This glossary defines some key equality and human rights terms. It’s designed to work with our Framework resource.

If you think we’ve got something wrong, or there’s something to add, get in touch.


Ableism: discrimination in favour of non-disabled people or against disabled people.

Access audit: an audit of a building, web site or IT system that shows how accessible it is.

Accessibility: how easy it is to access something. For example, a publication or service.

Action plan: a plan that sets out what your organisation is going to do, who’s going to do it, and the expected results.

Age: a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Everyone is protected from age discrimination in employment and education (apart from within a school). Protection in the provision of goods, facilities and services, and public functions, applies only to people aged 18 and over. Direct and indirect discrimination on age grounds can sometimes be allowed if it can be shown to be a proportionate way to achieve a legitimate aim, and there are a number of specific exceptions. Examples include pensions and insurance.

 Alternative formats: different ways of presenting information. Examples can include large print, Braille, audiobook or translated versions.

Asylum seeker: a person who has left their country, seeks refuge in another country and has claimed asylum under the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees on the ground that if they are returned to their country they have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political belief or membership of a particular social group. A person remains an asylum seeker for as long as the application is pending. See also refugee.


Barrier: something that creates a disadvantage for individuals or groups who share a protected characteristic.

Benchmarking: Comparing your organisation’s performance against other sources of data, such as statistics on the local population or information about other organisations’ practice.

Bisexual: Attracted to people of both sexes.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME): A wide term used to refer to the  communities in Britain whose ethnic or national origins are not wholly white British. Often the communities referred to as BAME are not white, although depending on the context they can also include white communities of non-British origin such as Polish and other Eastern European communities.


Case law: The decisions and recommendations made in court cases; these inform future court cases and can influence the way organisations aim to meet their legal responsibilities.

Civil Partnership: A protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, along with Marriage. All civil partners and married people are protected, however single people are not. This protection only applies in employment.

Consultation: Seeking views from people on matters which affect them.

Culture: The ways of life, beliefs, values and attitudes which connect a group of people.


Data protection: The Data Protection Act 1998 controls how organisations should use and store people’s personal data. This includes much of the information used in monitoring and assessing equality.

deaf:  People who consider themselves ‘deaf’ (small ‘d’) have a hearing loss, and choose not to or don’t feel able to function within the Deaf Community. They are predominately oral rather than using British Sign Language and don’t see themselves as culturally Deaf.

with a capital ‘D’ is used to refer to people who are culturally Deaf. They actively use British Sign Language and see themselves as being part of the Deaf community. 

Demographics: The characteristics of a group of people / a population, for example age, ethnic origin, gender, income or occupation.

Differential impact: An impact that is different for one or more groups.

Dignity at work: A common name for policies or processes designed to ensure that people within an organisation treat each other in a lawful and respectful manner. These often focus on preventing bullying and harassment and sometimes have specific equality elements as well.

Direct discrimination: Less favourable treatment because of a protected characteristic.

Disability: A protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on someone’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This covers a very wide range of physical, sensory, cognitive, mental health and learning disabilities, including conditions which may recur or fluctuate (such as epilepsy, migraine or asthma). An impairment is considered to be long-term if it has lasted or can be expected to last for 12 months or more, or for the rest of the person’s life. Cancer, HIV, and multiple sclerosis are considered to be disabilities from the moment of diagnosis, regardless of the current effect on carrying out activities. This can also apply to other progressive conditions where substantial and long-term impairment is likely to result. Disabled people are protected in employment, education and provision of services and public functions. People who have recovered from a disability are also protected in most cases on the grounds of that disability.

Disadvantaged: Put in an unfavourable position, hindered or harmed. People who share protected characteristics which are associated with being disadvantaged may be described as ‘at risk of disadvantage’.

Discrimination: Making an unfair or unjust distinction in the treatment of different categories of people.

Diversity: The fact that that there are visible and invisible differences between people and groups of people, and within groups. Taking into account, valuing  and respecting those differences.


Equality: The general definition of equality is ‘the state of being equal’. In the context of this Framework it means actively working towards equality of opportunity and equality of outcome in order to provide better treatment and better outcomes for all.

