There are many issues facing people entering or in the workplace, but some groups face greater challenges in realising their career aims because of barriers to equality of opportunity.
The Directgov website spells out the current position regarding discrimination at work. It explains that the law on equal opportunities aims to create a level playing field, so that people are employed, paid, trained and promoted only because of their skills, abilities and how they do their job. It says that discrimination in the workplace can happen when an employer treats one employee less favourably than others, for instance if a female employee is paid less than a male colleague for doing the same job, or a minority ethnic employee is refused the training opportunities offered to white colleagues.
You can no longer be discriminated against on the basis of
You also cannot be dismissed or treated less favourably because you work part time or are on a fixed-term contract.
However, many employers in the UK and Ireland are enthusiastic about recruiting a workforce that reflects our increasingly diverse society and make positive attempts to do so.
Our Career Planning and Job Seeking Workbook has information on a wide range of issues relating to equality and diversity, with links to resources.
The Equality Act (2010) brings together the separate legislation relating to discrimination in the UK. For more information, go to the Government Equalities Office website.
The Equality Authority is an Irish independent body providing information on equality issues and legislation.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) aims to promote equality across nine protected grounds – age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission aims to ensure that the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland are protected in law and in practice.
The Diversity Group has the primary objective of promoting equal opportunities to people from every kind of minority background or lifestyle, including race, gender, disability, age, faith, transgender and sexual orientation.
The Equal opportunities section on the Prospects website has information and advice on issues relating to age, disability, race, religion and belief, sexual orientation and women. The Gradireland website has information on equal opportunities for students in the Irish Republic and in Northern Ireland
The Target Jobs website has a section on equality and diversity issues for graduates.
The University of Westminster Careers Service has an excellent range of information on equality and diversity matters.
The University of Liverpool has a number of downloadable Career and Employability Service leaflets. Click on the Diversity Matters link for a range of leaflets from AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services).
It is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of age in the UK and Ireland, with very limited exceptions. Also, the default retirement age (DRA) in the UK was removed in April 2011, so that employers can no longer force people to retire on the grounds of age. This means anyone starting a new career or re-entering the job market could have more working years ahead of them, and so employers may feel they will get a better return on any investment in training older applicants.
You can find out about your legal rights in terms of age discrimination on the Directgov website. This outlines what is and isn’t legal during the job application process and while you are employed. There is also information about what action to take if you feel you have been discriminated against because of your age, directly or indirectly. If you are in Ireland, the Equality Authority website is a useful source of information.
As a mature student, you are in a good position to illustrate the advantages of being older. You have evidence of successfully balancing and prioritising your work, life and studies, and you demonstrate that you can continue to learn and adjust to new settings. Studying with the OU also emphasises your commitment and motivation, as well as your ability to work independently.
However, if you see your age as a problem so will an employer. So instead think of all the skills and abilities you can bring to a role, and explain them positively to a prospective employer. Anticipate obstacles created by some employers, and draw attention to how you have re-organised your life and family in order to succeed at OU study.
Have a look at our tips for mature graduates.
Research published by the Department of Work and Pensions in April 2011 points out what older workers offer to employers:
You will need to do the career research, decision making, planning and applications that all students – graduates and postgraduates – need to undertake
and there’s lots of advice on this, especially in the Career Planning and Job Seeking Workbook. This also contains information specifically aimed at those with concerns about age discrimination.
The Prospects website has a section on age, with links to further resources.
The Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion now incorporates the Employers Forum on Age, and works with organisations to promote best practice in equality and inclusion in the workplace.
Age & Opportunity is the national not-for-profit organisation that promotes opportunities for greater participation by older people in Ireland. The website contains information on the programmes it runs, and includes details of the equality legislation.
TAEN, (Third Age Employment Network) is expert in age and employment, and has guides to the age provisions of the Equality Act 2010, primarily for employees, jobseekers and learners, that aim to give a simple, clear explanation.
If you have a criminal record you may be concerned about how it might affect your job prospects. There are several issues related to disclosure of previous offences; use these websites to help you consider them in more depth.
You will need to do the career research, decision making, planning and applications that all graduates need to undertake, and there’s plenty of advice on this, especially in the Career Planning and Job Seeking Workbook. This workbook also contains information specifically for those with a criminal record.
Having a criminal record does not prevent you from getting a job, especially if it is spent and you no longer have to declare it. However, some organisations are exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act in the UK and you will need to disclose all convictions whether they are spent or not.
