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Equality and diversity issues

Equality and diversity issues are central to the way in which organisations and groups of people operate and interact (or better to say, should operate and interact) nowadays. Any newcomer to a university or place of work needs to be aware of them. However, this need does not arise purely and simply because there are legal issues attached to equality and diversity, although the legal side is absolutely crucial, and we do of course need to ensure that we are complying fully with the law. Rather, it is because working within a system of equality and diversity is ultimately helpful and beneficial to all - institutions, businesses and companies, and most importantly, the individual. In this section of the website, we will explore why this is the case.



1. What is diversity and why is it important?... read

2. What problems can an awareness of equal opportunities help to avoid?


Recommended books on equality and diversity issues book_small.jpg


What is diversity and why is it important?

Within the UK, as in many other countries, equality issues are closely linked to government legislation. Legislation against discrimination on the grounds of race, disability or religion, amongst others, has been in existence for some time. More recently, it has also become illegal to discriminate against an individual on the grounds of age (such discrimination is referred to as 'ageism'.)

However, equality and diversity is not just about complying minimally with the law. Neil Thompson, in his important and accessible book People Skills (2002), stresses the importance of developing an appropriate culture where people in work places are sensitive to the significance of diversity, taking personal responsibility for the development of this awareness. Within work places, there is a major need to take steps to learn about other perspectives and other life experiences. If we do not, there is a very real risk of discrimination, in which we can end up by ‘alienating’ or ‘invalidating’ people.

Work places, medical discourse and the discourse of psychology, amongst many others, appear to send out clear messages about what is deemed to be 'normal' and 'acceptable': in reality, however, the word 'normal' is a highly problematic term. For one thing, it is subjective, but it is also classificatory, seeking to codify human beings in ways that are convenient, clear-cut and which require little effort or analysis. In much the same way, we can see that many other binary oppositions appear contingently within organisational hierarchies. These oppositions, which involve matching a strong term with its weaker counterpart, are highly questionable, for example:


superior v inferior - strong v weak - powerful v powerless - central v peripheral - successful v unsuccessful - ambitious v unambitious - civilised v uncivilised


The main reason we can question such hierarchies is that decisions about who is 'superior', 'strong', 'powerful' and 'central', amongst others, are subjective, culture-bound and arbitrary. Nevertheless, it is not always advisable for minority groups to establish a power hierarchy which is equal and opposite to supposed authority - rather, a post-structural approach prefers to recognise the importance of the interplay and interaction between all individuals. A key area of focus within the workplace is on the different skills and attributes that each individual bings to the team. The relatively free interaction between diverse individuals leads to slippage and perpetually defers the creation of absolute power structures, the better to view meaning production, and human experience, as a creative process.

The books we have suggested are not specifically designed to help with language (although the language contained in them will certainly be very useful for students in particular subject areas). Rather, they are useful as background reading, and serve as an introduction to some of the key equality and diversity issues.

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What problems can an awareness of equal opportunities help to avoid? 

As Thompson (op. cit, pp. 75-85) notes, having an awareness of equality and diversity issues issues can help us to:
  • Avoid stereotypes
  • Consider the extent and limitations of our own power
  • Review the way we do things
  • Look for opportunities for training
  • Work collaboratively

By the same token, failure to deal with equality and diversity issues can lead to the following problems:

  • Making people feel marginalised and alienated.
  • Refusing to accept any views that differ from one’s own.
  • Assuming that only our agenda matters.
  • Not being aware of how important certain issues are for individuals.
  • Becoming part of the problem of discrimination by failing to challenge it.

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Recommended books on equality and diversity issues


A useful general introduction to equality and diversity issues


Neil Thompson. 2003. Promoting Equality. (second edition). Basingstoke, Hants:Palgrave Macmillan

This book discusses the significance of discrimination and oppression where work involves interaction with people. The book deals both with the difficulty of tackling inequality and the need to do so. This book is critical of the simplistic approach of political correctness, and outlines the challenges of bringing about equal opportunities in the human services.


Some further recommended books on equality and diversity issues.


On race and ethnicity 

David Mason. (Ed.) 2003. Explaining Ethic Differences: Changing patterns of disadvantage in Britain. Bristol: The Policy Press.

This book provides an overview of ethnic disadvantage in Britain, and considers, amongst other topics, those of education, employment, health, housing and the criminal justice system. It contains up-to-date statistics and data relating to all of these issues.


On sexuality

Jean Carabine. 2004. Sexualities: Personal Lives and Social policy. Buckingham: Open University Press.

This book explores aspects of sexuality in relation to social policy. Particularly useful and interesting chapters are devoted to personal lives and public policy.

understanding_disability.jpgOn disability

Michael Oliver. 1996. Understanding Disability: From theory to practice. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan.

This book, which is useful for disabled and non-disabled people alike, develops some of the main themes and issues surrounding disability that have arisen in the last twenty years. The author provides a personal journey of exploration and understanding and also develops a theoretical understanding of disability.

On age

Bill Bytheway. 1994. Ageism. Buckingham: Open University Press.

This book deals with issues of discrimination on the basis of age. It includes references to material such as newspapers and biographies, and also includes case studies.

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The text was prepared by Dr Gerard Sharpling 



You may be interested in finding out more information from the University of Warwick Equality and Diversity web site. There is useful and helpful information available for both staff and students.