When carrying out their functions, almost all public-sector bodies, eg NI Executive departments, local councils, health and social care trusts, the NI Housing Executive and housing associations, the Education Authority and others, are obliged to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between nine categories of people (ie between men and women generally, between people of different religious belief, political opinion, race, age, sexual orientation, marital status and between people who have dependants and those who do not and between people who are disabled and those who are not).
This duty is called Section 75, Northern Ireland Act 1998.
The Section 75 duty does not apply to private businesses in Northern Ireland.
However, the relevant public authorities will be considering it when awarding tenders and contracts for the supply of goods and services. If you are seeking to win such contracts, the relevant body may ask you to prove that you are an equal opportunities employer. They may do this by requesting that you provide them with a copy of your equality and diversity policy or prove that you are registered with the Equality Commission (if you are obliged to be registered) and that you have not been disqualified from seeking such contracts
Therefore you may have a competitive advantage if you already have good equality and diversity practices in place. It will certainly make it easier for you to answer questions about this, if asked.
Note that if you have a contract with a public body, the duty to comply with Section 75 remains with that body. But, the contract might include a term or condition that requires you to periodically show that you continue to be an equal opportunities employer and service provider and that you are continually making good faith efforts to comply with your duties under equality law.