Equality impact assessments: A definitive guide
Courtney Wright, Senior Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, explains what equality impact assessments are, why they're important for your inclusion goals and how to complete them.
What is an equality impact assessment?
An equality impact assessment (EIA) is a tool that helps ensure decisions, practices and policies within organisations are fair and do not discriminate against any protected group. The process usually includes filling out an equality impact assessment template which is unique to an organisation. Employees are required to fill out the form by considering the impact on different groups of people, with key categories to consider listed.
Initially, EIAs were introduced to help organisations meet the public sector duty under the Equality Act 2010 (EA2010). Under the act, public sector organisations, or those in the third sector who work with the public, must show due regard to;
- Eliminate prohibited conduct
- Advance equality of opportunity
- Foster good relations
Therefore, standard EIAs include the nine protected characteristics as defined by the EA2010; age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race and ethnicity, religion or belief, biological sex and sexual orientation.
EIAs themselves are not a legal requirement, but they are a widespread, effective tool proven to help organisations meet their responsibilities under equalities law. With awareness and understanding of inclusion increasing, the implementation of EIA’s is becoming more common across sectors now, including the third sector and private sector too.
Why are equality impact assessments important?
EIA’s help organisations avoid discrimination, particularly indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination is when a policy, process or action disproportionately disadvantages a protected group. For example, if employees are required to have 10 years of work experience in their field, this could be indirectly discriminating based on age. Young people who may be suitable for the role would be excluded due to this hiring policy decision. They are unable to realistically have 10 years’ experience due to their age.
EIAs are important because it gives organisations the opportunity to reflect on how decisions may play out once implemented. In the example above, this might not have been picked up by proofreading a job advert. Implementing an EIA gives space and time for employees to consider the inclusion impacts of their decision, in this case – hiring policy.
However, EIAs are not just about avoiding legal cases. They can be a useful method to identify opportunities too. If we can identify the barriers, it can help us re-evaluate whether the solution we are proposing is the right one at all, or if we can think outside of the box to come up with something even better. It is considered a best-practice approach to decision-making.
The challenges of equality impact assessments
A major challenge is the perception of EIA forms. These are often viewed by people as a tick box exercise, or yet another form to fill in. If employees are not trained in how to complete these, it becomes another bureaucratic exercise with little meaning.
Additionally, the process itself can be a barrier if only one person is responsible for completing the form. The idea is to reflect on the impacts on different people, so this can feel challenging or overwhelming for someone who does not have lived experience in the categories listed.
Our expert guidance on equality impact assessments
Develop an equality impact mindset
For those who are completing EIAs, it is important to develop an EIA mindset. This means spotting potential barriers not only when completing the form, but throughout the work that you do.
If you have an EIA mindset, you will be able to consider the barriers throughout discussions around new implementations or changes. For example, you may discuss the impacts on different groups in project meetings or gather the thoughts of colleagues before starting the form.
Smaller decisions may not require an official form to be filled in but having an EIA mindset means employees consider the impact of their daily decisions and actions. When it comes to the bigger decisions which do require a form, employees will already have ideas and it will feel less daunting than starting with a blank form. Organisations may want to consider creating equality impact assessment guidance to support employees in developing this skillset and mindset.
The most effective EIAs are those completed with the help of other people. The principle of EIAs is about hearing absent voices and considering the impact on them. By using consultation as an embedded approach to EIAs we are ensuring that multiple voices are considered within the decision-making process.
- Staff networks – do you have affinity groups who could share their lived experience?
- Friends and family – how do they think they would be impacted by this decision?
- Employee voice representatives – what do they think the impact on employees would be?
Start off thinking about existing data that you already hold. Does this paint a full picture? If not, seek out more information so that your conclusions have been met through a robust, data-driven process. Reflect on internal and external data sources. Here are some ideas to get you started
- Employee engagement surveys
- Employee lifecycle statistics e.g. recruitment, turnover
- Local or national demographics
Go beyond protected characteristics
We know that true inclusion goes beyond protected characteristics. Think about other groups which may be impacted by the decisions your organisation makes. You may want to consider adding the following;
- Socioeconomic background
- Parents and carers
- Stakeholders that are specific to your organisation e.g. students, patients
Developing an EIA mindset, and completing high-quality forms, help take your inclusive decision-making to the next level. If you’d like to explore Equality Impact Assessment training for your organisation, please talk to your account manager if you’re an Inclusive Employers Member, or complete our training request form.