Equal Opportunity, the concept that everyone should have an equal opportunity in society, particularly in the job market and education, and that no one should be subject to unfair discrimination.
Many countries now have laws making it illegal to refuse to employ someone simply on the grounds of race or gender. Some organizations, for example in the United States, go so far as to operate a policy of positive discrimination, for instance, in favour of people from ethnic minorities that are felt to be under-represented in the workforce. However, positive race discrimination is illegal in the United Kingdom under the Race Relations Act (1976); “positive action”, such as nondiscriminatory training programmes to redress the balance or counterbalance past discrimination, is permissible.
Although considerable progress has been made towards the goal of equal opportunity, especially equal pay, the facts imply that there is still some way to go. In the United Kingdom, women now make up about half of the workforce, yet average wages for women are still only around 65 to 75 per cent of the level of those for men. It is also true that there are still few women in senior business positions. In 1994, less than 1 per cent of major British companies had a chairwoman or female chief executive/managing director (Crawfords Directory of City Connections). This figure remained very low at the turn of the century when, in 2000, only 10 out of 639 executive directors of Britain’s top hundred companies (1.6 per cent) were female. In 2001, about 57 per cent of the largest companies in the United Kingdom had no female representative on the board, compared with 69 per cent in 1999.
In recent years increased emphasis has been put on eradicating unfair discrimination on grounds of age, disability, or sexual orientation.