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To think that it's how positive discrimination is put in place that matters?

(44 Posts)
RivetingRushes Fri 26-Jun-20 09:33:15

A friend's workplace were discussing actively seeking to employ more of a particular minority (think women, or BAME people).

My friend (who is of the minority that they are hoping to employ more of) said that she agreed with positively discriminating to allow more of this minority in, but only if they were as qualified or only slightly less qualified than other candidates.

She explained that this because, if all of the members of staff of a particular minority have significantly worse qualifications, and so do a worse job, then that might actually incorrectly reinforce the prejudice.

What are people's opinions on this?

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RivetingRushes Fri 26-Jun-20 09:33:53

*than the best available candidate

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Calic0 Fri 26-Jun-20 09:42:37

I have never liked the idea of positive discrimination myself - but I’m aware that as a white, middle class woman that’s probably really easy for me to say and a prime example of why I need to educate myself on issues around racial discrimination in the workplace*. I tend to agree that if you are going to positively discriminate, you still need to employ people who are capable of doing the job otherwise you’re creating a world of trouble for yourself and, yes, potentially reinforcing negative stereotypes.

(*Although according to the OP I am a minority group grin)

RivetingRushes Fri 26-Jun-20 09:45:46

@Calic0 I suppose my referring to women as a minority was a bit too general, as it depends on the profession.

If you are a nurse or teacher, then obviously no, women aren't, but in engineering or construction, women definitely are.

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Valkadin Fri 26-Jun-20 09:55:12

I was involved with writing equal opportunities policies way back in 1990. At the time the thinking was very new and people were out and out against it. Plus the survey I sent out to all local government workers regarding women in the workforce for a council meant I received some hate mail. I’m also an ethnic minority not that it should matter.

The best candidate should get the job regardless of race, gender etc. What those policies do is challenge deep seated prejudice. There has been plenty of research on exact applications sent with both English and minority names given and only the alleged English candidate being invited for interview.

You can legislate as much as you want but the person sifting the applications may hold certain prejudices and ideals. But I am with your friend here, tokenism can be a bad thing. Plus look at the damage the all women shortlists did to Blair and the Blairs babes headline that followed. Many of those women deserved to be there but people could always say you only got that because of the policy.

Remove the barriers but the best human whoever they may be should get the job.

Eskarina1 Fri 26-Jun-20 09:59:39

I think how it's done is important. I'm white passing but actually mixed heritage. The last time I declared it on a form at work (15 years ago) within 24 hours I, as a brand new and inexperienced team member, was offered a place on a very high profile committee, with huge career impact. It took me a while to realise why. Now I only declare my ethnicity if it's medically relevant.

I think positive discrimination should be about creating routes in (at all ages). Because it's not about creating a board or company that reflects tick boxes, it's about creating equality of access and ensuring that the experiences of different groups are reflected. My privately educated cousins, from a very secure middle class background have absolutely faced racism and it has been harder for them to progress but they shouldn't be the sole beneficiaries of positive discrimination. It needs also to support those who couldn't get the education or experience to make the best use of their talents because of discrimination.

Chemenger Fri 26-Jun-20 10:00:32

In my university engineering department we “actively encourage female applicants” but when it comes to appointing people it really only means that if there were two equally qualified people we would choose the woman. We would not appoint a weaker candidate because of their sex. Same for shortlisting the women only get shortlisted if they meet the criteria.

Vieve1325 Fri 26-Jun-20 10:06:19

There’s a fine line between positive action and positive discrimination.

In my experience, Positive Action is about helping to remove barriers and encourage minorities / genders into professions in a balanced and fair way, based on merit.

Positive Discrimination is a lazy box ticking exercise and unlawful.

LangClegsInSpace Fri 26-Jun-20 10:12:43

This type of positive action is only lawful if the candidates are equally qualified.

Sindragosan Fri 26-Jun-20 10:13:51

Positive discrimination is only useful if you're actively stamping out discriminatory behaviour as well. I've worked in areas that are heavily white male populations and several ethnic minorities/women etc. have been hounded out through overt bullying and harassment. No point recruiting just to end up in a tribunal.

RivetingRushes Fri 26-Jun-20 10:15:23

@Valkadin wow, that must have been quite a job. I send flowers as you didn't deserve hate mail for carrying out that important work.

Your viewpoint makes sense to me. I agree regarding the disconnect between legislation and what people actually do.

I think that applications omitting factors that aren't actually relevant to the job, but do lead to discrimination (i.e: for a bogstandard office worker, it would be name, gender, age, ethnicity ...etc), such that applications just list relevant things (like their experience and qualifications) is the way forward.

With regards to my friend, I was curious as to why she thought that letting people in with slightly lower relevant values (i.e: job experience, qualifications ...etc), and she said it was because you need to take into account the different life experiences that candidates might have had (i.e: a more privledged candidate can afford to do long unpaid internships to get experience, whereas a candidate from a disadvantaged background can't, a candidate with disabilities may get less work experience than a healthy candidate as places of work don't want to have to adapt the workspace to make it accessible to the disabled person, so avoid hiring the disabled person ...etc).

I admittedly hadn't really considered any of that. It seems to me to be a bit of a grey area as to how you would comprehensively and fairly consider all the different factors that might disadvantage a person, but I agree with her in principle.

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ghostyslovesheets Fri 26-Jun-20 10:15:28

I think people don't understand what PD means!

Generally it means if somebody from an under represented group applies for a job AND MEETS ALL THE SELECTION CRITERIA they are guaranteed an interview and IF they do well at interview and it comes down to a choice of EQUALLY good candidates they will be favoured

it should never be about giving unqualified or poor candidates a job!

