Positive Discrimination – effective or detrimental?

Positive discrimination is a hot topic within the fields of social policy and the job market in the UK. It is also an issue that is largely discussed in the US with regard to the diversifying of the student selection process in US college campuses. The debate from this issue comes from whether the desire to broaden diversity is welcomed and are needed or whether it is racist, discriminatory and limiting the equality of opportunity of others.

Firstly, it is important to set clear definitions of the subject matter in question. By definition, Positive Discrimination is the practice or law that favours minority groups that have been previously subject to discrimination in the past. The debate, in the UK has recently primarily surrounds the pro-PD groups suggesting, with regards to issues in the job market, that positive discrimination policies should be implemented as a form of reparations and ironing out ‘systemic racism’. Essentially, they want to using it to give under represented groups a ‘leg up’ towards a fulfilling career path. The other side suggests that these exact policies are inherently racist, detrimental and undermines minority groups and their capabilities to achieve higher paying positions based on merit alone.

With regards to the UK in particular, any policies that are deemed to be promoting positive discrimination or selecting people to bolster company diversity are unlawful in the UK. However, it is constantly preached that business owners diversify their businesses. This poses the question, how do people produce a viable metric that selects the appropriate candidates, diversifies the company/organisation and does not violate UK anti-discrimination legislation? The honest answer is, nobody yet knows. Despite this however, opinions on this topic are rife so it is important to look at examples.

The UK police force gives us our most recent examples of how these efforts to diversify are proving difficult to manage. The home office offers diversity statistics of the UK police force. As of the 31st of March 2018, the current ethnic diversity distribution is around 93.4% white and 6.6% came from all other ethnic groups. Between 2007 and 2018, the percentage of ethnic minorities increased 2.7%. With regards to women in the police force, it currently sits at around 30% of the police force, across all positions are female, according to the home office. This is the prime example of a sector dominated by white males that has been recently under fire for lack of diversity in its ranks.  

Another strong example is the statistics in the creative and cultural sectors of work. A report by The Think Tank in London suggests that BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) groups are ‘Locked out’ of opportunities in this sector. Statistically, these minority groups account for only 23% of the creative and cultural industry. The Think Tank, in London, identifies key factors in the ‘locking out’ of minority groups. They are:

Being unable to afford unpaid internships. 

Being ill-equipped to adapt to unstructured career paths like freelance working.

Not knowing the right people.

Despite these being displayed as problems intrinsic to creative sectors of employment, they are not only isolated in these sectors. 

Despite the discrepancies between ethnic ‘blockers’ and lack of diversity, is the answer allowing ‘Justified’ discriminatory legislation to even the score? Is it important to take a look at the terminology that is encompassed within the phrase ‘Positive Discrimination’. As defined, discrimination is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. In the UK, under the Equality Act of 2010, Discrimination based on race, age, gender and sexual orientation, among other things, is illegal. 

Here is where the debate really takes hold. Is the ‘inequality of opportunity’ for BAME groups factually deemed justified enough to manipulate the Equality Act of 2010 in favour of these groups and against the ethnic white? 

On one side, unjust discrimination of anyone, in any given situation is wrong. Going from arguably ‘limiting’ one groups opportunities to another will just stimulate equal backlash from the other side. Positive Discrimination can often undermine the abilities and qualities of the people it seeks to help. It poses new questions of how people get jobs, did they get the job on merit or by companies fulfilling a diversity fuelled quota? It is often questionable whether the statistics are truly reflective of a need for change. Population statistics, from the last census indicate that between 80-87% of the UK population is White. It would be mathematically logical that more jobs, across the board, are filled by a majority of white individuals.

On the other side, there are factors from the job market that do generate inequality of opportunity that would need addressing. For example, the  resurgence of unpaid internships do create more opportunities for the economically superior and limit the opportunities for those that cannot afford to do them. They are also seemingly illegal as in most cases, they are taking a service from a working individual without paying the dividend to that person.

Fringe cases of ‘Systemic racism’ may play a part in the refusal to hire certain ethnic groups. It is also not isolated to ethnic groups. Women have proclaimed their struggles to enter certain walks of work. It would be fantastic to see people of all races and genders cooperating together in all walks of employment and it could be the answer for levelling the playing field.

It is important to make it less about who you know, your socioeconomic background and your culture and upbringing. Make it more about your skills, personal development. equality of opportunity is a must but equality of outcome should not be guaranteed to give incentives for individuals to work harder. Generally, I am typically against the idea of Positive Discrimination. The justifications that pro-PD people give for altering current discrimination legislation, to me are not warranted enough as the facts are not strong enough to suggest there is a systemic problem. Opinions of change appear to be often based on fringe cases. However, having said this, I am 100% for PD if the facts suggest there is an inherent problem with our current recruiting systems and if it suggest that blatant discrimination is occurring. I am also for PD if you can find a metric that satisfies the three criteria we looked at before. Those being: selecting the appropriate candidates, diversifying the company/organisation whilst not violate UK anti-discrimination legislation. However, under current conditions, and with the solutions offered, you would be very hard pressed to achieve that. But it is always worth trying.

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