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Is Positive Action the answer to improving workplace diversity?

View profile for Simon Tovey
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Click here for our Insight into Discrimination and Positive Action.

Improving diversity in the workplace continues to be a hot topic for discussion in employment law.  Whether it concerns the proportion of women on Boards, the breakdown of MPs in Parliament, the composition of the Police, or even football managers / the Rooney rule, there are increasing calls for quotas to be put in place in order to help make certain workplaces more representative of the wider population.  

Whilst at first glance quotas may seem to be a straightforward answer, in reality they are not.  Treating one person more favourably by reason of e.g. their race, sex, or sexual orientation inevitably means that another person is being treated less favourably because of their particular protected characteristic.  To some, positive action is just discrimination by another name, and contrary to the basic principle of equality that is the foundation of our anti-discrimination laws.  

The Equality Act permits positive action but only to a limited degree.  In some respects that is uncontroversial.  Making reasonable adjustments for a person’s disability is designed to level the playing field with non-disabled persons.  But where recruitment and promotion is concerned the rules are much more restrictive, and easy to get wrong.  

The case of Furlong v Cheshire Constabulary is an example of an organisation seeking to use positive action measures to improve diversity, but unlawfully discriminating in the process.

Read more about it here.