VesperLynne Fri 26-Jun-20 10:16:15

Excluding an amplicant on the colour of their skin is still distrimination , however you try and woke it.

RivetingRushes Fri 26-Jun-20 10:23:50

@Eskarina1 that makes sense. So it's important to make nuanced policies that consider multiple factors carefully, rather than blunt "you have X attribute so we'll automatically do y" policies that actually still lead to inequality in the workplace.

@Chemenger, @LangClegsInSpace, and @ghostyslovesheets makes sense.

@Vieve1325 positive action does sound much more effective than positive discrimination. I didn't know the difference between them before, thank you for sharing smile

@Sindragosan that is a useful point, so it's something that should be accompanied by cultural reforms in the workplace

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SchrodingersImmigrant Fri 26-Jun-20 10:26:05

There was a law suit for discrimination against Cheshire police. By a white guy.

Positive discrimination shouldn't happen. Positive action however, can be really good tool if company needs to use it.

Hiring someone who doesn't fit requirements, just because of their skin colour or gender? Not ok.
Hiring someone who fit requirements as others did because of their skin colour or gender? Ok.

We shouldn't let things get to the point when someone is discriminated against because they are white male and went to better primary school... We should start at making all primary schools better. If you see what I mean

RivetingRushes Fri 26-Jun-20 10:32:38

@SchrodingersImmigrant that makes sense. So it's about using positive action rather than positive discrimination, and reforms educationally (and I guess pastorally for certain traits) to ensure that candidates are more evenly matched to begin with

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SnuggyBuggy Fri 26-Jun-20 10:47:30

I suppose ideally you'd go all the way back to look at why certain people are less likely to be qualified for jobs rather than try a quick fix to get them into the jobs.

CherryValanc Fri 26-Jun-20 10:49:37

Where I work this kicks in if there are two candidates of equal measure and one it a man and the other a woman. In this case, the woman will get the role. (This for senior roles only.) It's a very large business and men still get in the roles - a few people complain and think themselves hard done by. But as they say, equality can feel like discrimination when you've been used to privilege.

It made a difference - and the women in the senior roles are very capable.

rosiejaune Fri 26-Jun-20 11:52:49

It should be about potential to do the role long-term. It shouldn't matter if they have worse qualifications or much less experience, because that is often a result of being a member of that social minority group.

Saying "they should be equally qualified" assumes they have an equal chance to achieve those qualifications, which they usually don't.

So the employer should be trying to assess their potential for the role, not their current ability. Doing this via a standard interview may be problematic partly because of their own unconscious bias against group members, and partly because of the format.

A work trial may be a fairer way of establishing this, so they actually get a chance to prove they are capable of learning the role.

It may take more time and effort to do it that way, but you will end up with the best candidate, chosen fairly.

SchrodingersImmigrant Fri 26-Jun-20 12:27:16

There is a fine line between promoting a diversity and punishing people for having chance of qualifications.

I do believe that if we want to see an actual difference, we must start at the beginning, not the end.

We must ensure children have access to good schools even if they live in deprived areas. That's where it starts. That's where we can kill this issue.

EmbarrassingAdmissions Fri 26-Jun-20 12:37:40

The best candidate should get the job regardless of race, gender etc..

Best candidate based on what? Doing the job and fitting in in the SAMO?

Too many senior boards and committees don't have any awareness of what they don't know or the perspectives that they lack. Ditto for research, education, healthcare, government - it affects everything.

One of my favourite news items from earlier this year involved what happened when an Oxford college implemented positive discrimination: State pupils flock to Oxford college — and degree results soar

"Denying that it was social engineering, she recalled how she had once discussed with a judge positive discrimination for female lawyers wanting to join the bench. “He said, ‘You know, I think it would be dreadful for women. They would feel they were only there because they were women.’ And I said to him, ‘Does it undermine your self-confidence that you’re a white man? Do you ever think, maybe I’m only a judge because I’m a white man and if I was a woman I wouldn’t be here?’”"

The woman who introduced it said that it was about recognising patterns of advantage and setting them aside to recognise the potential that is elsewhere.

Paywall link:,students%20cut%20by%20three%2Dquarters.

heartsonacake Fri 26-Jun-20 12:39:29

It should always be a case of the best person for the job gets the job, regardless of sex/race/age etc.

We should not be recruiting from specific minorities just to ensure we have a certain number of that minority. That is doing them a disservice and is unfair on those who are better for the job.

SchrodingersImmigrant Fri 26-Jun-20 13:01:14

I agree with @heartsonacake

There was an article in guardian about positive action and how it felt like it took something off the achievement. I get both views tbh.

EmbarrassingAdmissions Fri 26-Jun-20 13:12:18

Disparities for women and BAME are growing in a number of professional settings.

Overwhelmingly, the Rapid Review committees on which some people are making their names and getting remarkable career opportunities are male and lack ethnic diversity. Because it was easier to insist that the committees and teams should be made up of people with a track record of working together. All very rational - but it means the diversity is nowhere. Lots of excellent individuals who've made some remarkable errors for the lack of diversity of perspective.

And, in the future, they will continue to be the go-to people because they work together and they 'proved' themselves. The fact that they did it because others weren't given consideration or opportunities - that will be invisible. It will be transformed into self-evident meritocracy.

I'm concerned that it's the SAMO that decides what is counted as "best" - no challenge to the status quo and the "pattern of advantage" continues to self-perpetuate.

okiedokieme Fri 26-Jun-20 13:16:18

Ideally the best candidate gets the job. In reality it's often the candidate that the interviewer gets along with best that is hired, and typically they will be similar to them eg too often white and male. Ensuring short lists include candidates who maybe on paper don't seem as impressive (perhaps nobody has helped them write their cv) is a better approach that hiring inferior candidates

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