As believers are sometimes noted saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The moral of this story should have been noted by the more than slightly foolish Harriet Harman. Today, the news has been full of her frankly crazy ideas about changing the law. The BBC leads with:
Equality minister Harriet Harman has set out plans to allow firms to discriminate in favour of female and ethnic minority job candidates.
The spectre of positive discrimination raises its ugly head again… Confusingly, this is followed with:
She said firms should be able to choose a woman over a man of equal ability if they wanted to – or vice versa.
I am forced to admit the “vice versa” has me confused a touch, but I will try to come back to that.
The basic principle, as reported on the TV and Radio news, is that Ms Harman is keen to allow employers to discriminate against certain groups of our society. No matter how it is dressed up, discrimination is wrong. It is very wrong that some sectors of the UK workforce are dominated by one gender, one racial group, one religion (or whatever). No one (sane) would disagree with this. However, forcing discrimination in the other direction is not the solution. Nothing is better at creating a divisive society. Nothing undermines the “equal” in equal opportunities more. It is not a good idea.
To make matters worse, like the BBC allude, this is a pretty incoherent policy idea (The BBC have a Q&A that doesn’t really say anything it is that confusing). The comment by the diversity advisor for the CIPD pretty much sums it all up:
Not everyone thinks it will create a fairer workplace.
Some business groups say it could create a box-ticking culture.
“This [proposal] is pretty incoherent. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for this,” said Dianah Worman, diversity adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
It will (and is) provide a massive PR victory for the rightwing pundits who cry that [insert ethnic group/gender of choice] are taking all “our” jobs (and I have never worked out who “us” are..). It will do nothing real to protect vulnerable groups. It is, basically, a perfect example of our current governments legislative policies.
Employers need to be free to chose the most suitable candidate. Most suitable for the job, not the one who is most suited to ensure their workforce is an accurate representation of the wider society. Either the law allows this or it forces an employer to favour one candidate over another based on something other than their ability to do the job.
That is discrimination. That is wrong.