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A councillor's workbook on equality, diversity and inclusion

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This workbook has been designed as a distance learning aid for local councillors and should be read in conjunction with your council’s own guidance and policies on equality, diversity, and inclusion.


Councils are service providers and often the largest local employer in an area, working closely with strategic partners and other local organisations. This puts them in an ideal position to play a significant role in leading the way to ensuring everyone in society has opportunities available to them, is treated fairly and is made to feel like they belong.

This Local Government Association (LGA) workbook has been designed as a distance learning aid for local councillors and should be read in conjunction with your council’s own guidance on equality, diversity and inclusion. The content is relevant to both experienced and newly elected councillors and looks at how councils and councillors can go about fulfilling their legal obligations regarding equality, diversity and inclusion as employers, service providers and community representatives.

The workbook can be used as a standalone learning tool and does not need to be completed all in one session. However, it is suggested that you complete the sections in the order in which they are written, as the latter sections build upon the knowledge you have gained in previous sections. You can also ‘dip in’ to individual sections for a refresher at any time in the future.

Throughout this workbook you will encounter different types of information, and suggested actions, indicated by the symbols shown below:

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– this icon indicates guidance such as definitions, quotations, and research

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– this icon indicates questions asking you to reflect on your role or approach

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Case studies

– this icon indicates examples of approaches used in different settings

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Hints and tips

– this icon indicates best practice advice

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Useful links

– this icon indicates sources of additional information

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1 October 2010, bringing together over 116 separate pieces of legislation into one single Act. This new Act provided a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all.

The purpose of the Act is to simplify, strengthen and harmonise the previous legislation to provide a new anti-discrimination law to protect individuals from unfair treatment and promote a fair and more equal society.

Main legislation covered by the Act

The timeline below shows the main pieces of legislation combined in the Equality Act 2010:

legislation combined in the Equality Act 2010
Legislation Overview
The Equal Pay Act 1970 The less favourable treatment of men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment was prohibited.
The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 Men and women were protected from discrimination on the grounds of sex or marital status, with regard to employment, training, education, harassment, the provision of goods and services, and the disposal of premises.
The Race Relations Act 1976 This legislation made it illegal to discriminate against a person because of their nationality, ethnic background, or colour of their skin. It applies to housing, the provision of goods and services, education, employment, and job seeking.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 This Act made it illegal for service providers to discriminate against service users with disabilities, and for employers to discriminate against jobseekers end employees with disabilities.
Race equality duty

This came from the Macpherson Report on the murder of the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence. Following failures of the investigation into Lawrence’s murder, the report revealed institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police. It was clear that a radical rethink was needed in the approach that public sector organisations were taking towards addressing discrimination and racism.

Prior to the race equality duty, the emphasis of equality legislation was on rectifying cases of discrimination and harassment after they occurred, not preventing them happening in the first. The race equality duty was designed to shift the onus from individuals to organisations, placing an obligation on public authorities to positively promote equality, not merely avoid discrimination.

The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 This legislation prohibits the discrimination of employees due to their religion or beliefs, including in the context of vocational training, employment agencies and careers advice.
The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 The unreasonable discrimination against employees based on their sexual orientation, or perceived sexual orientation, was prohibited.
The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 This prohibited the unreasonable discrimination against employees on the basis of their age. It included a default national retirement age and enabled employees to request to work beyond the retirement age.
The Equality Act 2006, Part 2

This placed a duty on public authorities to promote equality for men and women, and outlawed discrimination based on religion, beliefs, or sexual orientation with regard to the provision of goods and services.

This Act also established the Equality and Human Rights Commission. This is a statutory, non-departmental body that is Britain’s national equality body. It works with organisations to challenge discrimination, promote equality of opportunity, and protect human rights.

The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 This Act made it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities, services, education, and public functions.
Public sector equality duty On 5 April 2011, the public sector equality duty (the equality duty) came into force. The equality duty was developed in order to harmonise the equality duties and to extend the Equality Act across nine protected characteristics. It consists of a general equality duty, supported by specific duties which are imposed by secondary legislation, and replaces the race, disability, and gender equality duties.

Who is covered by the Equality Act 2010

Everyone in Great Britain is covered by the Equality Act 2010. This includes you and everyone you come into contact with in your role as a councillor: residents, business owners, volunteers, suppliers, officers, and other councillors.

The Act is there to protect people in all aspects of their lives, for example when they:

  • are in the workplace
  • use public services like healthcare (for example, visiting a doctor or hospital) or education (for example, at school or college)
  • use businesses or other organisations that provide services and goods (like shops, restaurants, and cinemas)
  • use transport
  • join a club or association (for example, a local tennis club)
  • have contact with public bodies like their local council or government departments.

Since the Equality Act 2010 applies to all sectors of community and business life, ALL organisations have responsibilities under the Act. This includes government departments, providers of services, employers, education providers (schools and further and higher education colleges and universities), providers of public functions, associations, membership bodies and transport providers.

As a councillor, you have a duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010 and to ensure that you follow its principles when undertaking your role. This includes how you interact with council officers, community groups and organisations, your fellow politicians (of the same/ different political party or no political affiliation), residents, local businesses, and their employees.

Why the Equality Act is important to you as a councillor

As a councillor, you will encounter a wide range of individuals and community groups. You fulfil several roles, including representative, advocate, negotiator, and facilitator. Which means that it is important for you to fully understand and respect your local community and residents. Complying with the Act will help you to:

  • act lawfully
  • treat people fairly
  • fully understand your community
  • make the best decisions for your community
  • be seen as fair and non-discriminatory
  • build a good reputation for yourself and your council.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

The main principles of the Equality Act

The main principles of the Act are equality, diversity and inclusion.

Principle Definition
Diversity Diversity is about the ways in which people differ. These differences should be recognised, celebrated, and treated as a natural part of society.
Equality Equality is a natural extension of diversity and is based on the idea of fairness, whilst recognising that everyone is different.

Inclusion means that all people, regardless of their abilities, disabilities, or health care needs, have the right to be respected and appreciated as valuable members of their communities.

Diversity refers to the traits and characteristics that make people unique, while inclusion refers to the behaviours and social norms that ensure people feel welcome.

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Challenge 1

Which of the following statements for each principle of the Act are incorrect? The answers can be found at the end of the workbook.

The characteristics of a diverse society:
a) cultural, religious and lifestyle differences are accepted
b) all decisions must be politically correct
c) everyone is individually recognised for their different abilities and skills.                                                                         

The characteristics of an equal society:  
a) Each person feels that their background, experiences and viewpoints have validity and are respected.
b) The experiences we have and viewpoints we express are part of who we are, regardless of age, sex, race, religion, belief (or lack of it), sexual orientation or the effects of any disability.
c) Everyone should be given the same opportunity to access products and services and to fulfil their potential as an individual.
d) Every individual, or group of individuals, is treated fairly and according to their needs.
e) Everyone should be treated in the same way.                                                                                                              

The characteristics of an inclusive society:     
a) everyone has access to the services they need
b) everyone is able to do everything they want in life, regardless of their ability
c) everyone feels that they belong to their community.

The benefits of equality, diversity and inclusion to you and your council

An understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion will give you a better appreciation of your colleagues, residents, and communities. This will benefit you and the council in a number of ways, for example:

  • working relationships will be more positive
  • teams will be more productive, and performance will increase
  • you and the council will be seen as more understanding and approachable
  • by understanding your community better, you will be able to represent them more effectively
  • the council will be able to attract and retain the best quality employees
  • services provided for the community will be best suited for their needs
  • you and the council will be able to fulfil your duties under the Equality Act 2010.

