College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Researchers examine workplace equality legislation

Edinburgh researchers are partnering with two UK universities to produce a comprehensive history of key workplace equality legislation.

The universities have joined forces to produce the first comprehensive interdisciplinary history of the creation, trajectories, legacies and lived experience of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (now integrated for GB in the Equality Act 2010) across the four nations of the UK.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, University College London (UCL) and the University of the West of England will examine the period from 1964, when equal pay was first included as a party manifesto commitment, up to 2020, drawing on methods and sources in legal and gender history.

The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

It is the first research to examine the history of responses to workplace sexual harassment (judged to be a form of discrimination in 1986) up to and included #MeToo.

Representing the University of Edinburgh on the project are Principal Investigator, Professor Louise Jackson from the School of History, Classics & Archaeology, and Co-investigator Professor Fiona Mackay from the School of Social & Political Science and Research Fellow, Dr Ashlee Christoffersen. Co-investigators from the partner institutions are Professor Colm O’Cinneide (UCL Faculty of Laws) and Professor Hazel Conley (University of the West of England).

We thought this project was absolutely crucial – and crucial to do now – because of the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, which was marked in 2020. We became very aware that despite the fact that these forms of legislation have been in place for 50 years, very little feels as though it has changed; the challenges associated with getting equal pay still hit the headlines on a regular basis. It raised the issue for us as to why, despite the passage of 50 years, there still seems to be such significant work to do.

Professor Louise JacksonSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology

The team was clear that the research needed to be both interdisciplinary and intersectional.

It’s really important to emphasise the interdisciplinary nature of the project because although the whole issue of workplace gender equality has been looked at almost nonstop since the legislation came into being, it’s tended to be looked at in discipline silos. It’s been looked at from an industrial relations perspective, it’s been looked at from quite narrow legal perspectives, it’s been looked at by policy experts – but these disciplines have tended not to encounter each other.

Professor Louise JacksonSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology

The very act of recording, of taking testimony and sharing stories of lived experience of these laws, the developments in policy and practice are a really great contribution in and of themselves. We’ll be including voices that have been side-lined or seldom heard, and I think that what it will create is both a sense of the bigger picture, and also an archive and resource.

Professor Fiona MackayProfessor of Politics in SSPS, and Director of GenderEd

The project blog will be updated regularly with written content, as well as podcasts from the research team, advisory group and other external contributors, and later with reflections on research progress and insights from oral history interviews.

 Gender Equalities at Work 

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