Positive Discrimination or Positive Action?

Positive Discrimination or Positive Action?

  • Date: Monday 27th June 2016

The spotlight was on the BBC once again in June, with claims that producers of The One Show were favouring candidates from certain minorities and age groups. The claims were made after an internal memo was leaked, asking for job candidates for a presenting role to be male, over the age of 30 and from an ethnic minority.


While diversity is important and sometimes positive action needs to be taken to make adjustments for a natural lack of a broad demographic in the workplace, employers need to be mindful that this action does not turn into positive discrimination, which may be unlawful.


Why support diversity?

Diversity in the workplace can improve communication, innovation and customer rapport. Employing staff from different age groups, ethnicities and religious backgrounds can open our mind to different ways of thinking and educate staff and business owners while providing career opportunities to minority groups.


First Steps

Paint your picture by looking at the numbers! By analysing your diversity split across the organisation, you may be surprised to find pockets or clusters of employees from a certain background. This may simply be because there is a natural gender split in some professions (i.e. caring professions are still female dominated while construction naturally attracts men) or because you live in an area with poor diversity. However, you may find that some managers have a tendency to, consciously or not, hire within certain groups. This so-called ‘Halo Effect’ can mean that you are missing out on talent because your managers feel more confident appointing individuals with similar characteristics.


What is Positive Discrimination?

The term sounds harmless but positive discrimination is in most cases unlawful. In the past, some organisations put quotas in place in order to have a certain number of women across their workforce. Some also screened CVs according to ethnic backgrounds and disregarded any applicants representing the majority of their existing teams. Any such actions are now discriminatory, since candidates should always be judged by their ability to perform the role in question, not by their origin or orientation.


What is Positive Action?

Positive action is a way of favouring job or promotion candidates from certain minority or age groups, in order to increase diversity. Employers can do this by:

  • Advertising through channels associated with certain groups (i.e. women’s magazines, newsletters distributed in areas with a particular ethnic mix, publications aimed at students, parenting websites, etc).
  • Favouring minority group candidates following an interview as long as the candidates have the same level of experience and/or qualifications as other candidates who have been seen.
  • Educating your managers about recruitment techniques and the pitfalls of organisational bias. SSG can support you with this – please contact us if you are interested in HR training.
  • Creating new opportunities to encourage diversity by introducing apprenticeships or positions that call for language requirements (where appropriate).


Source:Manuela Grossmann, SSG


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