· 2 min read · Features

Problem that cant be cured by positive discrimination


Taking positive action to overcome the effects of past discrimination through training and encouragement is legitimate. Positive discrimination, on the other hand, is illegal. The recent Patten Report on the RUC in Northern Ireland has recommended that the mix of the police force should move towards 50% Protestant and 50% Roman Catholics over the next 10 years. Is this the way we ought to redress imbalances that occur in workplaces or is it more important to get the right person for the job? Is it wrong to call an institution racist and could doing so damage HRs ability to recruit fairly? Cassandra Stout investigates

Kay Allen, diversity manager, B&Q

Positive discrimination does not work. It is a short-term PR solution that does not go to the root of the problem. It is an unhealthy way of tackling discrimination. You can approach people in any way you like for recruitment say, targeting disabled people. But the best way is to create the right culture in the first place. You will get a better response when you advertise in-store for disabled applicants if you make sure you have wide aisles and large signs. Diversity management should be customer-led. It should not be employment-driven; it is more holistic than that. It is about being a good company. Race has to be looked at in the context of the local culture. In B&Q Leicester there is a very natural comfortable diversity reflecting a community of third-generation Asians. This will not be the case in the Reading store.

Robert Hayles, effectiveness/diversity consultant, Minnesota, US

Positive action is right when taken for the appropriate reasons. Diversity adds value to a company and helps it to avoid making mistakes. But positive discrimination just for the sake of conforming to quotas is probably not the best approach. Where there is significant under-representation of certain groups, proactive strategies can work. Someone in every organisation needs to address the issue of diversity, whether it be an HR manager or someone else. It is not helpful to call an organisation racist negative terminology is not productive. Labelling neither feels good for the sender or recipient. It would be better to suggest an organisation needs to improve in one area or another.

Julie Mellor, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and on the Commission for Racial Equality and The Employer Forum for Disability

Positive discrimination is unlawful in the UK. We practise selection on merit. Diversity managers or HR directors can set objectives but it really depends on the culture of the organisation whether or not integration happens. Getting the right person for the job and reflecting the community are not mutually exclusive; they have a synergetic relationship. A broad range of candidates will show that organisations are advertising in the right places. Companies need to look at how they attract people what image do they project? Qualifications are not the issue any more for ethnic minorities or women. The responsibility lies with those involved in the selection process and their perception of the abilities that candidates offer. Organisations also need to examine how they retain staff and how they make them feel valued. They need to be self-critical and work out what is getting in the way of recruiting women, ethnic minorities and the disabled. Less than 20% of managers are women and there is high unemployment for black men. These are issues organisations must acknowledge and decide for themselves what they want to change.