The nine protected characteristics

There are nine characteristics that have been identified which all specifically have protection under this law. These protected characteristics are:

The nine protected characteristics
Characteristic Definition
Age A person belonging to a particular age (for example 45-year-olds) or range of ages (for example 18 to 30-year-olds).
Disability A person has a disability if she or he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
Gender reassignment This is defined in the Act as the process of transitioning from one gender to another. Just as it would be illegal to discriminate against a person based on their sex, so it would be equally discriminatory to do so based on someone’s transitioning process from one gender to another, or on their declaration of being gender fluid/neutral, etc.
Marriage and civil partnership Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, or between a same-sex couple. Same-sex couples can also have their relationships legally recognised as 'civil partnerships'. Civil partners must not be treated less favourably than married couples (except where permitted by the Equality Act).
Pregnancy and maternity Pregnancy refers to the period when a woman is pregnant or expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.
Race This refers to a group of people defined by their race, colour, ethnicity, or nationality (including citizenship).
Religion or belief Religion refers to any religion, including a lack of religion. Belief refers to any religious or philosophical belief and includes a lack of belief. Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.
Sex This refers to men and women.
Sexual orientation A person is protected whether someone’s sexual attraction is towards their own sex, the opposite sex or to both sexes.

Note that political views are not considered a protected characteristic.

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Challenge 2: how different people experience council services differently

Can you think of any times when disabled people might experience council services differently from non-disabled people? For example, lack of access to council premises due to lack of disabled access. Or the absence of a hearing loop in reception services. 

What about people with different religious beliefs? For example, some Jewish people may find it hard to make appointments or come to the council on a Friday afternoon in the winter if they are observing the Sabbath.

When might older people experience services differently? For example, they may struggle with taking wheelie bins to the end of a road for emptying.

What sort of services do men and women, or boys and girls, experience differently? For example, some groups of boys are achieving lower levels of educational attainment than many groups of girls; women and men tend to be homeless for different reasons, so the solutions to re-housing them will need to be different.

When it is permitted to provide separate services for men and women

Under the law it is sometimes permitted to provide separate services for men and women, where providing a joint service (i.e., one where men and women are provided with exactly the same service) would not be as effective.

For example, the Equality Act would allow an organisation to provide separate hostel accommodation for men and women if providing separate services can be objectively justified. In this case, it could be justified because people may be put off using the hostel if it caters for both sexes, especially women with children or who are seeking refuge from an abusive relationship.

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Guidance: separate services for men and women

Single-sex services (services just for men or just for women) can be provided where this is objectively justified and:

  • only men or only women require the service, or
  • if there is joint provision for both sexes but that is not enough on its own, or
  • if the service were provided for men and women jointly, it would not be as effective and the extent to which each sex requires the service makes it not reasonably practicable to provide separate services for each sex because of the extent to which the service is required by persons of each sex, or
  • the services are provided in a hospital or other place where users need special attention (or in parts of such an establishment), or
  • services may be used by more than one person at the same time and a woman might object to the presence of a man (or vice versa), or
  • the services may involve physical contact between a user and someone else and that other person may reasonably object if the user is of the opposite sex.

Social inclusion

A socially inclusive society

Diversity focuses on the makeup of a community, using some of the demographics we discussed earlier in this module such as gender, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, and difference of ability. Inclusion focuses on how to make sure those people can participate fully in the community.

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“Diversity is having a seat at the table.
Inclusion is having a voice.
Belonging is having that voice heard.”

Liz Fosslien (Author)

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‘An inclusive society is a society that overrides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion, equality of opportunity as well as capability of all members of the society to determine an agreed set of social institutions that govern social interaction.’ 

United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Promoting Social Integration, Helsinki, July 2008

 Every fully participating member of an inclusive society has the right to:

  • be respected and appreciated as a valuable member of their community
  • participate in activities in their community
  • work at jobs in their community that pay a realistic wage and have careers that use their capacities to the fullest
  • have access to educational and employment opportunities on an equal basis to all other citizens.

The benefits of social inclusion to the community

Being part of an inclusive community creates the conditions for people to be happier, healthier and promotes the growth of self-esteem. In fact, social inclusion is an important ‘determinant of health’ and will affect whether the community as a whole thrives. People living in a socially inclusive community are more likely to:

  • experience a sense of belonging
  • be accepted for who they are within the community
  • have a valued role in the community
  • actively participate in the community
  • be involved in activities based on their personal preferences
  • have social relationships with others with whom they share common interests
  • have friends and support networks.

The relationship between a thriving community and mental health

The conditions in which people live have a significant impact on their mental health. If the community they live in creates positive conditions, the mental health of the people in the community as a whole will improve. Subsequently, if the people within a community are mentally healthy, they are more likely to contribute to the community to help it to thrive. It is a virtuous cycle.

The seven pillars of inclusion

The seven pillars of inclusion is a ‘helicopter view’ framework designed by the online international community The Inclusion Club, in partnership with collaborative group Play by the Rules, aimed at increasing the inclusion of disadvantaged groups in sport. Their research identified a common language for describing barriers to inclusion and actions for overcoming them which applied to all disadvantaged groups in all settings, even if the strategies for addressing them are markedly different for each group.

Seven pillars of inclusion
Barrier to inclusion How to overcome the barrier
Access Creating an environment that makes people feel welcome in terms of both the physical space and behaviour that they first encounter.
Attitude Addressing negative attitudes to inclusion and promoting and facilitating positive behaviours.
Choice Understanding what people want and how they want to get involved, so that they can be given appropriate choices.
Partnerships Organisations working in partnership with other bodies and organisations that reflect or represent disadvantaged groups.
Communication Using appropriate channels to let people know what their options are and how to get involved, and to demonstrate to the wider population how you are addressing inclusion issues.
Policy Having policies in place to committing and take responsibility for being inclusive, and making sure people are aware of these policies.
Opportunity Modifying existing arrangements to accommodate disadvantaged groups, increasing the choices available to them.


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Useful links

You can find out more about The Inclusion Club, the seven pillars of inclusion and Play by the Rules at the following links:

The Inclusion Club 
The 7 pillars of inclusion
Play by the Rules

As a councillor, you are ideally placed to understand the barriers to social inclusion that members of your community face.

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Challenge 3: inclusion at your council

consider your own council in terms of the seven pillars of inclusion and the diversity of your community:

what ‘inclusive’ services and policies are you aware of within your council?

how inclusive do you think your council’s services are at the present time?

are there any disadvantaged groups that could benefit from greater social inclusion?

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Hints and tips: community engagement

In your role as a councillor, you not only have a legal duty to comply with the law but also to foster and encourage the development of inclusive communities. Here are some tips for bringing the whole community together in community engagement.

Know your community
Understanding local demographics and networks will help you to design appropriate engagement activities and communicate effectively.

Be transparent about community input
Let people know how their input will be used and how it shaped the project in the end results.

Go to the people
Be creative about the best way to gather community input. Visit people in a community setting, like a coffee shop or community centre.

Have a communications strategy
Consider project branding and key messages, as well as which communication channels and time frames will be most effective for reaching your whole community.

Check understanding
Avoid using jargon or technical terms that people may not understand. To make sure you understand your community, encourage them to express their experiences and opinions in their own words.

Create a safe environment
Everyone should be able to participate in engagement activities feeling that they can share their views and concerns without fear.

Network and reciprocate
You may need to engage in activities provided by communities and originations which are not ones you are familiar with, to better understand their issues. Then you can link them with your own causes and projects.

Remove barriers
Try to remove as many barriers as possible that will prevent people from attending. Consider things like time, location, childcare and whether you will need translators.

Use technology
Modern technology provides a plethora of ways to facilitate activities, communicate with the community and gather information. 

Make it fun!
Community engagement activities bring together people from the community who may not usually meet, so try to make activities fun and get people engaging with one another too.

Similarly, as a community leader you can help to promote inclusion in your community by demonstrating your own understanding of it and championing disadvantaged community groups. Take a moment to consider how you might do this.

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Useful links

The ICMA (International City/County Management Association) is the world’s leading association of professional city and county managers and other employees who serve local governments. You can read more about inclusive community engagement on their website.

The impact of social exclusion

Social inclusion is key to a thriving community; and a healthy community promotes social inclusion. Conversely, social exclusion can be linked to a community that is not thriving. Low incomes, unemployment, lack of education, limited access to transport, poorer physical and mental health, and discrimination are key drivers of exclusion.