In general, this is most likely if you are trying to work with young people, or groups of people that are seen to be vulnerable. In this case you will probably have to have a Criminal Records Bureau check – something that is organised by a prospective employer. For more information contact NACRO, the crime reduction charity dedicated to helping ex-offenders, which campaigns on their behalf as well as giving direct advice and support.
The Apex Trust helps people with criminal records to obtain appropriate jobs or self-employment by providing them with the skills needed in the labour market. It also works with employers to break down barriers.
UNLOCK, the National Association of Reformed Offenders, is an independent charity that provides advice on employment issues for people with previous convictions.
If you have been in prison, you may feel you need to talk to an OU careers adviser early on in your studies about the process of applying for jobs. You can do this by contacting them through your regional or national centre. Go to the ‘Contact’ page for further details.
If you have a disability, health condition, mental health issue or specific learning difficulty, you may need to take it into consideration when making a career choice. Certain jobs may aggravate any difficulties you have, however, the main barriers tend to be social ones, and they can usually be overcome.
The Equality Act (2010) prohibits all employers, with the exception of the armed forces, from treating applicants with disabilities less favourably than those without. It also requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace and offer support, if necessary, to disabled people at work.
Directgov gives information about your employment rights and the support available while you are looking for and in work, and also tells you what action you can take if you feel you have been discriminated against, either during the recruitment process or once you are in employment.
You will need to do the career research, decision making, planning and applications that all graduates need to undertake, and there’s plenty of advice on this, especially in the Career Planning and Job Seeking Workbook. This workbook also contains information specifically for those with a disability.
When applying for jobs you may want to look for employers who clearly display a positive attitude to applicants with disabilities. As well as positive language on their website or in the recruitment literature these indicators include
Disability Rights UK (formed through a unification of Disability Alliance, Skill, Radar and National Centre for Independent Living on 1 January 2012) has a downloadable booklet called Doing Careers Differently. Written by people with an experience of disability, it highlights how to make a success of your career while living with a disability or health condition.
Lead Scotland is a voluntary organisation set up to widen access to learning for disabled young people and adults and carers across Scotland.
Disability toolkits aim to help you gain and make the most of work experience and placement opportunities, exploring some of the issues that you might face as a disabled student and providing you with information and sources of support that may benefit you.
Great with Disability has information and advice for disabled students and graduates who are applying for jobs and going through the recruitment process.
Skills Rocket is a free e-learning web site written by an occupational psychologist, offering tutorials, support and help tips for an adult with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, AD(H)D or neuro differences. It includes help and support with career issues.
The Royal National Institute for the Blind website has information to help you get a new job, retain your current one and know your rights in the workplace.
Action for Blind People is a national charity in the UK, providing practical help and support to blind and partially sighted people of all ages. It contains a useful section on employment issues and careers advice.
The Centre for Mental Health aims to help to create a society in which people with mental health problems enjoy equal chances in life. The website contains a useful section on employment and mental health.
The Shaw Trust is a national charity which supports disabled and disadvantaged people to prepare for work, find jobs and live more independently. It offers a service for students and graduates with disabilities, dyslexia or a specific learning difficulty. They work in partnership with top employers to offer a variety of opportunities within a range of sectors.
The Association of Disabled Professionals provides employment advice and peer support to disabled people. Members also give advice based on their particular employment experience.
BBC Extend Scheme – is an award-winning, BBC-wide work placement scheme which offers appropriately experienced and/or qualified disabled people a great opportunity to gain six months' paid work experience within the BBC.
Blind in Business is a charity that helps visually impaired students and graduates of all ages into work, through CV coaching, help with filling out application forms, interview practice and other advice and support.
EmployAbility is a not-for-profit organisation that supports disabled undergraduates and graduates in the transition from education to employment, by providing practical advice and guidance. They also run a wide range of internships and graduate recruitment programmes on behalf of many blue-chip and public sector organisations.
The National Autistic Society offers a range of support including Prospects, a work experience scheme for people with autism and Asperger syndrome, and the Transitions Programme, which helps graduates into work.
Remploy provides a range of employment services to support disabled people and those experiencing complex barriers to gaining and retaining sustainable employment. They work with UK employers to help them understand disability, and to recruit disabled people. Remploy's Employability Programme is a free course for finalists and recent graduates who have a disability, learning difference or health condition.
Diversity Milkround is a graduate employment site which lists vacancies with employers who recognise the value of recruiting a diverse workforce.
