination. (However, in some instances, direct discrimination based on age may be permissible, e.g. for someone working in licensed premises.)

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination happens when there is a rule or policy that applies in the same way for everybody but disadvantages a group of people who share a protected characteristic.

In contrast to direct discrimination, the Equality Act sets out provisions where indirect discrimination can be allowed if the employer can prove a business case for the rule or arrangement. (This is known as 'objective justification').
To rely on the objective justification defence, the organisation must show that its policy or rule is for a good reason – in other words, that it is 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'.

Examples of indirect discrimination might include:

  • Changing a rota to make all staff work on a Saturday. This may indirectly discriminate against people of the Jewish faith because Saturday is a religious day, and work is not permitted.
  • Only accepting UK qualifications for a role. This could be an example of indirect racial discrimination because anyone educated outside the UK cannot apply for the position, which will have a disproportionately negative effect on people of non-UK nationalities.
  • If an employer introduces new working practices that require all employees to work full time. This may unfairly disadvantage women (or others with caring responsibilities) as more women than men typically have caring responsibilities for young children or dependent adults.

Hate Crime, Hate Incident

The term “hate crime” can be used to describe a range of criminal behaviours where the perpetrator is motivated by or demonstrates hostility or prejudice based on protected characteristics. In other words any criminal offence can be a hate crime if it was carried out because of hostility or prejudice based on disability, race, religion, trans identity or sexual orientation.

A hate incident would be any non-crime incident which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice based on a person's race or perceived race / religion or perceived religion / sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation / disability or perceived disability / trans or perceived to be trans status. (Adapted from the College of Policing definition)

Report and Support

Report and Support is the University of Warwick’s single online platform for reporting bullying and harassment, discrimination, sexual misconduct and/or hate crime. It allows people to disclose both anonymously and with details, to ensure that all students and staff can access support. It doesn’t matter if the incident(s) took place on or off campus, or if the incident(s) happened in the past - our Student or Staff Liaison Officers are available to provide confidential support and outline the potential next steps.

Making a report does not automatically trigger a formal complaints procedure, and no further action will be taken without the consent of the person reporting.

Responding to disclosures of discrimination

Our principles emphasise the importance of encouraging, equipping and supporting people to speak up and challenge inappropriate behaviour. However, it is important to consider that being the subject of and then having to disclose experiences of discrimination can be stressful, frustrating and emotionally traumatic and sharing details of an event with others can further add to this stress. As it can also be difficult to know how to respond when an individual discloses to you about their experience of discrimination, some basic guidance is outlined below.

When responding to disclosures of discrimination it is important to:

  • Be impartial in dealing with any disclosure.
  • Acknowledge the experience of the person disclosing – listen, be respectful and empathetic.
  • Keep an open mind – situations like this are highly individualistic, and also remember that what is felt to be discriminatory may change over time.
  • Consider support and signposting needs.
  • Enable and empower the person disclosing to choose the best way forward for themselves.

Structural/Institutional discrimination

When most people think of discrimination, they will usually think of individuals who hold prejudiced views of certain groups of people. Prejudice is about the internal views and attitudes people may hold. Discrimination, however, is about the negative behaviours and impacts that members of protected groups may experience.
Individual discrimination is not the only way in which groups in society are subject to discrimination. When the rules of a society and its major institutions consistently produce disproportionately disadvantageous and unjust outcomes for minority groups, this is known as structural or systemic discrimination. This results in a dominant social group enjoying more power and greater privilege than those who are discriminated against.

Protected Characteristics and Discrimination

Age discrimination

As the title suggests, age discrimination occurs when someone is treated unfairly because of their age, whether being considered too old or too young. Discrimination of this kind can include discrimination against people of specific ages or those who are part of an “age group”, e.g. the over 50s or the under 30s.

Discrimination Based on Gender Confirmation (legally known as gender reassignment)

Gender identity refers to a person’s internal, personal sense of their own gender and what feels right for them. This might be male, female, non-binary (outside of male or female), genderless, gender fluid, or some other gender identity. All gender identities are equally valid.