Here are some statistics that show the impact that social exclusion can have on a community:

  • In the UK, as of 2023 an estimated 14.5 million people are living in poverty, which represents 22 per cent of the population. Of these, 4.3 million are children. 
  • According to research from University College London (UCL) in 2017, Britain’s most socially excluded groups are ten times more likely to die early than the general population.
  • Women in socially excluded groups are 12 times more likely to die than other women of the same age, while men are eight times more likely.
  • Individuals living in the poorest neighbourhoods suffer between two and three times the mortality rate of those in the most affluent.
  • Excluded people were more likely to be murdered or commit suicide and more likely to die from accidents, overdoses, infectious diseases, cancers, liver disease, heart problems and respiratory diseases.
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Useful links

You can read more about the links between poverty and social exclusion

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Challenge 4: how well do you know your community?
As a councillor it is important that you have a good understanding of the diversity of your community, so that you can look for ways of improving social inclusion ensuring that every community member is included in having the opportunity to shape local services and council decisions.

How well do you know your community? Can you answer the following questions?

What are the statistics for crime, poverty, and mental health in your area?

What are the minority groups in your area? Consider ethnicity, culture, religion, age, and social status. Do you have contacts for these groups?

Consider the percentage of refugee or migrant populations in your area. What does it tell you about your council’s response to the needs of these communities? And the way they might access council services. 

Which groups are most vulnerable and why? Are there services provided specifically for them and if so, are these well communicated?

Are you connected with your LGBTQAI+ community? Do they have any specific concerns, and do they feel included in the community? 

What are the top three concerns of people in your area? Is this relevant to all groups in your community?

Are you well connected with and have contacts for local businesses, voluntary organisations, and charity groups?

What community events are there? Are these well attended by all groups in your community?

Do you proactively seek feedback from everyone in your community? How do you ensure your consultation s and community engagements reach everyone in your community? Is there anything else you could be doing? 

What are the local interest groups in your community? Do you have contacts for them?

Think about where you might find some useful information about your community. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Office for National Statistics
reports from council department
voluntary and academic institutions
LGA’s LG Inform research data.

Social inclusion in local government

The public sector equality duty

Councils have a vital role to play in helping to create socially inclusive communities, not just in their own practices and policies but also in the example they set to other organisations and within the community.

The Public Sector Equality Duty (the equality duty) was created under the Equality Act 2010 and came into force in 2011. It places a duty on local authorities to:

  • consider how their policies and decisions affect people with protected characteristics
  • prevent discrimination and inequality
  • promote inclusion.

The equality duty sets out how councils should go about integrating the consideration of equality and good relations into their day-to-day business, requiring equality considerations to be reflected in the design of policies and the delivery of services, including internal policies, and for these issues to be kept under review. This means that, in the exercise of its functions, a council must have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act by removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected characteristics
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not by taking steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are different from the needs of other people
  • foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not by encouraging people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low.
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Challenge 5: equality, diversity and inclusion policies at your council

Make sure you know where to find your council’s policies relating to equality, diversity and inclusion and familiarise yourself with them.

Find out any equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives that your council is undertaking.

Consider any strategic partnerships your council is involved in: how are third party organisations demonstrating that they meet their equality, diversity and inclusion requirements?

How the public sector equality duty benefits councils

Compliance with the general equality duty is a legal obligation, but it also makes good business sense. Here are some benefits that the council can expect to see:

  • an organisation that is able to provide services to meet the diverse needs of its users should find that it carries out its core business more efficiently
  • a workforce that has a supportive working environment is more productive
  • drawing on a broader range of talent makes the council more versatile and better able to represent the community that they serve
  • better informed decision-making and policy development means improved decision-making and policy development
  • services are more appropriate to the user and are more effective and cost-effective, leading to increased user satisfaction with public services
  • having a workforce that represents the diversity of the community makes the council better able to understand, and therefore represent, the community they serve.

How the public sector equality duty benefits your community

As a councillor, you also have an obligation to abide by the Public Sector Equality Duty and to promote inclusion and diversity in your community. Your access to the people in your community means that you can help to make a direct difference to their lives, as well as to the community.

Here are some examples of how the community can benefit from being more inclusive and diverse:

  • People feel safer, which encourages them to make more use of their environment and provides them with more opportunities. For example, if someone feels safe walking around their neighbourhood in the evening, they may have greater work opportunities because they feel comfortable working later.
  • People feel confident in applying for jobs: they do not feel that their religion, race, beliefs, sexual orientation, age, sexual orientation, etc., will be a barrier.
  • People feel supported when they experience discrimination, harassment, or victimisation, so they are more likely to emerge from the experience in a positive way.

The LGA Equality Framework for Local Government

The Equality Framework for Local Government is part of the LGA’s sector-led improvement offer to local government. It was updated in 2021 to reflect the latest legislation affecting equality, such as gender pay gap reporting, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the changing context of the local government sector and equality in Britain, and in response to other significant issues that might affect equality, including the UK’s decision to leave the European Union.

The equality framework is intended to help councils:

  • deliver accessible and responsive services to customers and residents in their communities including those from protected characteristics
  • employ a workforce that reflects the diversity of the area they are serving
  • provide equality of opportunity for all staff
  • meet the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty.

The equality framework helps councils to achieve this by improving how they integrate equality, diversity and inclusion in their business. This includes:

  • identifying the areas of activity that councils need to address to deliver good equality outcomes
  • helping councils to understand how they can build equality into processes and practices
  • supporting councils to become inclusive employers by offering a variety of sector-led improvement initiatives according to their individual circumstances
  • enabling councils to informally self-assess their progress on the equality improvement journey and determine where and how they need to improve
  • providing the framework for an LGA equality peer challenge.
Useful links icon

Useful links

You can find out more about the LGA’s Equality Framework for Local Government 

How councils are addressing inclusion issues 

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Case study: Stepping Up Programme - Bristol City Council

Stepping Up is a diversity leadership talent pipeline for disabled, Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic communities and women in Bristol and the South West region. The programme began in January 2018 and has won local and national awards and continues to improve the diversity landscape it aimed to shift. The Programme runs for one year, and culminates with an award to participants at the end of the programme.

A river in Bristol City with a bridge across it


Data driven strategic change

It was recognised that there was a need for a positive action intervention due to the strong evidence that there was lack of diversity at senior leadership levels across the public and private sectors, which was supported by the Baroness McGregor-Smith report. Bristol has been on a mission to create a culture where transformational change was needed to enable a fair and transparent workplace where diversity could flourish. It was agreed that systemic and transformational change was needed. 

The Programme was so successful in its second year it was decided that a spin off community-based programme for Somali women called Horumour would be launched. This programme created a pathway for Somali women into the workplace.

Breaking New Ground

The vision was to create a system where the private, public, and voluntary sectors worked together. The driving force was to shift the needle in terms of the adoption of equality and inclusion best practice and talent management in major organisations across the city of Bristol and the wider South West region.

View the full Stepping Up Programme case study

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Case study: Tackling inequalities and disproportionality – Camden Council

Following reports highlighting the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on people from Black, Asian, and other ethnic backgrounds, Camden Council established a working group of voluntary and community organisations, leaders, public health officials, councillors, and others

The group embarked on a six-week programme during the 2020 Summer to investigate the wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19, shine a light on existing structural inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, and gather evidence of disproportionate impact quickly to take immediate action to protect residents, and develop a call to action to make long-term, substantive changes.

This programme produced Building Equal Foundations Report and Building Equal Foundations Action Plan. The report summarises the group’s findings and the evidence collected, while the action plan sets out 140 concrete actions to tackle racial inequalities and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 in Camden. At the time of writing, many of these actions were completed, and almost all remaining were in progress to embed this progress in the council’s long-term everyday activities and services.

In addition, Camden Council created a new Equalities and Disproportionality Service in Autumn 2020. The Equalities and Disproportionality service oversees, monitors and steers work across council services, spanning six core priorities: Justice for Young People, Equality in Education for Young People, Inclusive Workplace, Tackling Racial Inequalities in Health, Social Value in Commissioning, Procuring and Governance, and Pan-London, National and International Work. A three-tiered governance approach was developed to support cross-council delivery of strategic and operational actions under each priority, including the delivery of the actions outlined in the Building Equal Foundations report

View Camden Council's full case study



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Case study: enabling easy registration for Muslim residents
Bath and North East Somerset Register Office worked with the local Muslim community to make sure their rights were protected, and that their faith and way of life was respected.

