Equality is a term used to describe a society where all its members can participate fairly, given their capabilities and have the same opportunities to reach their full potential. It has been enforced by law, most recently through The Equality Act of 2010.
The Act reunites and updates existing laws into one, simplifying the legislation. It defines the personal characteristics protected by law and the wrongful behaviour. Coordinating protection for all the characteristics will first of all improve the public sector, but also encourage businesses to perform better while ensuring fair treatment of the individuals. Immediately after, on the 5th of April 2011, the Public Sector Duty came into force, focusing on making public authorities positively promote equality, not just prevent and investigate abuse. The main purpose of the equality duty is to implement thoughts of uniformity and great relations into the daily business of public servants. It depends on how equality considerations are carried out in how new policies are made as well as in the quality services provided.
Complying with the terms of the Equality Act is not just a legal obligation, but helps businesses as well. Any field that is both able to provide a safe work environment and provide service able to meet the diverse needs of its consumers is more productive. It also creates the conditions for public organisations to better represent the society they serve. On a long term basis the equality duty can and will lead to better targeted services thus increasing the the satisfaction for public service users (EHRC, 2019).
Diversity is a crucial part of the equality puzzle. A diversity approach aspires to better manage and recognize difference in order to enable all participants to reach their full potential. It aims to recognize that everyone is different in a variety of visible and non-visible ways and properly value those differences in order to harness the potential to manufacture an environment in which the equally diverse needs of the people within are met. Diversity is more than just a term, or an initiative, it is a ongoing goal and an ever changing process (Bailyn, 2006).
There are, of course certain barriers in achieving true equality, diversity and fair treatment. Among them we find prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, racism, sexism which in term give birth to an array of problems in social behaviour such as glass walls, cognitive bias and unconscious bias. Unfortunately, both discrimination and prejudice are still a current issue in today’s world. These two notions are interrelated as discrimination is often a consequence of prejudice. Discrimination is the inequitable treatment of an individual based on his race, sex or age while prejudice is a prepossessed idea that has no roots in true facts or own experience. The main difference between the two terms is that discrimination is a behaviour, whereas prejudice is an attitude.
Prejudice and bias are also interrelated. These main distinction between the two terms is that prejudice is an attitude (that can be either positive or negative) towards individuals based only on their membership of any given social groups. On the other hand, bias is the unfair predisposition for or against a person, a group of individuals or concepts such as religion, society, economics or even politics.
Bias with all its variations has long been considered the main reason for segregation in the workplace. It is often short lived and hard to prove, based on hidden events, often involuntary and rarely ever recognized by the enforcer. Bias works both by segregating and by creating a less productive environment. An employer can avoid such issues by taking a diversity approach. Some scientists believe that different forms of bias contribute to the creation of glass barriers (when, for example, leaders who often choose, sometimes unintentionally, individuals that mirror them as successors (ROWE, 1990).
While researching unconscious bias, scientists created a test called the Implicit Association Test (IAT), that concentrates on uncovering implicit biases, based on social stereotypes that connect a general trait to a social group. It measures speeds in key strokes and reaction time when seeing images of social groups that have been traditionally discriminated against, images of groups or individuals that have been traditionally privileged and pictures or text with positive or negative associations. A longer response time when associating positive words with a minority compared to an advantaged individual suggests an unconscious bias towards the minority group. The tests are available online and can be taken on a personal computer (PROJECT IMPLICIT 1998).
There has been extensive research done in social psychology, on cognitive bias, demonstrating that some traditionally disadvantaged categories of individuals are still treated differently, to their disservice. The studies which use data obtained from IAT interpretations, as well as those who predate them show the reality of how unconscious bias motivates individual’s action or lack of action. The danger of unconscious bias is that most people who enforce it rarely are aware of it. We will browse through some studies that relate and impact the public sector in order to raise awareness on how important it is to take efficient action against unconscious bias.
One such study comes to mind, where caucasian students were filmed while being interviewed both by caucasian and black interviewers. The students also completed an IAT on race perspective. The individuals that showed a strong unconscious bias on the IAT test for whites, made fewer errors when speaking with a caucasian interviewers rather than with the black ones. These subtle and instinctive actions point to a higher level of ease manifested towards the white interviewers (McConnell and Leibold 2001).This study and others like it are vital in training investigators. If a detective is not comfortable with a person of a different background or race then he is subsequently unable to establish a proper connection, thus making his ability to correctly assess credibility and obtain true information is seriously impaired.
Other studies focus on the impact unconscious bias might have on judges issuing sentences. One such study from the United States demonstrates that white judges have different views on racial harassment than african american ones. Statistics show that, on average, racial bias claims are successful 22% of the times while at the same time, with an african american judge governing, the success rate increases to almost 46% (Chew and Kelley 2009). A different study that focused on violent offenders showed that both black and white judges as groups enforced more severe punishments on black perpetrators than white ones (Spohn 2009).
A recent review by MP David Lammy performed in 2017 analyses the unequal numbers of black, asian and minority ethnic individuals (BAME) in the criminal justice system in the UK. The results of his report conclude that a growing number of young ethnic minority individuals are both first time offenders as well as repeat offenders. Unless changes are made on a large scale, this generation will be the next adult offenders, thus furthering the gap between races. Unfortunately, statistics show that behind the children and young adults that commit crimes in the UK there is an adult responsible for taking advantage of their vulnerability. An other shocking statistic revealed by the Lammy Report shows that although blacks represent 3% of England and Wales population, they make roughly 12% of the prison population. The same can be said about gypsies, that even though cover a 0,1% of general population, they add to 5% of male detainees. The biggest difference is with the Muslim population in the UK, with a 5% mark in the entire population, reflecting roughly around 15% in detention centres population.
The report as a whole reveals the fact that even in our modern day society we still have discriminatory and bias police practices, but also that poverty, lack of education and ghetto like conditions in some neighbourhoods are the decisive factors that contribute in a higher crime rate among ethnic minorities. Also Lammy’s report shows there is unfair treatment throughout the criminal justice system. In order to try and correct some of these issues, the MP recommends building public trust by making justice more transparent, better treatment and help for underaged offenders regardless of their race and background as well as implementing a procedure to seal criminal records. (HOME OFFICE 2017).
Unfortunately, the criminal justice is not the only area of the public sector where bias rears it’s ugly head. Education is the next major field where unconscious bias is a true danger when it comes to shaping young minds. Research in social psychology shows that when teachers are given certain expectations with regard to pupils academic performance it impacts how they grade their papers, as well as how the children perform (Rosenthal and Jacobson 1966). The consequence of such behaviour affects the overall performance of individuals that are members of impaired groups that are stereotypically expected not to perform well.
We still have a long way to go to eliminate bias in all its forms from our communities. But with targeted education, transparency in justice and a diversity approach, the idea of an unbiased society seems closer than ever. It is crucial that we, as public servants understand our own biases and vulnerabilities and make efforts to correct them, in order to serve as an example for the communities we represent. The better we are at understanding biases within us, the more we can do to create a bias free society.