Positive Discrimination: An Insult or a Price Worth Paying for Social Inclusion?

Positive discrimination is the act of giving advantage to those groups in society that are treated unfairly because of their given sex, race or social position.

On the one hand, this seems like a product of the evils of prejudice. But is this enforced quotient for minorities an insult, or a hesitant solution to allow them a permanent place within the fabric of our social, economic and political discourse?

If we accept that "something", whether this be the residue of existing bias or the perpetuation of it, may be holding an individual back from employment, surely the consideration of merit invites us to compensate for that prejudicial blip?

While one can continue to support selection by merit, by only assessing a person according to how "right" they are for the job, corporate environments come to be determined by pre-existing standards. Positive discrimination arguably carves a space for new talent, which would otherwise be seen to not fit the bill.  

And yet, positive discrimination is not a wholly feasible solution for enforcing the practice of equality. Any system that is point-based supports the process of social categorization. It carries an unfairness, favoritism and ‘box-ticking’ bias which proves counter-productive to the mission of social impartiality. 

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When asked about the issue of positive discrimination, a male economics student argued, “Generally, I do not agree with positive discrimination as I feel it does not solve the problem of gender discrimination. All applications should be completely neutral, allowing for the best candidate for the position. If that means a company will be made completely of female employees, then so be it. I feel stereotypes can be tackled far more effectively by educating the workforce to normalize the presence of women across all positions in the company. It is counterproductive to forcefully change attitudes toward gender by placing an employee in a position where their gender is the overriding factor of their employment. It is better to start at the root of the problem then try to solve at the point which it manifests itself.”

History student Ellen Jones, however, counters this view in arguing: “I think that positive discrimination has arisen from the misunderstanding of feminism as a concept. People assume that feminism implies prejudice towards men but in reality it means equality between the sexes.”

Theoretically, for someone who supports sexual equality, it is difficult to support positive discrimination because it admits that a woman should be hired because she is a woman. However, there are so many areas in which, given ingrained social prejudices, there will never be equality. Therefore, some form of regulation needs to be implemented to get the ball rolling.

When I asked a chief marketing officer for his views on positive discrimination, he said: “In a tie between two equally qualified people, choosing the minority candidate is an important way of making diversity a qualification. I ask for a "diverse slate" of candidates - at least half being female or minority ethnicity - and have diverse interviewing panels to try to remove bias. You can't avoid bias - most people don't even know they have it - but you can try to create conditions where people are aware of and confront it, and compensate with other perspectives. It's harder work making it fair than you'd think - but the results consistently are a happier and more productive workplace.”

Those at the top of organizations are influential in driving equality programs. For real progress, there has to be assertive decision-making, a drive towards development opportunities and a fostering of a working environment that develops the talent of the individual, regardless of sex or background. Leaders and executive officers ought to use their influence to achieve a balanced workforce through existing laws.

While I am not arguing that life can be made to be truly fair, I am supportive of any measure which can make it an even playing field. If that means a measure of positive discrimination to actualize these ends, I am indeed in favour. At the end of the day, the goal of positive discrimination is genuine variety of representation and thinking in the workplace, and as often as not, that starts with gender diversification.

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