Discussions between the register office and the Imam of a local mosque highlighted two key needs of the Muslim community that were not being addressed.

Muslims needing to bury someone need to register their death within 24 hours according to the Muslim faith.

The register office recognised that to meet this requirement, they would have an ‘on call’ system. As a result, the council put in place a group of all managers working on a rotational basis on the weekends with an emergency number on their website which could be accessed at all times.

It also became apparent that the Muslim community needed to recognise the importance of registering any Muslim marriages which take place in this country under English law, as Muslim marriage taking place in Britain is currently not legally recognised in this country.

The council registrars felt it was important to protect the rights of all citizens by assisting the imam in licensing the mosque for civil marriages.

The register office worked alongside the imam to gain a licence for civil marriages. Once in place, this gave all citizens the option of having a marriage under English law alongside their Muslim marriage.

Once licensing of civil marriages is achieved, the register office will work alongside the imam to inform all Muslim people throughout the region that they may register their marriage under English law within the mosque.

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Case study: assessing disabled people’s requirements
Leicester City Council found that by reviewing their planning practices they not only made improvements for their disabled residents, but they also benefited by saving money and improving their reputation on future projects. (Source: Leicester City Council officials. See Equality Diversity Forum, 2013: ‘Submission to the Government’s Equality Duty Review'.

Between 2006 and 2008 a number of changes were made to Leicester city centre. The council assessed the impact of these changes and found that a number had an adverse effect on people with disabilities - for example, increased walking distances to the shops and loss of blue badge parking spaces.

To resolve these issues and to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future, Leicester City Council worked with voluntary sector organisations to listen to the experiences of blind and partially sighted people who used the city centre.

They also set up an Inclusive Design Advisory Panel (IDAP), with the purpose of advising council planners about the implications of their plans for disabled people. The panel is chaired by a councillor with an interest in inclusive design, and disabled people and disabled groups are involved in running it. To ensure that the needs of disabled people (such as parking) are met in the future, all planning and design projects now come through the panel.

This approach has proven to be cost-effective to the organisation. Before the panel’s existence, disabled people’s requirements in respect to access were often picked up too late, when projects were completed. Problems were then costly to rectify and bad for the council's reputation.


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Case study: tackling gender-based violence
Lambeth Council aims to increase the number of women they support each year who are victims of violence.

Violence against women was considered to be a significant issue in Lambeth. Lambeth ranked as the highest volume borough in the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) for serious violence against women and had the fifth highest volume of reported domestic violence offences out of the 15 most similar boroughs.

Existing services to reduce violence against women and girls (VAWG) often duplicated one another and the services did not properly meet the needs of all service users, particularly younger women, and girls.

Lambeth published its first partnership VAWG strategy in 2011 which was supported by detailed qualitative research with survivors of violence in the borough. A major component and commitment of the strategy was the re-commissioning of the Gaia Centre, which is run by Refuge and brings together all services relating to VAWG under one roof to provide a better, more responsive, and more appropriate service for users. 

In recognition of the increase in concern and prevalence of VAWG affecting younger women and girls, the service specification for the Gaia Centre also contained a requirement for the provider to deliver a young women’s advocacy service. 

The service undertakes outreach work in schools, youth settings and colleges, to address the links between serious youth violence, gangs and the exploitation of young women and girls. Young women and girls who are at risk of gender-based violence, including risk from gang involvement and/or gang exploitation, are provided with a support service at the Gaia Centre.

The service aims to support around 1,200 women per year, an increase of 50 per cent on the previous provision.

You can find out more from Lambeth Council facts and figures

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Case study: supporting schools to be LGBT-inclusive
Shropshire Council undertook an awareness and educational campaign to ensure schools understand the issues relevant to LGBT youths and how to support them effectively.

LGBT is the second highest hate crime in areas of Shropshire. Young LGTB people are recognised as particularly vulnerable, experiencing bullying, discrimination, and prejudice, with high levels of self-harm and suicidal ideation and attempts. They also have higher rates of non-attendance and under achievement at school, and participation in harmful, risky sexual behaviour and drug and alcohol use.

Strategic support for schools has been established and strong partnership working is in place with the voluntary sector. During 2016/17 schools in Shropshire received training on LGBT-inclusive relationships and sex education training (RSE), delivered by the Sex Education Forum and funded by the Government’s Equalities Unit.

A year later, funding was provided by the Shropshire Safer Partnership to enable every school to receive a book called ‘How to be a LGBT-friendly school or college’. The book advocates a whole school approach to recognising, celebrating and supporting diversity in relation to sexuality and gender identity.

In 2018, the Shropshire transgender guidance for schools and colleges was developed to complement the Respect Yourself curriculum, with the support of national expertise, head teachers, safeguarding and PSHE leads and in consultation with young people and members of the LGBT youth group, XYZ, run by the Shropshire Youth Association.

There were protests in response to the RSE teaching. In response, a joint leadership statement of support for the work was sent to all schools from the director of children’s services, lead councillor, Shropshire Safer Communities chair and chief police inspector. Schools also received information and contacts for staff, pupils, and parent support.

Read about the case study Shropshire Council: supporting schools to be LGBT inclusive

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Case study: understanding more about the BAME community

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council took steps to improve the way it works with and supports Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals and communities.

As part of its corporate strategy, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council is committed to engaging with its diverse communities. In response to the killing of George Floyd by police in the USA, and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests in the UK, the Council’s Strategic Equality Leadership Group (SELG) established a new Equality Action Commission in 2020.

The commission has representation from councillors, community leaders and the Trade Union Congress. There are also representatives from the administration and opposition groups, as well as independent community representatives specifically from BAME communities. It meets quarterly and updates are given at each of the quarterly meetings of the Strategic Equality Leadership Group.

Although the commission’s starting point is BAME issues, it does recognise intersectionality and will move onto focusing on other disadvantaged groups defined under the Equality Act 2010, and has the flexibility to adapt its membership as appropriate.

The council believes that the commission is vital to help it understand more about the BAME community. Its first objective is to help guide the council to build trust amongst BAME residents, as well improving representation of BAME people in the council’s public profile and messaging.

The aims of the Equality Action Commission are to:

  • review BCP Council’s current practices and what it could do to improve its understanding of the needs and vulnerabilities of BAME communities and individuals
  • review and understand the impact of the council’s public profile and how it can encourage BAME communities and their representatives to engage with the council
  • understand the experiences of BAME communities to enable the council to take appropriate actions which increase participation and representation and reduce marginalisation.

The commission is expected to address issues including:

  • increasing BAME representation in senior management grades
  • enhancing the range of images used in internal and external communications so that they are more representative of the communities served across the towns of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole and reflective of the people employed across BCP Council and visitors to the area
  • increasing trust and confidence from BAME residents/service users
  • improving recognition of BAME people amongst recognised community leaders. 

Discrimination, harassment and victimisation

Unlawful behaviours

As you saw earlier, the Equality Act 2010 requires that people must be treated fairly and equally with regard to nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Under the Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against, harass or victimise anyone who has a protected characteristic.


Discrimination is defined as treating someone with a protected characteristic less well than someone who does not have the same characteristic, in the same situation or set of circumstances. There are four types:

The four types of discrimination
Type of discrimination Definition
Direct discrimination Treating one person worse than another person because of a protected characteristic.
Indirect discrimination A policy, rule or way of doing things has a worse impact on someone with a protected characteristic than someone without one.
Discrimination by association Someone is treated less favourably than another because of their association with a person who has a protected characteristic, e.g., a carer or partner. This association does not have to be a permanent one, so if someone is discriminated against because of a former friendship/association with someone with a protected characteristic it is still against the law.
Discrimination by perception Someone is treated less favourably than someone else because it is believed that they have a protected characteristic, even when they do not.


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Examples: types of discrimination

Direct discrimination
A promotion comes up at work. The employer believes that people’s memories get worse as they get older, so he does not tell his older employees about it, assuming that they will not be able to do the job.

Indirect discrimination
A council is planning to redevelop some of its housing and decides to hold consultation events in the evening. Many of the female residents complain that they cannot attend these meetings because of childcare responsibilities.