Equal Pay Audit: A systematic process which allows employers to establish whether their pay systems result in unequal pay. Traditionally these have been focused on the gender pay gap as a result of equal pay legislation and the ingrained nature of gender discrimination in the workplace, however the EHRC now recommends a wider focus on all protected characteristics.

Equal Pay: A concept which arose as a result of inequality in pay between men and women. The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate between men and women in their pay and conditions where they are doing the same or similar work, work rated as equivalent or work of equal value. It should be noted that unequal pay between other groups of people who share or do not share a protected characteristic can be indirectly discriminatory, or directly discriminatory in the case of decisions about pay for individuals. Equal Pay Audits are often used to establish whether unequal pay exists within an organisation.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC): The statutory body which was set up to protect, enforce and promote equality and human rights in Britain. There is a separate Scottish Human Rights Commission which works alongside the EHRC in Scotland.

Equality Duties: see Public Sector Equality Duty

Equality Impact Assessment (EIA): An audit of the impact of a new or existing policy, practice, service or function to establish what different impacts it might have on groups who share a protected characteristic, whether there might be particular positive or negative (adverse) impacts and what action should be taken to mitigate or remove any adverse impact.

Equality of opportunity: A belief that individuals should receive an equal chance of obtaining opportunities to reach their goals and improve their lives. Opportunities should be available through open and fair competition with no unfair discrimination. Sometimes criticised as enabling or empowering some individuals to be more equal than others, because there is less focus on enabling people to overcome barriers which mean they can’t effectively compete in open and fair competition.

Equality of outcome: A belief that the end justifies the means in terms of creating an equal outcome. This is often used to explain approaches to equality which could be seen as offering more favourable treatment to some, but with the effect of creating more equal outcomes for all individuals.

European Convention on Human Rights: The treaty which protects basic rights and freedoms for people in nations who are members of the Council of Europe.

Evaluation: Gathering and analysing information at particular stages in delivering specific work (like a project or service) to assess how well it is meeting its objectives.

Excluded / exclusion: Not able to participate or prevented from taking part; left out.


Flexible working: Work patterns which allow greater work-life balance, for example flexitime, part-time, job sharing, homeworking, staggered hours or compressed hours. In Britain, many people with parental or caring responsibilities have the right to request flexible working and their employers have a duty to seriously consider their request. The Government has also announced that it intends to extend this right to all employees in the future.


Gay: A gay man is attracted to other men, and a gay woman is attracted to other women. Some women prefer to identify themselves as lesbians. Historically, gay people were referred to as homosexual. Many people now find this term offensive due to its legal, medical and sociological uses in the past.

Gender: The roles, activities, behaviours and standards of appearance that society regards as appropriate for people according to their physical sex (for example ‘masculinity’ and ‘feminity’).

Gender identity: Our internal experience and naming of our gender. A cisgender (or cis) person has a gender identity consistent with the sex they were assigned at birth. A transgender (or trans) person has a gender identity that does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

Gender is increasingly recognised as a spectrum, and not limited to just two possibilities. A person may have a non-binary gender identity, meaning they do not identify strictly as a boy/man or a girl/woman – they could identify as both, or neither, or as another gender entirely. Agender people do not identify with any gender.

Gender reassignment: A protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Gender reassignment is the process of transitioning from the gender given to someone at birth (their attributed or assigned gender) to the gender they identify with. People who undergo gender reassignment are protected from discrimination in employment, education and provision of services and public functions. They are protected whether their transition is surgical, with other medical assistance or without any medical assistance. They are protected from the time they decide they intend to undergo gender reassignment, throughout the process of reassignment and for the rest of their lives after reassignment is completed, even if they no longer regard themselves as transgender because the transition is complete.

Gender Recognition Act: Gives people with gender dysphoria legal recognition as members of the sex appropriate to their gender (male or female) allowing them to acquire a new birth certificate, affording them full recognition of their acquired sex in law for all purposes, including marriage. People present evidence to a Gender Recognition Panel, which issues a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). It is a criminal offence to disclose that a person has a GRC without their consent.

