Is Positive Discrimination Really Positive?

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For myself, and for many other graduates this year, job hunting is the order of the day. Tabs for Word Reference, E Assignments and Google Books on my browser have been replaced with the likes of Indeed, Reed and Jobsite, trawling through these sites daily with the ever ambitious hope that maybe, just maybe, that perfect job is at the end of the tunnel – the tunnel in this case being page 46 of 46 on GraduateJobs.com.

I’ve also completely lost count of how many times I’ve had to type out my experience of working in a team, a time where I’ve convinced someone to change their mind, and the classic ‘Why do you want to work for our organisation?’ – the obvious answer, which we’re all thinking, has crossed my mind many a time, but the angel on my shoulder has always got the better of me – maybe to my detriment, who knows.

But today I saw something in a job advert which made me squint and check to see if I had read it correctly. Alas, my eyes did not deceive me. The line went as follows:

“Company X  is committed to providing recruitment opportunities to the wider community and encourages applications from minority groups to maintain a diverse and representative workforce”

Now, at first glance, this seems like a pretty positive, egalitarian statement to put in a job advert. But, it’s a prime example of identity politics in action: an instance of the common, hackneyed phrase ‘positive discrimination’ – a phrase which can be fairly countered with the equally well known maxim ‘positive discrimination is still discrimination’, which appears to have fallen on deaf ears among certain employers.

I really do scratch my head every time I read an article online which bemoans the ‘disproportionate number of Race X in Industry Y’, or ‘Why isn’t Gender X represented as well as Gender Y in this sphere of society’? I’ll tell you why: because myself, and I’m sure many others, would like to believe that we live in a meritocracy – a society which justly awards its denizens for its qualities, qualifications and character; not, inversely, some religiously Marxist, wishy-washy society which hands out prizes to minorities to punish the white, straight, cisgender man for the sins of his fathers, rewriting the wrongs of societal imbalances of decades past.

A report from from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) showed that in a planned experiment, a large group of white men who applied for a ‘Pro Diversity’ company actually expected more unfair treatment and discrimination against them, and were adjudged to have fared more poorly in the interviews. This compared to the other half of white male applicants (applying for a company which barely mentioned diversity values) who had significantly higher success throughout the entire screening and interview process. And there is an abundance of evidence to state that implementing diversity training programs has little positive effect and may even decrease representation of black women in the workplace, according to US statistics.

Such ‘diversity programs’ and ‘quotas’, which claim to have society and the applicant’s best interest at heart then go on to freely judge said applicant based on race, gender or religion, are the definition of irony. Many potentially brilliant and eager candidates are being left at the wayside for the same reason that Martin Luther King gave his speech in Washington: prejudice, except this time it’s freely permitted, even encouraged to some extent as it doesn’t adversely effect the minority populace. The aforementioned citation above may well have said ‘If it comes down to two people with very similar qualifications, experience and personal qualities, we’re probably going to pick the one who belongs to a minority group – no hard feelings though’.

It is rather paradoxical that a society which prides itself on being ‘progressive’, such as ours, shows such regressive attitudes towards equality when it comes to employment. And when I say equality here, I of course mean the unadulterated, unfaltering definition of equality: not just that those which solely benefits a minority. Indeed, for myself, there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing the words ‘equal opportunities’ or ‘diversity encouragement’ on a job application page, as contrary to the literal definition of these phrases, their practical application is anything but. It shouldn’t matter if you’re divorced, 27, white, Jewish or all of the above combined: if you lack the qualifications or experience necessary for the respected position, then no other factors should rear their ugly head. This is what equal opportunities should look like, ladies and gentlemen.

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Discussion2 Comments

  1. avatar

    You said that ‘implementing diversity training programs has little positive effect and may even decrease representation of black women in the workplace, according to US statistics’

    Have you got the report/study that says that teaching around discrimnation may actually increase it towards black woman in the workplace? You’ve provided no link here and I’d like to read it to see where these figures comes from and how reliable they are.

  2. avatar
    Dyfan Rowlands

    https://hbr.org/2016/01/diversity-policies-dont-help-women-or-minorities-and-they-make-white-men-feel-threatened

    There’s the article I lifted it from, and here’s the original Harvard Study

    http://asr.sagepub.com/content/71/4/589.short

    Also I never inferred that it would lead to more discrimination in the workplace: that’s a strawman argument. I merely included a citation which states that it could decrease representation.

    ”The effects of these (diversity) initiatives vary across groups, with white women benefiting most, followed by black women. Black men benefit least”. That’s a quote lifted from the Harvard study also.

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