Discrimination by association
A job candidate attending an interview has clearly visible tattoos. The interviewer associates these with disruptive behaviour and does not want to hire them.

Discrimination by perception
A job applicant is overlooked because their name ‘sounds’ like it they might be from a particular racial or ethnic group.


Harassment is unwanted behaviour towards someone with a protected characteristic which causes them to feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended. There are a number of ways in which harassment can take place:

  • gossip, innuendo or spreading malicious rumours
  • excluding or isolating someone socially
  • Intimidation
  • undermining or deliberately impeding someone’s work
  • physical abuse or threatening abuse
  • removing areas of responsibilities without cause
  • constantly changing work guidelines.
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Example: harassment in the workplace

The following example takes place in the workplace. However, you could also come across harassment as a community leader, either directly yourself or if one of your local residents has a protected characteristic and is being harassed.

New job application
Jane works for a company that has a flexible working policy. She works ‘normal office hours’, which are 9.30am-5.00pm, and she works from home for two days a week.

She applies for a new position in the company. Before applying, she checks that her terms of employment, i.e., her contracted days and hours, will remain the same, and that the only change will be in the work she carries out.

Agreement to continue with the same work pattern
During the interview, Jane explains that she is not able to work outside of her contracted hours due to her childcare arrangements. She is told that she can continue with the same work hours and her two days working from home, and she double checks this before accepting the position.

Out-of-hours workload
Soon after starting her new job, Jane’s manager starts giving her work to do which requires her to work outside of her contracted hours, sometimes including an overnight stay.

Even though Jane’s contract does not require her to work evenings and weekends, and that she was told her work pattern would not change, her manager implies that what he is asking is part of the role.

Jane explains to her manager that she mentioned at interview that she could not work outside of her contracted hours, and that this had been accepted when she took the role. She is within her rights to say this because according to her terms of employment she works normal office hours.

Harassment by manager and colleagues
Over the next six months, Jane believes that her manager subjects her work to a higher level of scrutiny and analysis than her colleagues’ work. He also starts to call her at 4.55pm on the days that she works from home, and she feels he is checking up on her.

In the office, Jane’s manager starts to make comments questioning her commitment to the role. In an appraisal, he criticises her for minor issues relating to her performance but nothing specific in terms of examples.

Jane’s colleagues also start to make comments that mirror the comments made by her manager. They also exclude her from conversations and no longer invite her to social gatherings.

Jane’s manager kept changing work guidelines that had been agreed and accepted by both parties before Jane took the job, creating an environment she found extremely unpleasant and stressful. Jane felt she had been unfairly subjected to high levels of scrutiny, intimidated by her manager with phone calls and undocumented criticism, and isolated by her colleagues, who appear to have been influenced by her manager.

This example shows how harassment is often subtle and highly complex. However, it is a situation that can arise easily and if not countered effectively is at least bullying in the workplace; if it is proven to be harassment then it is illegal.


Victimisation means punishing or threatening to punish someone because he or she has made, or intends to make, a complaint in relation to being discriminated against or harassed. It is against the law to punish, or threaten to punish, someone because they have asserted their rights under equal opportunity law or refused to do something because it would be discrimination, sexual harassment or victimisation.

Victimisation often occurs at the same time, or as a consequence of, harassment. It can apply to the person being treated unfairly or harassed, and to anyone assisting or supporting that person. The following are all examples of victimisation:

  • bullying and intimidation by co-workers
  • being denied a promotion or being moved to a position with lower responsibility
  • dismissal from employment
  • being refused further contract work.
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Example: victimisation in the workplace

The following example takes place in the workplace. However, you could also come across victimisation as a community leader, either directly yourself or if one of your local residents has a protected characteristic and is being victimised.

Support for a colleague raising a grievance
Joe raised a grievance about homophobic bullying at work. His colleague, Lucy, provides a witness statement to support him.

Their manager thinks both of them are being over-sensitive and rejects the grievance and a subsequent appeal.

Application for a promotion
A few months later, Lucy applies for a promotion. Her application is turned down, even though she can show that she has the necessary skills and experience.

Lucy’s manager says she is a troublemaker because she helped her colleague and therefore should not be promoted.

Making a claim or complaint under the Equality Act, such as Joe’s grievance about homophobic bullying, is a protected act. This means that Lucy’s witness statement in support of Joe’s grievance is also a protected act, so her manager’s response would be victimisation and she could take action under the Equality Act.

Example: when harassment becomes victimisation

In an earlier example, Jane was feeling harassed in the workplace when her manager kept changing previously agreed work guidelines. Victimisation might occur here if she acted on that perception, for example if she took out a grievance procedure against her manager and/or her colleagues, and as a result the line manager is reprimanded. The harassment might become victimisation if, as a result, she was subjected to further unfair treatment or being ostracised.

Preventing bias

It is easy for our natural likes or dislikes to affect our judgment. However, allowing these to affect our decision-making could, if challenged, give rise to allegations or suspicions of direct or indirect discrimination, behaviour which is illegal under the Equality Act 2010.

As a councillor, you interact with a number of different people in a variety ways: in meetings, presentations, surgeries, interviews, even ‘bumping into’ a constituent as you are walking down the street. You have been elected to represent your community and to do this fairly and effectively you need to try to make decisions that are free from unconscious bias.

Iceberg Model of Culture: looking beyond first impressions

It is natural to form an impression about a person very quickly based on their appearance and behaviour when you first meet them, which may or may not be accurate. One way of thinking about diversity and equality is through the Iceberg Model of Culture, developed by anthropologist Edward T. Hall. This model uses an iceberg, which is only partially visible above the water, as an analogy for what we can tell about a person when we first meet them, and how much more there is to know about them beyond that first impression.

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Iceberg model showing above the surface and below the surface

Unconscious bias

Unconscious biases are learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply ingrained, universal and able to influence behaviour. They can affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. It is important to be aware of unconscious biases so that you can act:

  • fairly – without taking sides
  • transparently – making your thoughts and decisions clear to everyone
  • objectively – weighing up the pros and cons to form a conclusion
  • within the law as defined by the Equality Act 2010.

Unconscious bias can be a difficult topic to explain. After all, if something is unconscious, how do you even know that it exists? By being aware of the types of unconscious bias and working on ways to counter them you can become more aware of your personal biases, as well as strengthening your ability to make fairer, better-informed decisions. We often display a number of unconscious biases simultaneously, so they should be looked at as a whole rather than individually.

Types of unconscious bias
Type of unconscious bias Description
Affinity bias

Affinity bias refers to when you unconsciously prefer people who share qualities with you or someone you ‘like’. It occurs because your brain sees these people as familiar and relatable.

Example: ‘You remind me of someone I know.’

Attribution bias

Attribution bias refers to how you perceive your actions and those of others. It stems from the brain’s flawed ability to assess the reasons for certain behaviours, particularly those that lead to success and failure.

For example, we generally attribute our own accomplishments to our skill and personality, and our failures to external factors – to hindrances that we believe are beyond our control. We are less likely to blame and find fault in ourselves.

However, this perception often reverses when we view other people: when they do something successfully, we are more likely to consider them lucky or benefited by someone else, and more likely to attribute their errors to poor capabilities or personal qualities.

Beauty bias

In every aspect of daily life we all unconsciously notice people’s appearances, and associate them with personality. Appearances are important, particularly in a workplace setting, as they reflect on someone’s professionalism and self-awareness. However, there is a strong tendency for us judge others too harshly based on our view of their physical attractiveness or otherwise, which can lead to assumptions.

It is also possible that you may unconsciously dislike certain features in a person: maybe you think they are too short, have poor posture, or they don’t have an expressive face; or they might be wearing something which reflects their cultural or religious beliefs, which on initial observation to you seems unprofessional or off-putting.

These sorts of judgments may stem from a subconscious, stereotypical view of what a successful or friendly person looks like. However, such assumptions may cause you to unfairly favour someone whose appearance you regard as ‘attractive’.

