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Published on July 25th, 2014 | by Lorna Carnegie
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There’s Nothing Positive About ‘Positive Discrimination’

Many would claim that there has always been positive discrimination in work places as white, middle class men have always promoted and appointed more white middle class men. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a columnist and strong believer in the equality of women claims that in politics there has forever been the case of men appointing in their own image because they feel most comfortable working with people from a similar background to themselves. Therefore she claims that anyone, be it women or other minority groups, need an extra helping hand to get the same opportunities.

Looking at the recent cabinet reshuffle for example, there is no doubt that there should be women in the cabinet if they have the ability, however appointments must be made on merit regardless of gender. Of course there is no proof to say that in the past, in politics and other workplaces men have been appointed over women, nor is there evidence which suggests that in the recent cabinet reshuffle David Cameron has promoted women simply because they’re women. The women who were promoted all appear to be solid choices with apparent ability and experience. The reshuffle however only takes the number of women in the cabinet up to 5- the same as in 2011- as the new employment minister, Esther McVey, and the new Leader of the Lords, Lady Stowell, will only attend select meetings, and therefore if the Prime Minister was promoting women on the basis of gender, he’s only made a token effort. One must therefore assume that his genuine promotions were because he believes that these women are capable of performing well in their new roles and that they will be valuable assets to the cabinet.

Surely one of the main reasons why there are fewer women in high paid manager or chief executive roles tends to be because they have a family. If women want a family they have to take time off, even if it’s just to have the baby, they still need time off. This does then however create the glass ceiling that everyone talks about as generally, having had the child then women will then opt to stay home and look after them while there partner works. Single mums have even less hope of getting into higher roles as child care can be expensive or hard to find. This may be seen by some to be a problem as women have to choose between a career and a family, but it is not a problem which will be solved by setting quotas and forcing the employment of women.

The introduction of quotas for the number of women in the workplace has led to concern for many as they fear that bosses will no longer be hiring on merit, but rather will be pressured into hiring women because they’re women, not because they are most suited for the position. To stop hiring on merit would have a damaging in a number of ways as the women may be less qualified for the job than a male candidate, and men, who miss out on jobs to women, will feel that it’s simply because they are men, leaving them dejected and holding women in a bad light in the workplace. Furthermore, most women do not want to get a job and feel as though the only reason they got it is because they are women. Men on the other hand will feel that any women in the work place is only there because she’s a women and is therefore likely to have little respect for her professionally. This may then have a damning effect on the principle of inequality as many may be led to believe that women could not achieve such high standards as men without some assistance.

Quotas and the pressure to hire more women may only reinforce suspicion that they are only getting the job because they’re women. 20 years after the all-female shortlist was introduced to try and increase the proportion of female MPs, the method has surely been proved to ineffective by the Labour party as Harriet Harmen is still complaining that she is not treated equally within the party. This degradation of equality undoubtedly reinforces an already present, if frowned upon, prejudice that women can’t succeed on their own merit, reinforcing the idea of inequality, the opposite of what these quotas were put in place for. This in turn then fuels resentment both in men and women.

The other side of the coin of course, is to take the view that women are over looked as professionals and therefore quotas are necessary to ensure the same opportunities are given to women as to men. A somewhat extreme continuation of this argument was presented by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on the Sunday Politics show. Alibhai Brown claimed that because the population of Britain is split roughly 50-50 between men and women then those running the country should represent this proportionally. She believes that if the Prime Minister is male then the deputy Prime Minister should be female and vice versa. However this puts too great a restriction on those who can run the country and could well result in conflicts over the position if it is not being given on merit. Also a second issue with this rather ludicrous idea is that we can’t represent a true cross section of society and to promote women is to prioritise them over other sections and minorities in society which lack representation. Therefore can we truly represent society? And should achieving an accurate representation of society be prioritised over meritocracy, surely not?


Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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