The World of Work by Harry Sherrard

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

As an economic migrant myself – I was born and raised in Northern Ireland – equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is a subject on which I have abundant personal perspective. But from attending an English university at age 18, through Law School, to becoming a partner in a Sussex law firm, to establishing my own practice in 1999, I have had few negative experiences. By and large I have been accepted by and integrated into the Home Counties. So much so that an old friend recently discussed with me “our” prospects in the Six Nations; until I reminded him that I am not English!

But that does not apply to everyone, and many employees have experienced prejudice in the workplace. A matrix of anti-discrimination laws was consolidated into The Equality Act in 2010. This Act sets out a number of “protected characteristics” such as gender, ethnicity and disability, and gives legal protection to employees against detrimental treatment on those grounds.

A relatively recent addition to the anti-discrimination legislation was age. We are shortly to reach a milestone; 10 years since employees could be compulsorily retired. Employers used to be able to force workers to retire at 65 (known as the Default Retirement Age), but this law was scrapped in April 2011. Since then, employees can continue working, effectively indefinitely, unless the occupation has a retirement age set by other legislation, as is the case with pilots, for example.

As always when there is a change in the law, there is concern and indeed some resistance. I recall employers 10 years ago expressing concern that employees older than 65 would have neither the physical capacity nor the ambition to be as productive as younger colleagues. In those conversations I took to reminding clients that Sir Winston Churchill first became Prime Minister in May 1940 shortly before his 66th birthday! As a 65 year old, his best years were still in front of him.

Attitudes to age have certainly changed over recent decades. The miners’ strike of 1984 took place when I was at university. The miners’ leader, Arthur Scargill, ardent trade unionist and doyen of workers’ rights, disparagingly referred to the Chairman of the National Coal Board, the 72 year old Ian MacGregor, as “the elderly American” and said that “I am not prepared to accept the imposition of a pensioner from the United States”. Back then, no-one took much notice, but today those remarks would be considered both ageist and racist.

Perhaps influenced by this, Ian MacGregor later became an active campaigner against ageism in employment, and he was still working aged 85 when he died. Part of his legacy is that, like him, employees can now choose to work on into later life if they choose to do so.

At Sherrards we offer an extensive catalogue of training with courses tailored to many issues that organisations face and are delighted to announce that we are offering a 2.5 hour, online training course on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. If you would like further information on the training or any of the topics detailed in this blog please email

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