Miller Research was commissioned to undertake an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) for Finance Wales as it transitioned into the Development Bank of Wales. The Equality Act outlines nine protected characteristics, and the EIA must assess how the funds delivered under the Development Bank of Wales affect them. Specifically, it focuses on:
• Promoting equality between people who share a protected characteristic, and people who do not
• Identifying how people sharing a protected characteristic may be discriminated against
• Promoting good relations between people who share a protected characteristic, and people who do not
An important element of the research was to understand how the act defines these characteristics. In undertaking the research, we found that there are a number of issues that arise when categorising people into different groups and discussing their experiences.
Firstly, if someone feels they have been discriminated against, but shares two or more protected characteristics, to which do they ascribe their discrimination as arising from? In other words, how can the Equality Act, and an EIA, account for issues of intersectionality? Crenshaw, who coined the term, illustrates why this is so important. In her 1989 text she demonstrated that a company could avoid being seen as discriminatory because it hired White women and Black men but refused to hire any Black women. Legislation and quantitative data can sometimes fail to capture instances of discrimination such as this.
Secondly, monitoring the demographics of protected characteristics raises some challenges. Most of us are used to ticking a box about our ethnicity or gender, but how comfortable would people be in sharing data about our sexual orientation, or if they identified as transgender, especially if they have not ‘come out’ yet? Demographic data is central to quantitatively assessing outcomes of an intervention, but perhaps there needs to be more thinking about what we can do for people whose identity does not fit neatly within a ‘tick box’. Furthermore, research from Stonewall showed that two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime as a result of their gender identity in the past 12 months – if anonymity is not properly protected for individuals disclosing this information, their safety is potentially at risk.
Finally, many of the Equality Act’s definitions are predominantly based on medical ‘differences’ to account for a protected characteristic. For example, the act refers to ‘Gender Reassignment’, which denotes a medical procedure, in contrast to concepts of gender as a social construct and a lived experience (typically used by advocacy groups such as Stonewall). This was also in issue in understanding disability. The Act refers to physical or mental impairments that may prevent someone from undertaking day-to-day activities. Likewise, the ONS Census data refers to ‘health conditions’ that affect someone a ‘little’ or ‘a lot’ in undertaking activities. This is in direct contrast to the Social Model of Disability which views disability as a societal responsibility; it is not an impairment that causes disability, but society excluding individuals from participation. Importantly, ‘social’ understandings of discrimination place emphasis on society, rather than the person with a protected characteristic. This helps us to understand how we can collectively create a more inclusive, and equal environment that celebrates diversity rather than simply encouraging conformity.
Overall, this blog aims to demonstrate several ongoing challenges in measuring equality. Importantly, as social researchers, we must ensure that our work reflects peoples’ lived experiences, and if necessary, take steps to look beyond rigid categories of identities.