Conformity bias Conformity bias happens when your views are swayed too much by those of other people. It occurs because we all seek acceptance from others: we want to hold opinions and views that our community accepts, or we want to be seen to ‘go along’ with a majority view because it is easier.
Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias refers to how people look for evidence or information to back up an initial opinion, rather than looking at the whole picture. It can lead to selective observation and cause you to overlook other relevant information, focusing on things that fit your view instead. You may even reject new information that contradicts your initial evidence.

Most people subconsciously slip into confirmation bias because they seek confirmation that their initial assessment of a person/situation/decision, etc., is correct. It often is used to back up other unconscious biases, like attribution bias.

The contrast effect The contrast effect occurs when you assess two or more similar things and compare them with one another, rather than looking at each based on its own merits. The contrast effect can make you judge too harshly and set your standards too high.
Gender bias

Gender bias is simply a preference for one gender over the other. It often stems from our deep-seated beliefs about gender roles and stereotypes.

In particular, gender bias occurs because we favour people that we can relate to, especially those of the same gender. We often connect with them more easily because of shared gender-specific physical and emotional experiences.

Often, we might attribute certain statuses or titles with one gender over another. For example, the assumption that a doctor or head teacher will be male, or that a nurse or primary school teacher will be female.

The halo effect

The halo effect occurs when we focus on one particularly great feature about a person: you view everything about the person in a positive, ‘halo’ light.

Like affinity and confirmation biases, this makes us overlook other information; it skews our opinion of other aspects, including negative ones.

The horns effect

The horns effect is the opposite of the halo effect: you focus on one particularly negative feature about a person, which clouds your view of their other qualities.

For example, if a person uses a particular turn of phrase you dislike, you may suddenly dislike everything else they say.

Challenge 6: first impressions

Consider the people below. What are your first impressions? What would you expect them to do for a living, or what kind of hobbies would you expect them to have?  What gives you this impression? You can find out more about these people at the end of the workbook.

smiling woman dressed in smart clothing.

When you first meet Anita, she appears quietly confident and easy-going. She is immaculately dressed in what look like designer clothes and jewellery.

stern-looking man with unkempt hair

When you first meet John, he looks very stern and has a gruff manner about him.

Young woman with long hair and grey jumper talking to camera

When you first meet Angela, she is very softly spoken and appears quite shy. Physically she is petite and dressed in casual clothes.

Young woman wearing orange and gold sari smiling to camera

When you first meet Bhavna, she appears to be energetic and enthusiastic. She is wearing traditional Indian dress in vibrant colours.

Overcoming unconscious bias

Understanding the meaning of unconscious bias and recognising the various types will make it easier for you to notice them as you carry out your functions as a councillor. This, in turn, will enable you to have a better understanding of the people you interact with, focusing on their issues and concerns rather than the person in front of you.

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Hints and tips: overcoming unconscious bias

Here are some tips for managing some of the issues raised by unconscious bias which might be useful to you in your dealings with local residents, businesses and council officers, as well as when you are tasked with making decisions on behalf of your local community and in the running of the council:

  • take your time during decision-making processes. Making the right choice is more important than making a quick choice to save money and time. You should avoid snap judgments or opinions
  • think about people as individuals and recognise their strengths and weaknesses
  • seek the opinion of others. Other people’s views and input help you to spot and address your own preconceptions, which in turn help to reduce bias
  • in order to prevent attribution bias, aim to assess others more positively: give credit where it is due and don’t magnify shortcomings
  • be honest with yourself. It is okay to have biases – we all do. It does not make you any less of a person. What is important is that you control them and actively look for ways to expand and revise your views. Be open to change
  • improve everyone’s awareness of equality and diversity. Training courses that teach people the benefits of multicultural society are a good way to recognise any biases you hold that go against building an equal, diverse community.

Building an equal, diverse, and inclusive workforce

The importance of equality, diversity and inclusion in the context of recruitment and selection

The recruitment and selection process is the first step in ensuring that councils can attract and retain the best quality employees, so it is important that this process considers equality, diversity and inclusion in a fair and unbiased way. The benefits to councils of having a workforce that has been recruited in this way are:

  • the workforce reflects the culture and diversity of the local community
  • employees are more likely to remain loyal if they feel respected and valued
  • the council builds a positive reputation because it welcomes people from a variety of backgrounds
  • performance is optimised because the best people are appointed for the roles
  • acting within the law means reduced litigation and associated costs.

Unconscious bias in the context of recruitment and selection

As a councillor, you may well form part of a recruitment and selection panel. Since this requires you to evaluate and assess applicants, there is naturally the potential for unconscious bias to influence your decisions. Understanding how the types of unconscious bias apply in this context will help you to try and avoid them:

Types of unconscious bias
Type of unconscious bias Consideration for recruitment and selection
Affinity bias

It is our natural tendency to want to be around people we can relate to, particularly if we are going to have to work with, for or in partnership with them. For example, if an applicant went to the same school as you or they share similar hobbies, or support the same football team, you are naturally more likely to prefer them over other people.

At a very simplistic level, this bias lays you open to claims of unfairness. Whilst an applicant for a job may not be like you, they could be just as talented and friendly as those who are.

Attribution bias Assuming the reasons for a candidate’s successes or failures can skew your view of their performance. It can make you focus too hard on their faults, minimise their accomplishments, and potentially disregard a talented candidate.
Beauty bias

It is unfair to think that a person does not make ‘enough’ of an effort with their appearance, or that they put in ‘too much’ effort.  This can lead to assumptions about their personality and skills.

You cannot assume that a person who dresses professionally and tidies their hair is an all-around organised person. The opposite could easily be true.

Conformity bias

Conformity bias is common in recruitment of individuals. When most of the group shares an opinion about a candidate, the tendency is to agree with them even if your original opinion may have differed.

The chances are that if most people feel strongly about a candidate, it is because they all noticed something similar. A unanimous view is less likely to come from a place of bias. However, this should not prevent you from voicing your opinions and views – your opinions may draw attention to facts about a candidate that others did not spot.

Confirmation bias

Most people subconsciously slip into confirmation bias because they seek confirmation that their initial assessment of a person is correct. It often is used to back up other unconscious biases, like attribution bias. The consequence for recruitment is important, as you may unfairly decide not to hire a candidate based on your faulty assessment.

For example, a candidate arrives 10 minutes late for an interview. You assume that they lack organisational skills, so throughout the interview you selectively focus on anything that backs up this idea, such as the fact that their CV lacks examples of self-managed projects.

The contrast effect

Contrast effect is common in recruitment. When you receive dozens of similar CVs, it is useful to compare applications to narrow down your choices.

However, the contrast effect can make you judge too harshly and set your standards too high. It can make you overlook the fact that you are looking for people who can fit the role. You are not assessing who can submit the most flawless CV or make it through the interview without a stutter.

Gender bias

In recruitment, gender bias can cause you to unconsciously lean towards a candidate based on their gender and the qualities you associate with it. For example, you may subconsciously think a man better fits a physically demanding job.

Even from the moment your job advert goes live, you may inadvertently favour one gender over the other. Certain terminology appeals more to men than women and vice versa.

The halo effect In recruitment, you need to prevent the halo effect from making you recruit in a less-than-objective manner. Otherwise, you may hire a candidate that, once the halo glow wears off, is not as fit for the role as you thought.
The horns effect In recruitment, you need to avoid concentrating on aspects you personally dislike. One mistake or flaw does not represent the candidate as a whole.
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Case studies: encouraging diversity in the fire service

The fire and rescue service is shaking off its outdated image in a major drive to change the public's perception of firefighters. The traditional image of firefighters is that this has been a role done by men. However, the impression that the role requires a physical strength not possessed by women is one which has become increasingly outdated. In the last three years 80 per cent of fire and rescue services in England have planned recruitment initiatives to encourage greater diversity in their workforce. 

Whilst the role of firefighters has changed dramatically in the last few years, many potential recruits are deterred by outdated perceptions of the job. As the number of fires has more than halved over the past decade, the 21st century firefighter's role has focused on community safety and harm prevention, with home safety visits - expanded to become safe and well visits in several areas - going beyond fire risk to address social care issues such as falls prevention or alcohol use.

