The Negative Impacts of Positive Discrimination

Positive action and ultimately positive discrimination has been a contentious topic since the 2010 Equality Act. How can we ensure we use it in a fair and equitable way during recruitment?

Positive action and ultimately positive discrimination has been a contentious topic since the 2010 Equality Act. How can we ensure we use it in a fair and equitable way during recruitment?

A diverse workforce is proven to be good for business performance. A greater variety of employee perspectives has been proven time and again to enhance company culture and ultimately, improve the bottom line. Deloitte’s report on inclusion found that when employees think their organisation is committed to, and supportive of diversity, and they feel included, employees report better business performance in terms of an 83% uplift in their ability to innovate.

But leaders want to know that they’re building a diverse workforce that’s also aligned to their business needs, not diversity for the sake of it.

What is positive action / positive discrimination?

Positive discrimination (employing someone because they have a protected characteristic) is unlawful in the UK but positive action means that in some situations, companies can help certain groups access employment. This is a huge positive given the different education and socio-economic backgrounds from which we wish to recruit.

But the benefits of positive action have been called into question:

  • Does positive action increase the risk of hiring people who aren’t right fit for role?
  • Could positive action inadvertently perpetuate bias because there’s a belief that people are not selected on their skills, values and behaviours alone?

Supporters of positive action, while firm in their belief that it’s the right thing to do, must ensure that the best interests of the company remain the top priority. The big question we need to pose is whether positive action can be part of a fair, objective and bias free way to hire?

Can positive action hurt?

When Australia’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade announced it was making policy changes to promote the recruitment of women, the sharpest rebuke came from female firefighters themselves, according to The Guardian.

Members of the local United Firefighters Union expressed concerns that lowering the standards for physical entrance exams, while ensuring that more women would enter the force, could leave firefighting teams dangerously unprepared for the job.

This isn’t the first time that positive discrimination has been alleged to do more harm than good. In the United States, corresponding affirmative action efforts, which seek to bolster racial diversity, have faced criticism for decades, according to The New York Times.

Last year Harvard University was accused of discriminating unlawfully against Asian applicants. Affirmative action faced criticism when Harvard responded by defending their admission policy as “justified by the need to ensure a diverse student body”. Critics argue that “two wrongs do not make a right” and that treating different racial groups differently will entrench racial antagonism.

In the world of work, we need to address these concerns through the way we attract and recruit.

Making positive action work for your business

It is possible to promote diversity while seeking top-tier talent and maintaining business success.

    • Recruit based on what matters for the role: use selection and assessment methods that measure all the things that matter for a role, and nothing that doesn’t. For example, behaviours and values can be a better guide than academic record which is linked to socio-economic background.
    • Make it easy to remove bias: some bias is conscious, some is unconscious, and all hiring managers can be influenced by their own personal biases. Technology, like LaunchPad’s VERIFY, helps recruiters understand how reviewers are making decisions, so inconsistency, poor decision making and unconscious bias can be systematically addressed.
    • Create a fair and accurate hiring model: where you are using technology, test the model to ensure the data that’s going isn’t perpetuating biased hiring decisions. To read more about making your model objective, read our recent post on the topic here.
    • Understand protected characteristics: which are described in the Equality Act. A robust hiring model will allow you to analyse protected characteristics to ensure fairness and that those with characteristics that put them in a minority are not discriminated against.
    • Consider your employer branding: the way you externally promote your talent brand and communicate with candidates influences the type of talent population that will be attracted to your organisation.

Making sure positive action generates positive results

At LaunchPad we want to create a positive recruitment experience that is fair and rewarding for all. Clients often approach us to help with making their hiring process more inclusive and to help them diversify the talent they attract as an organisation.

Embracing a tech-led approach to recruitment means organisations can hire based on right-fit for role at the same time as targeting diverse talent that will boost intellectual and cultural diversity. As a result, companies can meet D&I goals while remaining as objective as possible.

When armed with the right technology, you can ensure that positive action will positively impact business outcomes.

To find out more about how LaunchPad’s platform supports diversity and inclusion, please contact us to see a demo.