Equal Opportunity Employer


5th July, 2022

What is an Equal Opportunity Employer?

Being a genuine Equal Opportunity Employer not only requires adherence to anti-discrimination legislation, but also embedding diversity and inclusion into your workplace culture

The concept of Equal Employment Opportunity stems from the premise that people should be employed based on objective merit criteria, and not be treated with any form of discrimination.

In societies around the world, there are typically two components of being an Equal Opportunity Employer:

  1. Following the relevant legislation that governs the rules of discrimination in the workplace; and
  2. Taking proactive and additional steps to ensure that a diverse and inclusive work environment is being fostered within the workplace.

Follow the relevant legislation for your country

In Australia, there is specific anti-discrimination laws that employers are required to abide by.

These include:

  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984
  • Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986
  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992

To find out more about this legislation and how they’re protected, visit The Australian Human Rights Commission website.

In New Zealand, anti-discrimination laws are covered by the Human Rights Act 1993. To discover more, visit The NZ Human Rights Commission website.

The laws are designed to prevent employers from making decisions to hire, fire, promote or demote employees based on factors such as gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, political opinion, religion, age and other subjective attributes.

Complying with these laws is not a matter of choice, and failure to do so can not only negatively impact the people within and connected to your workplace, but may also result in severe penalties.

Understanding & identifying direct & indirect discrimination

The Australian Human Rights commissions flags an important nuance about the different types of workplace discrimination that occur – the difference between direct and indirect discrimination.

In order to be a law abiding and genuine Equal Opportunity Employer, not only is the employer barred from treating a specific person unfairly due to a subjective attribute (meaning, direct discrimination), but is also not allowed to put in place “conditions, requirements or practices which appear to treat everyone equally, but which actually disadvantage some people” as a result of these subjective attributes.

As MYOB’s Employee Experience Manager Ed Smith puts it, this process starts with having strong leadership that is also acutely aware of their organisation’s cultural fabric.

“Being successful in managing indirect discrimination comes from a place of awareness,” Smith said. “Leaders need the ability to identify and support a culture whereby everybody is confident in calling out bad behaviour, or will automatically self assess their own behaviours.

“A mature and aware work culture will therefore have all the tools at its disposal to combat workplace discrimination of any kind.”

Creating a robust anti-discrimination policy

One of the most effective ways to assist your organisation with complying with the laws and regulations of being an Equal Opportunity Employer is through the development of a strong policy and set of procedures that address anti-discrimination issues head on.

According to Alison Baker, Partner of Employment Law at Hall & Willcox, this policy should deal with all forms of discrimination, and be frequently reviewed and adjusted to keep up with changes in legislation and case law.

“An organisation’s anti-discrimination policy cannot be a set and forget policy,” Baker said.

“It should be a living document that is prepared and maintained by an appropriately qualified professional with up-to-date knowledge of employment law matters.”

Anti-discrimination training is critical

When outlining the ways in which an organisation can actively ensure that they are compliant with all of the relevant anti-discrimination laws and that their internal policy is put into practice, Baker also emphasised the important role that training plays when it comes to equal opportunity employment.

“Anti-discrimination policy training should form part of the induction process and should feature as part of any organisation’s ongoing training and development efforts,” she said.

In instances where an organisation does not have the internal resources or expertise to train their employees on these matters, Baker suggested that an external training agency with the relevant qualifications and credentials be engaged to facilitate such training.

For MYOB’s Smith, there’s also strong consideration for the quality of leadership involved, once again.

“Workplaces are now held accountable for providing not only a physically safe workplace, but also a psychologically safe workplace.

“Having leaders that understand conscious and unconscious bias can be a big step in the right direction, but also understanding how biases play out in an organisation will allow HR or Employee Experience teams to address them before they become a problem.

Going the extra mile: Diversity & Inclusion

The second part of being an Equal Opportunity Employer is to ‘walk the walk’ of diversity and inclusion (D&I), and using it as a compass that guides the organisation through every element of its operations.

“Whether it be recruitment, financial planning, or business growth and expansion, being a genuine Equal Opportunity Employer means making decisions through a lens of D&I,” Baker said.

One example of a proactive measure that goes above and beyond what is expected by law can include the formation of a D&I committee that puts on events and runs initiatives that are focused on making people from all backgrounds feel welcome within your workplace culture.

In a blog article on the topic of D&I, MYOB’s Organisational Development Manager Leah Ferguson suggests a few other options to consider, including emphasising culture days, acknowledging traditional owners and performing a gender pay gap review.

“How you continue to promote diversity and inclusion with an existing workforce will likely come down to the members of that workforce and what they’re hoping to see in terms of representation,” wrote Ferguson.

Gaining recognition from agencies and independent bodies that have D&I based ethics, values, guidelines and expectations is another example that Baker gave for those organisations looking to walk the walk of D&I.

“These steps will hold your organisation accountable and ensure that D&I is always part of the agenda,” said Baker.

More D&I means better outcomes across the board

All things considered, the positive outcomes of being an Equal Opportunity Employer cast a wide net across many of the key metrics that drive business success.

According to Baker, a diverse and inclusive workplace fosters a happier and healthier working environment, with people feeling comfortable and empowered to do their jobs consistently.

When morale spikes, so does productivity, which drives successful commercial results too.

“Focusing on diversity and inclusion will likely open doors, create opportunities, and boost the health and wellbeing of your team at large,” Baker said.

“Diversity and inclusion are not only a fair way to run your operation, they are also a sure-fire recipe for reviving a stagnant business, bringing in new ideas and boosting innovation,” added Ferguson.

Baker also highlighted that when D&I is used as a compass that guides the organisation through all of its decisions, this objectivity opens up pools of talent that may have otherwise been inaccessible due to alternative mindsets.

The larger the talent pool, the higher the chance of finding ideal candidates and quality employees.

Smith also adds that having these policies in place will have the added benefit of making your organisation more attractive to all prospective employees, not just a few specific niches.

“In today’s competitive market with skill and talent shortages, “the Great Resignation” and a post-Covid working model, being an equal opportunity employer is a critical step to attract, retain and develop talent.

“Gone are the days when flexible working or salary increases were the main attraction for candidates to a role, and instead being an employer of choice or an equality opportunity employer signifies to the market that you value our people and commit to equality within your workplace.”

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