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Equality and Diversity can be a difficult issue to understand, particularly as the terminology used is sometimes confusing. As part of our commitment to raising awareness of equality this section provides a basic definition of some key terms.

Equal Opportunities

General terms to cover a range of meanings related to fairness, the ‘same' opportunity, stating a commitment not to discriminate.


Refers to a practice that takes account of and recognises different needs, backgrounds and experiences in a proactive way.


An umbrella phrase covering opportunity, outcome (groups should experience similar outcomes) and anti-discriminatory practice. Identifies an active approach to eliminating discrimination and promoting Equal Opportunities.

Positive Action

An organisation can take positive action to increase representation in the workforce of current under-represented groups. Often, positive action will counteract the effects of past discrimination.

Positive action is often confused with positive discrimination. Positive discrimination, for example employing someone because they come from a particular group, is unlawful.

However, having ‘targets' as a means of encouraging a change in practices and producing a fairer result in the future would be positive action.


Collecting, maintaining and analysing statistics on the profile of the workforce or student population.

Higher Education Institutions are required by law to monitor for equality and diversity in some equality areas. Even where it isn't a legal requirement it is good practice to be aware of the profile so that issues of under-representation can be addressed. Monitoring is necessary to ensure fair and equal treatment for all.


This term has legal status and refers to unfair treatment based on membership of a certain group.

Direct Discrimination

This occurs when an individual is treated less favourably than others because of belonging to a particular group e.g. gender, race.

Indirect Discrimination

This is more subtle and much more common. It arises when a provision, criterion or practice is imposed on everyone ‘equally' but, in fact, has a disproportionate and unjustifiable impact only on certain groups.


Discriminating against someone because they have made complaints of discrimination or given evidence in a legal case.


Where a person's dignity is violated or an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment is created.

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Last Modified: Wednesday, 29-Sep-2004 15:25:43 BST