Inequalities continue to blight workplaces despite anti-discrimination legislation

A new book, ‘Making equality count’, concludes that despite Irish and EU legislation outlawing discrimination, inequalities between groups appear to be an enduring feature of Irish and European societies. Accurately measuring discrimination is a crucial yet challenging task. The book showcases Irish and international research on inequality, and on discrimination as a contributor to that inequality, highlighting advances in the measurement of discrimination.

A new book, Making Equality Count, exploring the linkages between discrimination and inequality in Ireland and a number of other countries was published in November 2010. The book draws on Irish and international research on inequality that adopts a range of different methods to address key questions about the incidence, distribution and effects of discrimination and inequality, as well as considering some of its antecedents. The book originated from papers presented at a conference in Dublin in June 2010 organised by the Equality Authority, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and the Geary Institute, University College Dublin. Its publication was co-funded under PROGRESS – the European Union’s Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity.

A range of discriminatory grounds are covered with individual chapters focusing on gender, disability and ethnicity/nationality; one chapter examines the intersection between two grounds, while others consider a range of grounds. Some chapters report single studies or projects and some present an overview of research in the area. Four studies focus on Ireland; others report research from the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK) and a range of other western countries.

What the chapters share is an overall concern with measuring equality and discrimination. Following an introductory chapter by the book’s editors, the next four chapters focus on how to explicitly measure and describe the extent of discrimination; the last four look primarily at equality, but reflect on discrimination. Selected findings from some of the chapters are detailed below.

Discrimination underreported

In the first presented paper from the conference, Helen Russell and colleagues discuss self-reported discrimination in Ireland for a range of aspects (domains) using national survey data representing the whole population. While self-reports are subjective and in essence reflect an individual’s experience of discrimination, this survey followed best practice to minimise bias. Questions were limited to specific domains and referred to a particular time period; for example, respondents were asked about their experience of discrimination in the workplace, while looking for work, and in places like shops, pubs and restaurants.

The authors note that people with disabilities and non-Irish nationals experience discrimination in a wide variety of domains. For other groups, discrimination is more context-specific. Another salient finding is that only 40% of those experiencing discrimination reported this to anyone and the social groups with the highest rates of discrimination are the least likely to take action.

In general, the authors suggest the findings on self-reported discrimination are consistent with those from other studies of objective outcomes in Ireland – for women, non-Irish nationals and people with disabilities. However, the comparison suggests that older people and those with low education are more likely to underreport discrimination – an issue discussed in the chapter’s conclusion.

Discrimination in recruiting non-Irish

In another chapter, Frances McGinnity and colleagues test for discrimination in recruitment against minority immigrant groups – the first experiment of its kind in Ireland. Ireland is an interesting case as the recent economic boom was accompanied by a flood of immigrants with different national backgrounds into a country previously overwhelmingly white and Irish.

The researchers sent out almost 500 equivalent CVs in response to advertised vacancies for jobs in administration, finance and retail sales in the greater Dublin area. They found that candidates with Irish names are over twice as likely to be asked to attend an interview as candidates with an African, Asian or German name. The discrimination rate was relatively high by international standards and did not vary across occupation.

Differential outcomes across groups

The final three chapters present empirical evidence on differential outcomes across groups, examining gender inequality (Mary Gregory), disability (Brenda Gannon and Brian Nolan) and the intersection between gender and disability (Dorothy Watson and Peter Lunn).

In policy debates on discrimination and disadvantage, the notion of multiple disadvantage has gained considerable appeal, though it is rarely tested empirically across a range of outcomes. In a study using 2006 Irish Census data, Dorothy Watson and Peter Lunn operationalise some of these ideas. Does membership of two disadvantaged groups increase the risk of a negative outcome and, if so, is this increase in risk additive or exponential? They test this by examining differences by gender and disability status for four outcomes:

  • risk of low education;
  • labour market participation;
  • unemployment;
  • being in low-skilled employment.

The authors conclude that it is difficult to generalise about multiple disadvantage as patterns of disadvantage vary substantially across outcomes. And while disadvantage may not be additive, any one group may experience high levels of disadvantage on one ground alone. Indeed, an interesting lesson from their chapter is that the notion of multiple disadvantage may be simple but its application to real-life data is complex. Exploring multiple disadvantage can draw attention to the fact that the interaction of education, labour market and lifecycle processes may result in unexpected outcomes.


Bond, L., McGinnity, F. and Russell, H. (eds.), Making equality count: Irish and international research measuring equality and discrimination, Dublin, The Liffey Press, 2010, available online at [for copyright reasons some chapters are not available to download].

Tony Dobbins, NUI Galway

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