Grievance: an official complaint made by a worker to their employer. 


Harassment: unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.

Heterosexual: Attracted to people of the opposite sex. Also known as ‘straight’.

Homophobia: Prejudice against gay or lesbian people (sometimes also used regarding bisexual people, although the specific term used for this is biphobia).

Human rights: the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled . Key rights are contained in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.   


Impairment: A physical, mental or sensory condition that limits day-to-day activity. This covers people with learning difficulties, physical
impairments, sensory impairments, facial disfigurement,
speech impairment, mental illness, mental distress. An impairment is considered to be long-term if it has lasted or can be expected to last for 12 months or more, or for the rest of the person’s life.

Inclusive: Ensuring people are not excluded by taking an approach which seeks to include people. Most often used in terms of social or disability related issues.

Indirect discrimination: Where a rule, policy or practice that applies to everyone creates a disadvantage for people who share a protected characteristic. Indirect discrimination can only be justified if the rule policy or practice can be shown to meet a legitimate aim in a fair, balanced and reasonable way.

Inequality: A lack of equality; groups or individuals being treated less fairly, having less opportunities or less favourable outcomes than others.

Intersectionality: the way in which different personal characteristics can combine and the effect this has on how society relates to them and on equality or inequality. For example Black women’s experiences of inequality can be different from those of Black men and white women because they face different stereotypes and barriers.

Intersex: Intersex people are born with physical and/or genetic characteristics which are associated with more than one physical sex. They are often assigned a gender at birth based on medical and family opinion on which sex they most resemble physically. Surgical intervention is sometimes used at an early age to increase the physical similarity to the assigned gender, and there are issues around the inability of babies and children to consent to these procedures which can have lifelong medical implications. In some cases, the assigned gender matches their own gender identity as they grow older. However, those who were assigned a gender at birth which differs from their gender identity may identify themselves as transgender and may undergo gender reassignment. Many intersex people do not identify with a binary gender identity (i.e. male or female).

Involvement: An ongoing process of engagement with people (e.g. service users or local communities) which ensures their needs and views are reflected in organisational decision making.


Job evaluation: A system for establishing the relative value of roles in an organisation. Establishing this value allows pay grading systems to be developed fairly. Job evaluation can be used for developing or evaluating pay systems generally and/or as part of an equal pay audit.

 Justification: Justifying an action (or inaction) is a way of showing that what an organisation has done is lawful. Various possible justifications are included in the Equality Act 2010.


Lesbian: a woman who is attracted to other women. Some women prefer to identify themselves as gay.

LGBTI: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex. Although transgender and intersex identities are not directly linked to sexual orientation, trans and intersex people and LGB people face very similar attitudes, prejudices, discrimination and barriers and so there is often a joined-up approach in work to combat this. Many organisations are described as LGBT organisations, without the ‘I’ for intersex. In some cases they do not work on issues affecting intersex people, but in other cases intersex people will be broadly supported as part of the ‘T’ for transgender as there are many similarities in the issues they experience.

Liability: A legal responsibility or obligation. If an organisation is liable, this means it can face a legal penalty if it does not meet its responsibilities.

Mainstreaming: Integrating equality and human rights into the culture of an organisation so that all elements of strategy, policy and practice are underpinned by equality and human rights considerations.

Marriage: A protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, along with Civil Partnership. All civil partners and married people are protected, however single people are not. This protection only applies in employment.

Maternity: A protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, along with pregnancy. Women are protected from the point of conception until 26 weeks after the child’s birth (including stillbirths). They are protected in employment, education and provision of services and public functions.

Medical model of disability: An approach which views disability as a problem with the focus on curing or caring for disabled people. It ignores the impact of physical, attitudinal and systemic barriers on disabled people’s lives . The social model of disability was developed by disabled people as an alternative to the medical model that redefines disability. See social model of disability.

Monitoring: Regular tracking and analysis of key information to observe general performance or progress (see also Equalities Monitoring).

Multiple identities: Describes the way in which a wide range of personal characteristics affect people’s identities.


