Structural fund programmes are implemented in accordance with the principles of non-discrimination, which means that no groups of people are discriminated against in the preparation, decision-making, project selection and implementation, monitoring, reporting and assessment.  Identification of discrimination is a basic requirement for ensuring non-discrimination. The programme must take into account that nobody may be discriminated against on the basis of gender, age, ethnic or national origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. Programme planning, implementation and assessment are based on the fact that the quality of the activities will improve as consideration is given to the differences between people.

Discrimination may be direct or indirect, in the form of harassment or in the form of orders or instructions to discriminate.  Under the Non-Discrimination Act, direct discrimination means a situation where people are, have been or would be treated less favourably than other people in a comparable situation on the basis of an illegal discrimination criterion. For example, in Finland, members of the Roma minority experience direct discrimination when they are not served in shops. Indirect discrimination means that an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice puts people at a disadvantage compared with other people on the basis of an illegal discrimination criterion. An immigrant may face indirect discrimination in a recruiting situation if for example a cleaner is required to speak perfect Finnish.

The programme promotes non-discrimination in many ways. For example, it is possible to support entrepreneurship among women and special groups. Workable structures promote the inclusion of all groups. Workable public transport solutions can be developed in the programme, in which case development activities taking into account the needs of special groups can promote the inclusion of the elderly, children, the young and people with disabilities.

The EU regulation on ESF activities also requires that ESF programmes support specific actions aimed at combating discrimination. The aim of the specific actions is to reduce discrimination, promote participation in working life and education, strengthen social cohesion and reduce inequality in the accessibility to education and working life irrespective of health. The measures carried out as part of a structural fund programme can reduce direct and indirect discrimination by increasing awareness of the groups facing the risk of discrimination.

The programme can also promote the social inclusion and employment of the Roma, immigrants and people with disabilities. The programme allows the development of working life and skills in which consideration is given to the situation and service needs of special groups and improves the access of such groups as people with partial working capacity, people with disabilities, members of the Roma minority and immigrants to education and working life. When services are developed, consideration is also given to ensuring that physical obstacles do not make them less accessible.  Accessibility is the starting point and a requirement in the development of all operating models, services and structures. The programme promotes the diversity of working life and, consequently, non-discrimination.