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Critic slams equality bill proposal

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The new equality bill won’t address discrimination, says Dr Nic Sale, head of diversity at Pearn Kandola Business Psychologists.

Sale said that by far the “most short-sighted and ultimately dangerous” aspect of the bill is the proposal to allow firms to discriminate in favour of female and ethnic minority applicants.

“This has the potential to set back the equality and diversity agenda by 25 years. This proposition also completely misses the point about why females and ethnic minority employees remain in junior or low-paid positions.”

According to Sale, there are three main reasons why this bill will not address discrimination in the workplace. The first, he said, is the failure of the bill to do anything for people who don’t want to hire someone who they see as being different from themselves.

“Secondly, for the organisation whose diversity agenda is driven purely by the number of women and ethnic minority employees it has on its book, this bill will allow positive discrimination in favour of these applicants – but there’s a huge sting in the tail,” he said.

“Colleagues will naturally become suspicious as to whether new recruits were hired because of their ability, or simply because they were female or black. This suspicion will encourage them to look for any signs of underperformance, which, if identified, will reinforce the notion that it would have been safer for the organisation to hire a ‘safe pair of hands’.”

The third factor, concluded Sale, is that this option for positive discrimination has been in place in the UK Disability Discrimination Act for years. “And still only 50% of disabled people of working age are in work compared to 81% of non-disabled people,” he added.

Rachel Dineley, employment partner and head of the national diversity and discrimination unit at Beachcroft LLP, said that the positive discrimination proposal “has the potential to create a good deal of controversy and resentment if there is a perception that recruitment will no longer be undertaken on a level playing field”.

HR Zone recently reported on the initial reaction to the bill.

One Response

  1. Doubt and Confusion
    It is encouraging that (for the first time in my experience) some coverage of this proposal has remembered the Disability Discrimination Act. It’s a shame that reference to it was negative though. It is not scientific to simply quote the apawling employment statistics for disabled people as ‘evidence’ that the positive action provisions in the DDA haven’t been effective. for one thing, they don’t apply in the local government arena (bacause of a specific clause in the Housing and Local Government Act), and secondly, we simply don’t know what the situation would be if these provisions were not in place.
    I firmly believe that these provisions may be ‘lost’ in the new bill under a hail of zenophobic and sexist denial thinking from commentators and HR proffessionals alike. I am sceptical about the Equality Bill proposals for a number of reasons, but fear of positive action is certainly not one of them!

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