Appendix 1 Definitions and Key Concepts
The following points help describe the scope of EEO as it is applied in New Zealand in 1997, and are the working definitions used in this policy. An understanding of the meaning of the following terms is important, as the development and practice of EEO in countries around the world has given rise to local understandings of the direction and scope of EEO. The development and practice of EEO in New Zealand has been shaped by the adoption of particular aspects of international good practice as well as by factors specific to New Zealand such as the Treaty of Waitangi, the state sector reforms and employment law.
It is important to note that the explanations in this appendix describe our understanding of EEO in 1997. This has evolved since the initial Government commitment to EEO in 1984, and will continue to evolve to match changing environments over the period to 2010.
Equal employment opportunities (EEO) is a term used to describe both a strategy for change and the result of that change. The result is a workplace in which everyone is able to participate and compete equitably, to develop to their full potential and be rewarded fairly for this contribution regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, age or family circumstances.6
As a strategy for change, EEO covers a range of activities. Firmly based on the application of the merit principle, EEO is concerned with identifying and eliminating unfair discriminatory practices, creating an environment which encourages and supports the full participation of staff, and attracting and retaining a diverse staff.
Affirmative action is one aspect of a three-pronged approach (together with the removal of bias from human resource systems and the changing of workplace cultures) to achieving EEO goals. It is aimed at removing, or compensating for, barriers to employment opportunities for members of EEO groups, and developing strategies to address their employment needs. This generally includes developing the skills and career aspirations of members of EEO groups so that individuals can compete on an equal footing with those from 'mainstream' groups.
Affirmative action is not preferential treatment and does not require employers to hire or promote unqualified people. Affirmative action in employment in New Zealand has always been firmly associated with the application of the merit principle, which means that strategies such as positive discrimination or quotas have never been adopted here.
EEO in New Zealand has always taken a three-pronged, comprehensive approach, based on affirmative action, removal of bias from human resource management systems and other organisational systems, and changing of workplace cultures.
EEO sets out to address all unfair discrimination in employment, whether direct, indirect or structural.
Direct discrimination is overt, both verbal and non-verbal, and occurs when personal characteristics irrelevant to the capacity to do the job (such as gender or ethnicity) are taken into account in employment decisions.
Indirect discrimination occurs when policies, procedures and practices which appear to be fair in fact suit a particular group of people and disadvantage other groups, i.e. when applied equally, they affect different groups unequally.
Structural (often referred to as systemic) discrimination occurs when an entire network of rules and practices disadvantages less empowered groups while serving at the same time to advantage the dominant group.
The 'collective' characteristic of discrimination is fundamental to understanding EEO, and underpins the concept of EEO groups. Unfair discrimination refers to the way in which a person or a group of people are treated because they have a common characteristic that puts them outside the mainstream or dominant group (in terms of numbers or power, or both). Traditionally these characteristics include ethnicity, race, colour, gender and disability.
EEO concentrates on groups of people who experience unfair discrimination and are excluded from full participation in the workforce. The result is that they may be located at the lower salary levels, and may lack access to decision-making roles and influence. Even early career success may end at a point where the 'glass ceiling' is met.
In 1988 section 56 of the State Sector Act recognised groups considered to be most adversely affected in employment in New Zealand. These groups are: Maori, ethnic or minority groups (in the Public Service this has always been separated into Pacific Islands people and ethnic groups), women, and persons with disabilities. This is consistent with approaches taken internationally.7 There has not been sufficient change or development in the employment position of these groups to consider that they no longer need a specific focus. Section 58 of the State Sector Act allows for the naming of additional groups if necessary.
In the past seven years several departments in the Public Service have developed a focus on additional groups of employees who are experiencing discrimination. Most commonly these groups have been lesbian and gay staff, people with family responsibilities, and older employees.8 Departments can designate additional EEO groups as appropriate, e.g. if the nature of the department's business suggests the need for a focus on particular groups. In future, there is likely to be an increased emphasis on unfair discrimination based on life-stage (a term that encompasses all who experience unfair discrimination because of age), whether older or younger.
An equity filter comprises a series of deliberate (mental or written) checks undertaken to ensure equitable outcomes for all groups of staff. An example would be a checklist for developing job descriptions to ensure appropriate language, and a focus on skills and knowledge necessary for the position (rather than irrelevant qualities and characteristics) and ways of developing these.
Since 1990 there has been a trend for EEO to be integrated into the human resource systems, management practices and core business of departments. Integration has been encouraged in departments in which EEO baseline practices are well established.
The SSC report EEO: 1984 to 1994 and Beyond proposed three particular components for integration of EEO:
- alignment of EEO with departmental business goals;
- integration with strategic human resource planning and practice; and
- customisation of the implementation and operation of EEO in terms of organisational culture, size, structure and systems.
In considering the increased integration of EEO into the structures, functions and processes of departments, a number of issues appear. These include:
- ensuring that integration represents maintenance and development of the EEO agenda (rather than extinction); and
- the need to develop practical methods for the implementation of EEO as part of an integrated management approach.
There is a clear need for any organisation moving toward integration of EEO to have met identified baseline practices such as a clear organisational commitment to EEO, an established database and monitoring system, and appropriate training, particularly for managers. Once this is achieved, there needs to be a clear strategy for maintaining and developing EEO as an integral part of the business by providing an equity filter on all aspects of the business, and for tracking EEO progress.
EEO in New Zealand has always been associated with the merit principle where merit is carefully defined to eliminate both direct and indirect bias. The best person for the position is then appointed, based on an objective assessment of candidates against merit criteria. The definition of merit is not fixed but is related to the particular requirements of a specific position.
In effect EEO places a spotlight on merit. An EEO approach to merit critically evaluates 'standards and practices and selection criteria to ensure they do not exclude qualified people from consideration for positions and employment benefits. This involves not only removing arbitrary, artificial and unnecessary barriers to employment opportunities, but a re-assessment of current standards so that a more realistic interpretation of what "merit" actually involves for particular jobs or benefits is applied'.9
EEO is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation. Management are responsible for developing and implementing EEO policy and practice Staff have an individual responsibility to behave according to organisational values and standards, particularly those related to fairness and non-discriminatory behaviour.
6 The specific EEO groups listed in section 56 of the State Sector Act 1988 are Maori, ethnic or minority groups, women, and persons with disabilities. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, age or family status is unlawful under the Human Rights Act 1993.
7 In the Public Service of Canada designated groups are Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, persons in a visible minority, and women; in the Australian Public Service the groups are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disabilities, people of non-English speaking background, and women.
8 The existence of network groups in departments has tended to be used as a (conservative) proxy for those departments which have developed a focus on additional groups. In 1995 there were 10 departments with lesbian and gay networks (or some variation on this), and 5 departments with networks for people with family responsibilities.
9 Burton, C. Redefining Merit, monograph No. 2, Affirmative Action Agency, Commonwealth of Australia, 1988.