The fire service is increasingly working in tandem with health partners, other emergency services and councils on issues such as modern slavery and co-responding with the ambulance service. Therefore, the fire and rescue service has set about challenging existing stereotypes of who can be a firefighter and what the job involves. Not to do so is regarded as missing out on an enormous pool of talent. No business would expect to thrive by doing this, so the fire and rescue service is taking steps to address this impression.

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service

Between 2000 and 2013 Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service conducted only one wholetime recruitment campaign, resulting in 12 firefighter appointments. Wholetime recruitment campaigns have been held annually since.

In preparation for a wholetime recruitment campaign in 2015, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service developed a media and social media campaign plan. This included holding ‘have a go' sessions for female journalists and one aimed specifically at women; using paid for advertising on social media to target women, including a video on YouTube; profiling firefighters on the Service's website including women and staff who identify as BAME; holding information sessions in community centres where there is ethnic and cultural diversity; and advertising through Women in the Fire Service and Asian Fire Service Association Networks, and LGBT magazine "Fynetimes".

A total of 221 applications were received, of which 13 per cent were women (compared to 7 per cent in 2014); 6 per cent identified as being of a Black or minority ethnic group (compared to 4 per cent in 2014); 5 per cent requested reasonable adjustments; and 3 per cent identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Of the successful recruits, 29 per cent were women and 10 per cent identify as BME - the highest percentage of both women and BME the Service has ever had in one intake. The campaign was repeated in 2016.

In the past few years, focus has been placed on recruiting a more diverse team of retained firefighters, which has resulted in a 103 per cent rise in applications (122 applicants in 2012 to 248 in 2013) and an 89 per cent increase in the numbers of female applicants, from nine to 17.  Appointments of women to on-call operational roles have increased as well and in the last three years this amounted to seven compared to three in the previous three years. 

Ethnic diversity in applicants has increased from 4 per cent in 2012/13 to 7 per cent in 2015/16. Other activities include unconscious bias training, attending selected career events at schools and colleges, particularly in diverse areas, and in partnership with the police holding quarterly "Insight to Blue Light" sessions - aimed specifically at people from BME backgrounds - to inform people about employment opportunities in emergency services.

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service 

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service held a recruitment drive for wholetime firefighters which aimed to encourage under-represented female and minority ethnic applicants. The communication strategy moved away from ‘tokenistic' gestures traditionally associated with equality and recruitment campaigns and applications were limited to within 20 miles of Gloucestershire's borders to ensure it attracted those most likely to have an intimate interest in the area and the communities they would serve.

Direct engagement with mosque leaders, local councillors, LGBT representatives, sports facilities, schools, community groups, ethnic-hair dressers and fast food outlets established relationships well before any recruitment drive, added credibility to the campaign and helped to promote it. A set of "Frequently Asked Questions" was drafted to answer any concerns on how the service actively welcomed cultural and religious diversity explaining that considerations around keeping beards, fasting, prayers, dreadlocks, etc, were managed entirely within the context of maintaining firefighter safety. Advertising to a range of women's organisations and groups took place through social media and publicity material was designed to visually reflect BME communities. 

Valuable local community radio exposure generated through a live interview was followed by adverts produced by an experienced Black crew manager. The campaign resulted in some significant success in attracting applications from BAME communities with the proportion of minority applicants (5.1 per cent) only marginally less than the county's overall population of 6.2 per cent.

London Fire Brigade

In 2016 London Fire Brigade developed a new and ambitious 10-year Inclusion Strategy: ‘Safer Together'- to attract a more diverse and inclusive workforce. When the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, published details of the pay gap between men and women working within the Greater London Authority's ‘functional bodies' last year, London Fire Brigade was the only member with no gender pay gap among operational staff.

Recent recruitment campaigns have involved placing adverts in the Facebook newsfeed of women aged 18-40 in London who were interested in fitness and sports which require a great deal of upper body strength, which has generated the highest percentage of women applicants over these campaign periods. The Service has also specifically targeted women's rugby clubs.

Cornwall Fire, Rescue and Community Safety Service 

Cornwall Fire, Rescue and Community Safety Service has a Community Engagement Equality Diversity (CEED) Strategic Lead for sexual orientation and gender self-identify.

As well as operational firefighters, a key outlook of the Service - which gained the Excellent level of the Fire and Rescue Service Equality Framework - is on staff as community health, safety and wellbeing advocates who help the community to live independently, reduce risk and improve community resilience.

The Service mainstreamed CEED and linked it to competencies, promotional assessments, case studies for management practices, community engagement work and linked it to objectives within everyone's PDRs. It also has "CEED Champions" who provide strategic direction and support for the protected characteristics. These are useful for targeted events and where the service needs to focus on an area for a particular reason.

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"We want the 21st century firefighter to be perceived as just as likely to be a woman as a man, free of racial and identity stereotypes, as likely to be visiting schools to provide fire safety advice as running into a burning building.

"Fire services across the country are already seeing some positive results from inclusivity recruitment initiatives to attract, develop and retain a more diverse workforce and it is vital that this work continues if fire and rescue services are to better reflect the communities they serve.

"We are committed to seizing the opportunity to change both the demographics of the workforce and the perception of our work to ensure a fire service career is a job for all."

Cllr Jeremy Beecham, former Chair of the LGA's Fire Services Management Committee.

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Hints and tips: overcoming unconscious bias in recruitment and selection

Here are some tips for managing the issues raised by unconscious bias which might be useful to you in your recruitment and selection process:

  • Take time to make sure you fully assess each candidate’s capabilities and keep an open mind. Remember: the things you value in a person may differ from those of someone else in the organisation.
  • Think about each person as an individual. You should avoid comparing one candidate to another and should judge each based on their own merit instead. To prevent selective observation, look at them from different perspectives and justify your assessments with varied evidence.
  • Include a variety of people in recruitment processes. Other people’s views and input help you spot and address your own preconceptions, which in turn help to reduce recruitment bias.
  • To prevent attribution bias, aim to assess others more positively – give credit where it is due and do not magnify shortcomings.
  • It is okay to have biases – we all do. It does not make you any less of a person. What is important is that you control them and actively look for ways to expand and revise your views. Be open to change.
  • Training courses that teach people the benefits of a multicultural society are a good way to recognise any biases you hold that go against building an equal, diverse community.
  • Writing down your opinions and impressions will help you to compare and collate ideas with others in the group, as well as question your own biases and the opinions of others. This reduces conformity bias and helps you gain a well-rounded view of candidates, which in turn allows you to reach a fairer, unanimous decision.

Occupational requirement

In certain and rare circumstances, it may be lawful for an employer to specify that applicants for a job must have a particular protected characteristic under the Equality Act. In law, this approach is known as an ‘occupational requirement’.

For example, in some very exceptional circumstances it is acceptable to recruit people from only one gender.

Criteria for occupational requirement

It is not enough for an employer to simply decide they would prefer to employ someone of a particular sex. To qualify for an occupational requirement, ALL the following criteria must be met with regard to the protected characteristic:

  • it is crucial to the post, and not just one of several important factors
  • it is related to the nature of the job
  • it is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

If there is any reasonable and less discriminatory way of achieving the same aim, it is unlikely that the employer could claim an occupational requirement.

Advertising an occupational requirement

An occupational requirement must be reassessed each time the job is advertised, even though it may have been valid for the same post in the past. Circumstances may have changed, meaning the occupational requirement may no longer be applicable.

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Example: occupational requirement
A charity running a refuge for women and children fleeing domestic violence and abuse advertises for a refuge support worker. The advert says that women and children depending on the refuge want to be able to turn to a woman experienced in the work. It also explains that, consequently, the charity can only consider applications from women and that it is allowed to do this as an ’occupational requirement’ under the Equality Act.

Legal defence

Any employer, which would include the council itself or an organisation with which you might be associated, should think very carefully and consider seeking specialist legal advice before claiming an occupational requirement, as it can be difficult to justify and will be rare.

A job applicant might challenge an occupational requirement which appears unjustified at an employment tribunal. An occupational requirement can only be used in a defence against claims of ordinary direct discrimination (but not for by association or by perception, or against claims of indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation).

Equality, diversity and inclusion in community leadership

As a councillor you encounter a variety of different people, groups, and organisations in a number of situations, so there will always be the potential for unconscious bias. You are likely to be representing a diverse community of people with different beliefs, social class, economic status, and age groups.

