Oh dear. The Equality Bill is currently making its way through Parliament and will be made law in the autumn of next year. It includes a controversial clause which makes positive discrimination legal. I have been closely following its progress. Positive discrimination, as I have said before, does not support women at work.
The consultations for the bill indicated that a similar system was in place in Norway. Norway has made significant progress in balancing the gender ratio in senior management. This is thanks to legislation that requires that 40% of board members must be women. Norway made a significant step back last year. Gender parity used to fall under the Trade and Industry Ministry, but it now falls under the Equality Ministry. Avivah WittenbergCox and Alison Maitland disagree that women at work is not a business problem, but a matter of women’s rights.
The Kingsley Napley quarterly employment law bulletin for the womenintechnology.co.uk network says:
The Bill will allow employers to use positive discrimination in their recruitment and promotions practices, which is quite contentious. Employers may choose to hire a candidate with a protected characteristic if there are two candidates for the same job. The employer must be able to believe that the candidate is from a protected group that is either under-represented or disadvantaged.
It seems that changing the law is not enough, at least not for the public sector. Harriet Harman is the Minister for Women and Equality and the Minister who launched last year’s consultation on positive discrimination. She has initiated a cross-party initiative in order to increase the number women, black, Asian, and minority ethnic people and disabled people serving on boards of public agencies. You don’t have to wait for the law change; you can start a mentoring, target setting, and awareness raising program now. If this initiative is going well, why change the law?
I would support initiatives that make workplaces more egal – and I support the goals of the Diversity in Public Appointments program – but I cannot help but think that positive discrimination under Equality Bill is still discrimination.