Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Before I begin, it is important to clarify that affirmative action and positive discrimination, though often used synonymously, are not the same. Positive discrimination is unlawful as it promotes inequality, whilst affirmative action was created to promote equality in society.
Affirmative action is defined as a process where a government or organisation gives preference to protected groups when choosing people for roles. Protected characteristics range from age, disability, gender, pregnancy, race, religion etc. The Equality Act 2010 makes it lawful for an employer to consider these characteristics when recruiting or promoting employees if they are underrepresented in the workforce. However, this is only allowed where all applicants are equally qualified; an employer cannot choose a candidate just because they fall under the group despite having fewer qualifications than their competitor. This illustrates that the act was introduced to protect individuals from discrimination and promote equality within society.
To say that society is meritocratic is to say everyone can hold certain positions without their background being questioned. However, historical evidence is enough to disprove such claims. Take for example Section 28 an anti-gay legislation which prevented LGBT groups equal rights, a law that existed up until 2003. Society may not run solely on nepotism, but inequality is prevalent, and judgements are not based on merit alone.
It is clear we need to determine if there is an equal ratio of men and women to begin with. If a company notices that it mainly has male employees and is failing to progress any further because it has exhausted its general system, then I believe they would want to employ someone with a new perspective, such as a woman. Affirmative action will tell them they need the woman because they have a box to tick, but the woman picked will still be as qualified as her male competitor. Females still have to work hard to prove their place in the job, just as a man would have had to. Furthermore, knowing that she is the only female representative may encourage a greater effort from her as she understands that the competition is well established. She could rise in rankings and eventually hire more women for the task force to continue promoting equality. To deny her of her chances to progress to promotion or even management is to completely disregard the whole point.
When you benefit from an oppressive society it is easy to view actions created to put everyone on an equal footing as a threat to your chances of success. Why would you want to support a system that was created to give someone an extra mile when you’re ahead by five? Divisions already exist in society. If I have better grades, more experience and generally a better application than a white male counterpart then I deserve to get the role we are both competing for. But more often than not that doesn’t happen. BAMEs have to work twice as hard as white people to get half as much. Discrimination of minority groups and women is alive and well, but when the cards are stacked in your favour, you’re not likely to notice it, or even care.