Positive Action Vs Positive Discrimination

One of the first questions I am asked when discussing a recruitment campaign is ‘can you guarantee a diverse shortlist?’ To answer anything other than ‘we will do everything we can but there are no guarantees’ might be disingenuous; nevertheless, it’s hugely frustrating for councils to hear.

It is inevitable that selection panels will be disappointed with homogeneous shortlists. Countless studies have for years confirmed that genuinely diverse workforces are more creative, innovative, and produce better decisions. They also have a deeper understanding of their customers and audiences. We know that councils are persistently under the spotlight as organisations who should be getting this right.

The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a brighter light on social inequality and diversity and will be a powerful catalyst for change. For now, however, we can achieve progress together through the choices we make locally. Doing this properly means gaining clarity on some basic principles.

First, what is positive discrimination? An employer falls foul if they appoint or seek to appoint an individual based purely on a protected characteristic rather than experience or qualifications. Protected characteristics include race, gender, age, disability, religion, and sexual orientation.

It is illegal under the Equality Act 2010 to set quotas to recruit or promote a specific number of people with a protected characteristic. There are of course some occupational exceptions e.g. a women’s refuge can apply a requirement for its staff to be women.

Second, what is positive action? Positive action became legal in 2011 and comes into play when an organisation is deciding between candidates who are equally qualified. In this situation, an employer can choose to appoint an individual from an underrepresented group if they are as qualified and fit for the role as the other candidates.

Positive action can also include employers taking measures to address issues within their organisations to support employees with a protected characteristic to overcome disadvantage and discrimination.

In an effort to leave unsuccessful diversity recruitment strategies behind, many organisations are now implementing targeted development programmes for existing staff. These can be very effective in progressing fourth and fifth tier managers whilst enhancing the reputation of your organisation. Councils need not work in isolation; you could partner and work within regional clusters to develop talent and OD programmes that extend opportunity and choice for our future leaders.

As experienced recruiters we are already playing a valuable role in enhancing diversity in different sectors. Coaching and guidance on navigating unfamiliar recruitment processes is a small part of the puzzle but has enormous impact in helping to fulfil potential. 

To find out more contact penny.ransley@starfishsearch.com



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