The positive action provisions of the Equality Act (2010) apply to the University both as an employer and as an education provider. S.158 of the Act says that where an employer or education provider reasonably thinks that people who share a protected characteristic:
- experience a disadvantage connected to that characteristic; or
- have needs that are different from the needs of persons who do not share that characteristic; or
- have disproportionately low participation in an activity compared to others who do not share that protected characteristic
they may voluntarily take any action which is a proportionate means of meeting the aims stated in the Act.
These aims are:
- enabling or encouraging persons who share the protected characteristic to overcome or minimise that disadvantage;
- meeting those needs; or
- enabling or encouraging persons who share the protected characteristic to participate in that activity.
Taking positive action could help the University to achieve its objectives under the Public Sector Equality Duty.
Recruitment and promotion
Employers can take positive action measures in recruitment and promotion in order to address disadvantage, different needs and/or disproportionately low participation provided that they do not operate a blanket policy or practice of treating people with a particular protected characteristic better than others, and they appoint the best person for the job. The action they choose to take must be a proportionate means of overcoming disadvantage, meeting needs or increasing participation.
Council has approved the use of specific positive action measures in academic recruitment, including:
- the optional use of a positive action statement when recruiting Associate Professors: ‘Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in Oxford';
- a proactive search strategy to ensure a diverse shortlist;
- the requirement to pause the recruitment process before proceeding to interview if the shortlist is insufficiently diverse.
Faculties and departments must seek advice from their HR Business Partner, the Equality and Diversity Unit and/or Legal Services before implementing positive action measures other than those set out in official University guidance.
The University operates a wide range of targeted positive action measures to promote the participation of under-represented groups, including:
- schools outreach programmes targeted by sex and ethnicity;
- the use of disability and ethnicity as selection criteria in the UNIQ+ graduate access scheme;
- scholarships and bursaries targeted by sex, ethnicity and religion.
Please see the University's Graduate Access pages for full details of available funding opportunities
The Equality and Diversity Unit has produced guidance on implementing positive action measures to address the disadvantage, different needs or disproportionately low participation of students. University members considering targeted measures such as outreach or restricted scholarships are advised to review this document and seek advice from the EDU.
It is never unlawful direct disability discrimination to treat a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person. However, it might be appropriate to take positive action measures to overcome disadvantage, meet different needs or increase participation of people with one impairment but not those with other impairments.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides guidance on positive action in its resources on the Equality Act (2010). These documents are available from the EHRC website (link in the right-hand menu).