On Discrimination

You know, I was worried that I wasn’t going to have anything to write about this week. Oh the irony. How wrong I was. I turned on my computer today to check the news, and I found this. It prompted a first for me – I’m not usually inclined to hurl a stream of expletives at my computer screen on the basis of a news report. Harriet Harman wins the prize for the most short-sighted piece of legislation ever to be suggested in a modern parliament.

To clarify this for anyone who may be reading this and thinking, “Positive discrimination – what a good idea!”: removing the symptom does not remove the problem. The problem in the British workplaces that this legislation is out to target is that there is a tendency for employers to take on staff who are white and male over candidates who are female or from an ethnic minority. There is a pay gap between male and female workers doing similar jobs despite more than forty years of campaigning. I have no dispute with Harman over these sad facts.

Where I dispute the wisdom of this legislation is that it seeks to redress the balance by brutally tipping the scales in favour of those who are currently discriminated against, making it easier to discriminate in favour of women and ethnic minorities. This idea is monstrous. The root of the problem is the fact of discrimination in the workplace. Sure, this toddler’s solution to the problem gets women a pay rise now, but what happens in ten or twenty years’ time when it’s difficult for a white male to get a job, even when he’s more qualified than the black or female candidate he’s competing with? In fact, what happens now?

I live in Birmingham. I love this city. I walk round the city centre and I see people from a wide spectrum of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. I’ve worked with people from all over the world, from all sorts of backgrounds. And I count some of them among my closest and dearest friends. Yet living here has also shown me that racism and other discrimination works both ways. There is no such thing as “reverse racism”, “reverse sexism” or “reverse discrimination”. There is only racism, sexism and discrimination, and it’s equally abominable and sickening whether a bunch of white skinheads are beating up a black man in the street or a bunch of black, wannabe gangsters are doing the same to a white guy.

Legislating to tip the balance in favour of female sexist employers (and they do exist) or any other prejudiced troglodyte you care to name is not going to solve the problem. Instead, it will cause a new set of problems that, because of public perceptions of power in the workplace, we will be less willing to do something about. The only way to make a level playing field is to legislate for a level playing field from the get-go. And I mean level.

Edit 30/06/08: Here is an alternative perspective on the bill, from one of my favourite fellow bloggers

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~ by Scary Rob on 26 June, 2008.

4 Responses to “On Discrimination”

  1. You’re so right. How can women expect to be taken seriously if the only reason why they got a particular job is because they’re girls? (or black, respectively, or both). It’s like “Boys, let her play with you, but don’t push her or pull her hair, you know, she’s a girl!”
    It’s encouragement for every man who thinks women can only survive in a job if they’re under a cheese cover. Although something needs to be done about the payment differences, but then, I don’t know what would do the trick properly…

  2. First of all, this law is not really positive discrimination. It does not FORCE you to pick an ethnic minority or a woman over a white male. What it does is, it gives you the option, in the case where there are two equally qualified candidates to chose someone to balance out their team by picking a woman if they don’t have any, or an ethnic minority, without the fear of being taken to an employment tribunal. I personally think it will be a good idea.

  3. Thanks for the plug 🙂

  4. Verena – You know, that angle hadn’t even occurred to me.

    Boso – I think I might have answered that when I commented on your own blog. And you’re welcome – I’m always glad to plug a good blog!

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