As more companies focus on inclusivity, diversity, and providing equitable opportunities – there comes a question of whether ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’ should be allowed, and whether it’s good practice for a business to undertake.
Positive Discrimination / Affirmative Action is essentially the practice of favouring individuals or groups, who would be regarded as ‘disadvantaged’ or the subject of discrimination due to a particular characteristic – this may include race, religion, sexual orientation or gender, disability status, etc, without proper consideration of other merit.
Although Affirmative Action is permitted (under certain conditions) in the United States, in some areas of the world, like the United Kingdom, positive discrimination is still considered to be a form of discrimination and is illegal, which means that companies operating on a global scale or trading in the UK would find themselves in trouble if, for example, they had formal and official quotas for hiring based solely on ‘protected characteristics’.
Using Positive Discrimination or Affirmative Action is not as simple as setting out quotas or goals, or offering opportunities to one section of the workforce, and any process involving it should be carefully researched and legally reviewed in order to protect the business from potential lawsuits.
There has been considerable debate over the practices, and whether they are beneficial for a business (or not), and whether companies should utilise these actions to quickly increase diversity across their workforce.
Arguments for Positive Discrimination
There are many companies who believe that making use of Positive Discrimination can be a good thing for their business – the process does have some merits that are worth considering, and if it can be applied in a legally acceptable format, they believe that it is advantageous.
Positive Discrimination can be a tool that allows for a very quick rebalance of the workforce – if particular groups or those with certain characteristics are under-represented or have specific barriers or obstacles preventing them from progressing, then the actions can encourage more individuals to either seek employment with the business, or obtain different positions – this can increase motivation, morale, and the public representation of the company for inclusivity.
The practice may also make use of funding opportunities, grants, and other potential revenue sources that have been established to help particular groups find meaningful employment, or to progress to higher levels within certain industries.
By utilising Positive Discrimination, it can sometimes be possible to change a workplace environment and culture – fostering more understanding, greater diversity, and a more inclusive, equitable distribution of job assignments.
Arguments Against Positive Discrimination
At the end of the day, positive or not – discrimination is still discrimination, it is still singling someone out for a characteristic or factor, that is generally beyond their control, and this can prove problematic in the workplace.
The practice may cause unnecessary tensions and a negative atmosphere, for example – if workers believe that certain co-workers have only been hired to meet a quota, rather than for their skills or abilities, it may lead to a toxic environment.
Focusing too much on characteristics can also lead to a deficit of skills, and increased training costs. The company that ignores highly skilled workers in order to meet specific characteristic quotas also runs the risk of losing those workers to competitors, and being at a disadvantage during the time it takes potentially less skilled hires to train up to competence.
The personnel factor must also be considered – if an individual is targeted for a characteristic beyond their control, and later discovers that this is the sole reason for their employment, it could lead to resentment, depression, or mental anguish. Staff with lower levels of morale or pride in their work are less likely to produce results, and this could also affect the bottom line.
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Why Should a Diverse Workforce Matter to Businesses?
Diversity and equity are extremely important in the workplace, they can be a source for innovation, evolution, and a sustainable future-proof growth. However, the processes of getting to that point have to be handled carefully – the needs of the business should be balanced against the culture, and a sensible middle-ground determined.
If staff believe they are only there to ‘make up the numbers’ it’s not going to generate good results, whereas – if you have a genuinely organic and naturally grown diverse culture, you will be appealing to potential employees, investors, and business partnerships.