Occupational Requirement: A genuine requirement for a job to be held by someone with a particular protected characteristic. Occupational requirements are only allowed if they are a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim.

Outcomes: The results of actions. Often included in action plans to provide context and assist in evaluation. Similar to the concept of ‘impacts’ used in the Framework.

Pregnancy: A protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, along with maternity. Women are protected from the point of conception until 26 weeks after the child’s birth (including stillbirths). They are protected in employment, education and provision of services and public functions.

Procurement: the process of obtaining goods or services.

Proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim: Using the least harmful or disruptive means to meet an aim which is valid and lawful. This can be used as a justification for discrimination in indirect discrimination or discrimination arising from a disability, but never for direct discrimination apart from on the grounds of age. It can also be used to justify occupational requirements or services that are only open to people who share a protected characteristic.

Protected characteristics: Characteristics which are protected under the Equality Act 2010 – age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; sex; sexual orientation; race; and religion and belief.

Public Sector Equality Duty: Briefly summarised, the General Public Sector Equality Duty is a legal responsibility for Public Sector organisations to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act 2010; to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a protected characteristic and persons who do not share it; and to foster good relations between persons who share a protected characteristic and persons who do not share it. England, Wales and Scotland each have separate Specific Public Sector Equality Duties which outline the actions that public bodies should take to comply with the General Duty.


Race: A protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins. People of all colours, nationalities and ethnic or national origins are protected in employment, education and provision of services and public functions. This includes people who have mixed heritage.

Reasonable adjustments: Alterations to the environment, services or practices which reduce or remove barriers for disabled people. Disabled people are entitled to reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010.

Reasonable: Employment law often uses the term ‘reasonable’. The two main uses of it in relation to equality are the duty to make reasonable adjustments and in the way employment tribunals assess claims by deciding whether it is likely a ‘reasonable person’ would have the same viewpoint as the claimant. In both cases, a decision on what is reasonable will vary according to the circumstances.

Refugee: A person whose application for asylum under the UN Refugee Convention has been successful and has been given leave to remain in the country they fled to as an asylum seeker. See also asylum seeker.

In its broader context it may also mean a person fleeing e.g. civil war or natural disaster and not necessarily fearing persecution as defined by the Convention. Such people may be entitled to humanitarian protection under paragraph 339C of the Immigration Rules.

Religion or belief: A protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. This includes any religious or similar philosophical belief, but does not include party political beliefs. It also includes lack of a religious or similar belief. People of different religions and beliefs (and of no religion or belief) are protected in employment, education and provision of services and public functions.

Scottish Human Rights Commission: The body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights in Scotland, particularly with regard to the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and Scottish public authorities. Unlike the Equality and Human Rights Commission, they do not offer advice or legal support to individuals.

Sex: A protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. People are protected from discrimination due to their male or female sex in employment, education and training and provision of services and public functions. This includes social concepts of gender which are related to physical sex.

Sexual orientation: A protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Bisexual, gay, lesbian and straight (heterosexual) people are all protected in employment, education and provision of services and public functions. Sexual orientation is about the gender of the people someone is mainly attracted to; it does not include any type of sexual preference or practice beyond this.

Social exclusion: A wide concept which is strongly linked to poverty. Many definitions exist, however it could be briefly described as exclusion from the things society expects people to be able to do, for example working, having enough income to meet material needs, having some degree of social life with friends and family, accessing essential services like transport and healthcare.

Social model of disability: Disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing physical, systemic and attitudinal barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives.

Disabled people developed the social model of disability because the traditional medical model did not explain their personal experience of disability or help to develop more inclusive ways of living.

Stereotyping: a preconceived and simplified conception of characteristics which typify a person or group of people;  presuming that a group of people will share a specific characteristic.


Transan umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) Transgender, Transsexual, Gender-queer (GQ), Gender-fluid, Non-binary, Gender-variant, Crossdresser, Genderless, Agender, Nongender, Transman, Transwoman. The Equality Act 2010 only protects people who intend to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment.
Transphobia: prejudice against trans people.

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