The OU's Services for disabled students explains the services available to disabled students or those with additional requirements and has a useful list of links.
Despite the fact that it is illegal in the UK and Ireland to discriminate on the basis of gender or sexual orientation, some graduates may feel vulnerable about these issues. In the long term, female graduates still tend to earn less than their male counterparts, and are certainly under-represented in the boardrooms of the UK.
Attitudes are slowly changing, partly due to the work of campaigning organisations like Business in the Community which offer schemes such as Opportunity Now, which help employers to make changes for women in the workplace. Men and women, lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transsexuals have the right to be treated equally in the recruitment process and in the workplace, and to take action if this is not the case. For more information you can contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in the UK or the Equality Authority in Ireland.
Many women return to work following a career break. Returning to the labour market can be difficult, especially if you have spent a long time away. If this reflects your situation, there are a number of strategies you can consider.
It is also illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender. In the recruitment process it is unlikely that issues will arise about sexual orientation, and it is up to the individual to decide what to disclose to an employer and when. Many companies have positive attitudes and have signed up to be a ‘diversity champion’ with the campaigning organisation Stonewall, which campaigns for the rights of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.
Being aware of your rights will help in the recruitment process, but as with any job it is important that you display the skills and abilities required for the job in your application and interview performance. Provided you do this you should expect an employer to give you fair consideration. Using positive language, highlighting your skills, making use of support networks and targeting organisations with good equal opportunities policies should all help you to succeed.
You will need to do the career research, decision making, planning and applications that all graduates need to undertake, and there’s plenty of advice on this, especially in the Career Planning and Job Seeking Workbook. This workbook also contains specific information relating to gender, and sexuality and sexual orientation.
Where Women Want to Work is a website offering women the opportunity to research prospective employers.
Investment Banking Inside and Out aims to help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students learn more about careers in this industry. There is an overview of the opportunities available and profiles of major banks with information on their application deadlines.
Many employers welcome an ethnically diverse workforce. They make sure that any publicity and recruitment materials they produce reflect this racial mix, so it can be quite easy to spot these employers.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you because of your race. This includes any discrimination on the grounds of
Under the Equality Act, it doesn't matter whether or not the discrimination is intentional. What counts is whether (as a result of an employer's actions) you are treated less favourably than someone else because of race. The Act protects all racial groups.
If you want to help yourself in the job market there are a number of strategies you can consider.
Speak to a careers adviser if you need to discuss things further.
Some organisations offer specific work experience schemes, such as the Civil Service Fast Stream Summer Diversity Internship Scheme, which offers 6–8 week summer placements to students from ethnic minorities in the UK.
It is also illegal to discriminate on the grounds of religion and belief. There is no specific list that sets out what religion or belief discrimination is: the law defines it as any religion, religious or philosophical belief. You are also protected against discrimination if you do not follow any religion or belief, and your employer discriminates against you because of this. Political beliefs are not counted as a religion or belief.
You don’t have to give information about your beliefs, although sometimes doing so can help an employer to arrange to meet any needs you do have. Employers don’t have to give you time off to practise your religion, but they are expected to make reasonable adjustments.
You will need to do the career research, decision making, planning and applications that all graduates need to undertake, and there’s plenty of advice on this, especially in the Career Planning and Job Seeking Workbook. This workbook also contains specific information relating to race, religion or belief.
For information about your rights and what to expect, try the Directgov Discrimination at Work website. You will also find information and advice about what to do if you feel you have been unfairly treated.
The Prospects website Equal opportunities pages have information on handling discrimination on grounds of race, religion and belief, including links to other resources.
Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of an age-diverse workforce…. ‘Age neutral’ application forms are common-place and employers are ensuring that their publicity and recruitment literature does not deter older or younger graduates from applying.
AGCAS, Diversity Matters, Age
People with lived experience of disability or health conditions have risen to the very top. The last prime minister Gordon Brown was partially sighted while Alastair Campbell, who as press secretary to Brown’s predecessor Tony Blair was arguably the second most powerful man in the country has been very open about his history of mental health problems.
Disability Rights UK, Doing Careers Differently
Equal pay for men and women cannot be achieved through legislation alone. Employers are ultimately responsible for ensuring that their pay systems are free from gender bias.
Equality and Human Rights Commission
If you have taken part in community, religious and voluntary activities related to your ethnicity, these may provide the necessary examples of what you are able to achieve while collaborating with other people.
Directgov, Moving On