In your community leadership roles of advocate, facilitator, and decision-maker you need to be fair, transparent, and objective, and to comply with the Equality Act 2010. This will not only benefit the community but also you as a councillor:

  • you will gain a fuller understanding of all parts of community, and therefore be able to make the best decisions for them
  • you will build a positive reputation by being seen as responsive, open, and fair
  • voters are more likely to remain loyal if they feel respected and valued
  • you will be more effective in your facilitation and negotiation roles because you will be viewed as unbiased and objectives
  • acting within the law means reduced litigation and associated costs.

Challenge 7: applying equality, diversity and inclusion to community leadership

As a councillor, a primary function of your role is community engagement and leadership. Think about how you would apply the principles of equality, diversity and inclusion to the following aspects of your role:

  • listening to and involving local communities
  • building vision and direction
  • working effectively in partnerships
  • making things happen
  • standing up for communities
  • empowering local communities
  • being accountable to your community
  • using community resources effectively.

Unconscious bias in community leadership

Unconscious bias can easily creep into community leadership, since it is natural to unconsciously form an impression about someone when you first meet them. You can help to prevent being unconsciously biased in your role as community leader by knowing what to look out for:

Unconscious bias in community leadership
Type of unconscious bias Consideration for community leadership
Affinity bias

It is our natural tendency to feel favourably towards people we can relate to, particularly if we are going to work with them or act on their behalf.

For example, you may feel more comfortable being on a working group with councillors representing the same political party as you or feel more inclined to help a local resident who went to the same school you attended.

Attribution bias

Assuming the reasons for a person’s, group’s or organisation’s successes or failures can skew your view of them and prevent you from learning from others.

For example, a service provider is struggling to meet targets. Assuming that this is because they are poorly managed could prevent you from finding out the actual reason for their poor performance, therefore making it difficult to correct the situation.

Beauty bias

It is unfair to think that a person does not make ‘enough’ of an effort with their appearance, or that they put in ‘too much’ effort. This can lead to assumptions about their personality and skills.

Similarly, an organisation with a well-designed business card does not necessarily perform well. Take time to find out more so that you can make better judgments.

Conformity bias

When a majority of people share an opinion, the tendency is to agree with them even if your original opinion may have differed.

As a councillor, you will often be in situations where you are in a meeting, or part of a working group, that is making decisions that will affect your community. It is important that you have the confidence to voice your opinions and views – your opinions may draw attention to facts that others did not spot.

Confirmation bias

Most people subconsciously slip into confirmation bias because they seek confirmation that their initial assessment of a person is correct. It often is used to back up other unconscious biases, like attribution bias.

For example, a local resident arrives 10 minutes late for an appointment, so you assume that they do not feel very strongly about the matter they have come to talk about.

The contrast effect

The contrast effect can make you judge too harshly and set your standards too high.

For example, in a commissioning exercise one provider offers more services than another, which would be beneficial, but this comes at a slight additional cost. Upon further investigation with the other provider, you find that they would be willing to offer the same extra services at their original price – something you would not have known if you had made a face-value comparison.

Gender bias Gender bias can cause you to unconsciously treat someone more or less favourably because of their gender. For example, you may subconsciously think a man better fits a particular working group than a woman.
The halo effect The halo effect can make you less objective. For example, you may view someone who volunteers in several community groups as a good candidate for including in a new local community project, when in actual fact their time is already thinly spread between their existing commitments – they just have trouble saying no!
The horns effect

Try to avoid concentrating on aspects of a person, group, or community that you personally dislike. One mistake or flaw does not represent them as a whole.

For example, a local resident who is very outspoken and viewed as a troublemaker by the council could also be well-respected by the local community because they are seen to be standing up for local people.


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Hints and tips: overcoming unconscious bias in your day-to-day role

Here are some tips for managing some of the issues raised by unconscious bias which might be useful to you in your day-to-day role:

  • Take time to get to know someone or to understand a situation and keep an open mind. Remember: the things you value in a person may differ from those of someone else in the community.
  • Think about each person as an individual (or group or organisation) and avoid comparing one person to another. Recognise what an individual’s strengths are and where they could be applicable. Consider all sides to a situation before making any judgments or decisions.
  • Seek people’s views and input about a situation or problem to help you spot and address your own preconceptions, so you can make more objective decisions.
  • Recognise the achievements of others and try not to magnify any shortcomings you perceive.
  • It is okay to have biases – we all do. It does not make you any less of a person. What is important is that you control them and actively look for ways to expand and revise your views. Be open to change.

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Challenge 8: identify your own unconscious biases

Here is a list of the people you might come into contact with in your role as a councillor. Consider the groups and individuals you have met that fall into these categories: can you identify any biases that you have? If so, how will you apply what you know about unconscious bias to overcome them?

  • local residents
  • businesses owners
  • police officers
  • council officers
  • other councillors
  • voters
  • scrutiny panel
  • charity volunteers
  • service providers
  • health workers.


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Challenge 9: could you be an equality champion?

Do you think you could become an equality champion for your council? The information in this workbook will help you decide how to go about making sure equality, diversity and inclusion is embedded in all council policies, procedures, and services.

  • ask your Chief Executive what they are doing with regards to equality, diversity and inclusion
  • look at who is involved in partnerships and joint working. Having diverse people involved is more likely to help you to ensure a diverse range of views can help you make decisions.
  • remind service managers that it is their responsibility, as well as in their interests, to conduct impact assessments, develop an action plan and have a robust equality, diversity and inclusion strategy, which is then monitored
  • ask to see the equality impact assessment of any new or existing policy or practice
  • ensure that progress on equality, diversity and inclusion is included in the Annual Report
  • make sure that there is someone, or a small team, who has responsibility within the council for equality, diversity and inclusion issues
  • ask for support when you need it. Your officers should be able to provide you with more information, or know where you can get it
  • when you work with other organisations, or represent the council on partnership bodies, ask what they are doing about ensuring equality, diversity and inclusion. Build it into whatever you are doing
  • look at your working practices and the makeup of your council. Is the way you work preventing some groups of people standing for council?


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Challenge 1: correct answers

The characteristics of a diverse society:
b) all decisions must be politically correct
The characteristics of an equal society:
e) everyone should be treated in the same way

The characteristics of an inclusive society:
b) everyone is able to do everything they want in life, regardless of their ability

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Challenge 6: first impressions

Anita is retired and runs a local art group. When she worked as a Crown prosecutor, she had a reputation for being ruthless with her questioning in the court room.

John is an award-winning hair stylist. He is also a tutor at the local college, where his down-to-earth attitude has made him a popular tutor with the students.

Angela is a gardener. She is also a keep fit enthusiast and enjoys rock climbing.

Bhavna is a special constable as well as a mother to two young children. She has strong family values, and her spare time revolves around family and her children.

Further reading and useful links

10 Tips For Inclusive Community Engagement
Orton Family Foundation developed a community development model that evolves around giving voice to everyone in a community, especially those whose voices are often missing in civic dialog. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when considering ways to enhance community engagement in any project, large or small.

Beyond Culture, Edward T. Hall
This book discusses different cultural perspectives and how to manage relationships between cultures. It includes the Iceberg Model of Culture.

CIPD – Building Inclusive Workplaces Report
This report assess the evidence on inclusion: what does inclusion look like in practice, and how can people professionals and the wider organisation be more inclusive?

Equality Framework for Local Government
The framework helps local councils to meet their obligations under the Equality Act 2010 including the Public Sector Equality Duties (PSED)

Equality and Human Rights Commission
Promoting and upholding equality and human rights ideals and laws across England, Scotland, and Wales.

LG Inform
The local area benchmarking tool from the Local Government Association

ONS Centre for Equalities and Inclusion
The Centre for Equalities and Inclusion aims to improve the evidence base for understanding equity and fairness in the UK today, enabling new insights into important policy questions.

A research project looking into poverty and social exclusion in the UK.

The Seven pillars of inclusion
What are the commonalities of inclusion for disadvantaged populations? The Seven Pillars of Inclusion presents a helicopter view of inclusion as a framework for greater levels of participation.