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Board member news

Equality, diversity and inclusion – protected characteristics champions

12 December 2017

At a recent University Executive Board away day I led a session on equality, diversity and inclusion and I was delighted to hear the ways in which all my colleagues are ensuring that we really deliver on our commitment to equal pay, treatment and opportunity, to supporting diversity and creating an open and inclusive community.

We decided that each member of the University Executive Board would be a champion for one particular protected characteristic with Colin Riordan and myself continuing to champion across all characteristics.  I anticipate that this will keep equality, diversity and inclusion matters at the forefront of our thoughts in everything that we do.  I’m really pleased with this, as it will allow my thoughts on this subject to be challenged in a focussed way.

I will explain a little about the protected characteristics in the Equality Act (2010), which legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act, making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some situations. It sets out the different ways in which it is unlawful to treat someone and covers nine protected characteristics.  The language used below comes directly from the Equality Act 2010 although we recognise that in some cases e.g. gender reassignment that this language is already felt to be outdated by communities impacted by the Act.  We have recognised that in our descriptions.  It is also important to remember that discrimination can take place if someone is perceived to have a protected characteristic or is connected to someone with a protected characteristic:

  1. Age (UEB Champion – Rob Williams, Chief Financial Officer)

The Act protects people of all ages. However, different treatment because of age is not unlawful direct or indirect discrimination if you can justify it (for example if you can demonstrate that it is a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim). Age is the only protected characteristic that allows employers to justify direct discrimination.

  1. Disability (UEB Champion – Amanda Coffey, Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience and Academic Standards)

A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, which would include things like using a telephone, reading a book or using public transport. The Act puts a duty on the employer to make reasonable adjustments for staff to help them overcome disadvantage resulting from impairment (for example, by providing assistive technologies to help visually impaired staff use computers effectively).

  1. Gender reassignment (UEB Champion – Ruedi Allemann, Pro Vice-Chancellor Physical Sciences and Engineering)

“The Act provides protection for transgender individuals. A transgender individual is someone who proposes to, starts or has completed a process to change their gender. The Act no longer requires a person to be under medical supervision to be protected – for example a woman who decides to live as a man but does not undergo any medical procedures would be covered. It is discrimination to treat transgender individuals less favourably for being absent from work than they would be treated if they were absent because they were ill or injured”

Genders outside of man (which includes woman transitioning to man) and woman (which includes man transitioning to woman) are not explicitly protected under UK law. They are the non-binary identities – for example, those who might identify as neither man nor woman.  Cardiff University recognises and supports all staff and students who identify as non-binary.

  1. Marriage and civil partnership (UEB Champion – Jayne Sadgrove, Chief Operating Officer)

The Act protects employees who are married or in a civil partnership against discrimination. Single people are not protected.

  1. Pregnancy and maternity (UEB Champion – Claire Saunders, Director of Communications and Marketing)

Individuals are  protected against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity during the period of  pregnancy and any statutory maternity leave to which they are entitled. During this period, pregnancy and maternity discrimination cannot be treated as sex discrimination. You must not take into account an employee´s period of absence due to pregnancy-related illness when making a decision about their employment.

  1. Race (UEB Champion – Nora de Leeuw, Pro Vice-Chancellor International and Europe)

For the purposes of the Act `race´ refers to a group of people defined by their race, colour, and nationality (including citizenship) ethnic or national origins.

  1. Religion or belief (UEB Champion – Hywel Thomas, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research, Innovation and Engagement)

In the Equality Act, Religion has the meaning usually given to it but belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs including lack of belief (such as Atheism) or no religion. Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition. Employees or jobseekers are protected if they do not follow a certain religion or have no religion at all. Additionally, a religion must have a clear structure and belief system. Denominations or sects within a religion can be considered a protected religion or religious belief. Discrimination because of religion or belief can occur even where both the discriminator and recipient are of the same religion or belief.

This characteristic does not include political beliefs, scientific beliefs, or supporting football teams.

  1. Sex (UEB Champion – TJ Rawlinson, Director of Development and Alumni Relations)

It is important to recognise that both men and women are protected under the Act.

  1. Sexual orientation (UEB Champion – Gary Baxter, Pro Vice-Chancellor Biomedical and Life Sciences)

Sexual orientation means a person’s sexual orientation towards persons of the same sex or gender, persons of the opposite sex or gender, or persons of either sex or gender.


We have added another characteristic which is not protected in law (yet) but which we believe describes an important source of disadvantage:

Socioeconomic Status (UEB Champion – George Boyne, Pro-Vice Chancellor Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences)

Socioeconomic status encompasses not just income but also educational attainment, financial security and subjective perceptions of social status.  Low socioeconomic status does show a correlation with lower educational achievement, poverty and poor health.  We have a moral and civic duty to seek to address these issues.

I hope that you will all support us in our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, not merely because of our legal obligations but also because of our moral or ethical case.  Creating a culture that recognises equality, diversity and inclusion is the right thing to do to enable our staff and students to be themselves while they work and study.