In the context of equality, discrimination means treating somebody in a way that is worse than the way people are usually treated, based on beliefs about their actual or perceived membership of particular groups or categories. This leads to their exclusion on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation, race, disability, social class and so on. In this sense, discrimination is usually the outcome of a prejudice about a person’s or group’s perceived identity, with the power to put it into action against the individual or group.
Discrimination can be intentional or unintentional; direct or indirect. Intentional discrimination is when an individual or organisation sets out deliberately to disadvantage an individual or group, or to advantage another group or individual over them. An example might be paying women less than men for the same tasks.
Unintentional discrimination can happen because of ignorance or unintentional prejudice. An example would be where somebody uses an offensive stereotype to describe somebody from another race or culture, without being aware of the offensive nature of the word.
Direct discrimination is where people are treated less favourably than others would be because of perceptions about a group to which they are seen to belong. Indirect discrimination is where an action is taken which although it appears to have the same impact on everyone, in practice disproportionately disadvantages a particular group. An example would be where new hours of work are introduced for all employees, but which in practice disproportionately affect women workers because of their greater childcare commitments. The Equality Act 2010 makes it generally unlawful to discriminate in employment or service provision based on somebody’s:
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Religion or belief
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Gender reassignment
- Sexual orientation