At birth, individuals are assigned ‘male’ or ‘female’ typically based on chromosomes, hormones, and external and internal anatomy. A trans person is someone whose gender identity is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans identity is different from sexual orientation. Whereas sexual orientation describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to other people, gender identity describes a person’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman, or someone outside of gender binary descriptions.

Some trans people undergo gender confirmation surgery, also known as gender reassignment surgery. The Equality Act covers someone who proposes to go through, is going through or has gone through a process, or part of a process, to change their gender. This does not have to involve any medical supervision. For example, the Act protects a person who chooses to reassign their gender and lives permanently as their affirmed gender without having any hormonal or surgical therapy.

Trans people should be respected based on the gender they identify with, the pronouns they use and the way they express their gender.

Discrimination based on marriage or civil partnership

It is important to ensure that policies and terms and conditions, including contractual benefits, do not disadvantage workers because they are married or in a civil partnership. In some specified circumstances, an employer can refuse to employ you because you are married or in a civil partnership if the work is for the purposes of an organised religion, for example as a Catholic priest.

Discrimination based on pregnancy or maternity

This characteristic covers individuals from when they become pregnant until their maternity leave ends or they return to work (or chooses to leave). During that time – known as the protected period – they are protected against discrimination. It is important to remember that once the protected period ends, it can still be unlawful to treat them unfairly because of their pregnancy, maternity leave or requirement to breastfeed.

Discrimination based on disability

Under the Equality Act 2010 a person is disabled if they have a “physical or mental impairment” that has a substantially adverse and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

The University has a duty to take steps to remove, reduce or prevent obstacles faced by disabled members of our community and its approach is in line with the social model of disability. (The social model of disability proposes that ‘disability’ is caused by the way society is organised (e.g. structural and environmental barriers/challenges). The University can only make these adjustments where we are aware (or we should reasonably have been aware) of the disability.

Discrimination based on race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin

Under the Equality Act, race can mean a person’s colour or nationality (including citizenship). It can also mean a person’s ethnic or national origins, which may not be the same as their current nationality. For example, someone may have Chinese national origins and be living in Britain with a British passport. Race also covers ethnic and racial groups. A racial group can be made up of two or more distinct racial groups, for example Black Britons, British Asians, British Sikhs, British Jews, Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers. (EHRC).

Discrimination based on race (e.g. discrimination towards those who identify as Black, South Asian and East Asian) affects different groups in society, and can take many forms both overt and less obvious.

Anti-Semitism is discrimination against Jewish people and can be because of their “race” or religion. There are a number of views on the definition of anti-Semitism. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) offers a non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism. There are two qualifiers proposed by the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee which are pertinent to the use of this definition. The Community Security Trust offers its own definition alongside the IHRA’s.

Current world events can also have an impact on racist behaviour in society. This might mean that certain groups of people may be particularly vulnerable at certain times. For example, terrorist incidents are usually followed by spikes in hate crime towards those who are assumed to have the same race or religion as the perpetrators.

Discrimination based on religion or belief

This part of the Equality Act covers those with a religion or belief or lack of a religion or belief. This includes philosophical beliefs, if they are genuinely held, more than an opinion, and apply to an important aspect of human life or behaviour. To be covered by the Equality Act, beliefs must not affect other people’s fundamental rights.

Discrimination based on sex

Whilst the systemic nature of this type of discrimination means that it is far more likely to be experienced by women, it is important to remember that both women and men can experience discrimination based on their sex.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation

According to the Equality Act, sexual orientation means a person's sexual orientation towards

  • persons of the same sex,
  • persons of the opposite sex, or
  • persons of either sex.

The Equality Act (2010) affords protection on the grounds of sexual orientation, such as whether you are attracted to people of the same gender as yourself (gay or lesbian), a different gender to yourself (straight/heterosexual), or to people of more than one gender (bisexual).

External Resources and Organisations