What’s trending now?
Organisations pushing for diversity and representation in their workplace are using positive discrimination as a means to bring drastic change. Positive Discrimination is defined as policies introduced by a company to hire or promote candidates on the basis of their protected characteristics such as gender, race or sexual orientation.
Many companies claim to strive for a diverse workforce, yet many industries and businesses have organisational structures that do not reflect the society in which they function in. A report by Forbes found that diversity in the workplace continues to be held back due to recruitment biases. Essentially employers may have a subconscious/stereotypical view of what a successful person looks like, which in turn affects how one compares different candidates.
A representative workforce provides more than a stimulating company culture. In 2018 Mckinsey reported that companies in the top quartile for racial, gender and ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. As a response, some employers are taking active measures to develop diverse teams within their companies and industries.
Why is it important?
“The act specifically permits an organisation to engage in what is an overtly discriminatory act, but for the purpose of ensuring that there is equal opportunity overall” – Rowan Skinner – Discrimination lawyer
The process of gender diversity in industries is slow. In 2019 it was reported that only one Fortune 500 company is headed by a woman of colour. Black women make up less than 2% of middle managers in the Fortune 500. After the resignation of ABSA’s CEO, Maria Ramos the number of female CEOs leading the top 40 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange ( JSE) is now zero. While only a fifth of the directors who serve on boards of the listed JSE companies are female. Researchers at the UPF’s Department of Political and Social Science conducted a study in Barcelona and Madrid, which revealed that women on average were 30% less likely to be called for a job interview than a man with the same characteristics.
Some academic institutions are flipping such stats on their head by actively increasing female representation in their institutions with the use of positive discrimination. Eindhoven University in the Netherlands announced that academic posts that need to be filled will only be open to female candidates. If the vacancy fails to attract suitable candidates within 6 months, it will be opened to men and after 18 months the entire scheme will be revised. In 2018, the Irish government announced a proposal to create women- only senior academic posts in universities and institutes of technology in the country. Mary Mitchell O’Connor Minister of State responsible for higher education said she wants to see 40% of senior academic positions held by women by 2024.
With regards to matters of race the police force in Britain has noted the significant low representation of BAME people (black, Asian and minority ethnic) in the police force. Police Council Chair Sara Thornton has called for the use of positive discrimination in favour of ethnic minorities when recruiting employees. Thornton stated in an interview that the police ranks will be too white for decades to come, unless new positive discrimination legislation in enacted to shock the system.
What is the butterfly effect?
As some organisations use positive discrimination as a means to actively develop a representative workforce. There is great criticism and push back against such methods. Civil Service analyst Louise Maynard- Atem argues that positive discrimination ‘serves not only to lessen the sense of achievement for those on the right side of the coin, but also it may foster resentment for those who aren’t part of the chosen minority’.
In 2017, BBC was accused of discrimination after releasing an advert for a trainee position which specified applicants would only be considered if they were not white. Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen sited that the BBC was discriminating and the people that needed a leg up are young white males from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2018 Arne Wilberg filed a lawsuit against Google. The former recruiter alleged the company used discriminatory hiring practices that placed white and Asian people at a disadvantage. Google responded to the allegations by stating that they were unapologetically trying to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates for open roles. As this would assist in selecting the best people, improve the company culture and build better products.
A first of its kind case in the UK saw the Cheshire Police department found guilty of discrimination. Matthew Furlong, a white heterosexual man is said to have suffered discrimination on the grounds of his race, gender and sexual orientation. When he was turned down for a job due to the employers’ plans to increase the number of BME, female, LGBT and disabled officers in its workforce.
The use of gender quotas introduced by some countries has in some form provided the foundation for gender diversity in corporations. Norway is noted as one of the countries that introduced gender quotas for corporate boards in 2008. Companies in the country were faced with an ultimatum, they had to ensure that they delivered a 40% female board or face closure. The policy has brought much change and saw countries such as Belgium, France and Italy follow suit with similar policies. Since 2012 the European Commission has proposed new rules which would oblige EU companies to have 30-40% of non-executives as females by 2021.
Britain, Norway and Ireland.
By Khumo Theko
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