The Big Debate: Positive discrimination in employment is unfair
Undoubtedly we have a problem in this country with cisgender white men having greater employment opportunities than women and minorities. However, implementing positive discrimination is not the right way to go about dealing with this issue.
Although positive discrimination may bolster the careers of a handful of people from less privileged positions, it does so at the expense of perpetuating the belief that cisgender white men are the preferable employee. If employers need rules and incentives to take on women and minorities, that encourages the idea that they aren’t the best person for the job.
Rather than jostling a couple of people around on the surface, we need to tackle the fundamental causes of the problem: institutionalised discrimination. This includes racism, patriarchy, homophobia and ableism among so much others.
By this I mean educating employers about the causes of their implicit biases and breaking down the myths that perpetuate them. This can happen directly through the work of charities and government initiatives, but it can also start with the national curriculum. It’s also important that we ensure businesses are equipped to cater to the needs of all staff including disabled, mentally ill and neurodivergent individuals.
Education is also necessary to bring underachieving demographics – such as African-Caribbean boys – up to the same level of academic achievement as other young people, in order to improve their job prospects. Much more work needs to go into identifying the exact causes behind these disparities and tackling them.
In the case of women and girls, there continues to be a distinct shortage of those entering high-earning and influential careers across the board in business, the arts, sciences and politics. Much of this is the result of misogynistic ideas of what jobs are suitable for women, which girls absorb at a young age. It is evident in the very language we use how these stereotypes persist: low-earning jobs like waitress, lolly-pop lady and dinner lady we subconsciously apply female pronouns to; while for professions such as fireman, policeman and businessman we are drawn to male pronouns.
As a result of this gendered view of career prospects, girls grow up with a skewed idea of what opportunities are available to them and tailor their ambitions accordingly.
By addressing these fundamental problems behind employment discrimination, women and minorities will be in a stronger position to develop their careers without having to rely on the corrupt, and frankly insulting, systems of hand-outs and demographics quotas that are becoming increasingly prevalent in the UK.
To argue in favour of positive discrimination is to deny the logic that the best candidate for any job should be given that job. To me, that is completely absurd.
Positive discrimination also provides ammunition for those who try to paint feminism as anti-male or LGBT+ advocacy as a demand for special treatment. As a feminist and an LGBT+ advocate I am disgusted at how these important causes have been derailed in recent years by this kind of critique, which is almost always unwarranted. Advocating positive discrimination however, directly invites this kind of criticism.
It is possible to increase opportunities for women and minorities without taking away from men who, although they may have privilege on their side, have still worked extremely hard to get to the place they are today.
There is a reason positive discrimination has the word “discrimination” in it, and for that reason it cannot possibly be considered fair or remotely beneficial to obtaining equality.
It seems extremely clear to me that positive discrimination is not only warranted, it is the only conceivable way to combat the massive inequality in employment we currently face.
True, it would not mean we are truly “equal”- there would be certain groups upon whom it would be made easier. However, the reasoning for this cannot be ignored- these groups need to have life made easier for them because the groups who have monopolised the world of employment until now are the groups who, by their privilege and the ease of their life, inadvertently put them in this disadvantaged position in the first place.
Men in their 30s in the United Kingdom outearn women by, on average, £8775 a year. This cannot be seen as an acceptable pay gap, or one that comes down to factors other than discrimination: women just as capable for jobs are not considered.
Thankfully, in younger generations this is being reversed to some extent, with women in their 20s outearning men by, on average, £1,111 a year. I would argue that the reason for this is an increased reliance on positive discrimination in employment.
Discrimination doesn’t have to be a bad word. By placing people of historically disadvantaged groups in employment over privileged people going for the same job, we can reverse the social conditioning that has led to their disadvantaged positions and encourage more people in similar situations to aim to achieve.
Right now there is a kind of stigma around helping people. It is believed by many people that to have a decent life you must struggle, and any help given to you by anyone is cheating. I hope we can reverse this- helping people who are not in a position to help themselves is our responsibility as citizens, and absolutely the right thing to do.
This applies perfectly to the case of positive discrimination in employment- people need help, and by giving it to them we will reduce the number of people who need the same help in the future, hopefully kickstarting a truly equal future society by making things very slightly harder for those in a privileged and advantaged position currently.
Frankly, I have little empathy for those who see their jobs as being “stolen” from them due to positive discrimination as they are being taken by people who should have been considered in the first place. Diversity quotas and equal opportunity employment are essential for keeping discrimination in check: there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that qualified candidates for every job exist outside of the group of white males generally hired for every single one of them, and to continue to allow this to go unchallenged is insane to me.
If you believe the status quo is fine as is, that’s okay. I would have to disagree, however, as discrimination can be seen everywhere.
It exists in Universities, in government, in schools, banks and charities. Certain groups are seen as respectable, and others are dismissed on sight. This is not the way employment should work.
If we are going to tell people to “earn their way” in the world, it is absolutely vital that we first actually give them the tools to do so: in the case of so many groups, the only way this can be ensured, due to the currently discriminatory work climate, is by positive discrimination.
Featured Image: Flickr