In a recent speech Sadiq Khan shadow justice secretary has indicated that a Labour Government would change the law so that the police, judiciary and other public sector organisation could positively discriminate in favor of recruiting people from Black and minority ethnic groups. What this means in practice is that organisations would be able to specifically advertise for black candidates, all black short lists could be drawn up and quotas could be set for the number of BME people an organisation must employ. The aim is to address the under representation of black people particularly in senior posts. The need for such a radical change to recruitment practices is the extremely slow progress that has been made since the equal opportunities legislation was introduced. Grand sounding equal opportunity policies, wide ranging strategies, recruitment targets and comprehensive monitoring arrangements have not led to a scaling of the snowy white peaks of the NHS, Civil Service, Police or local government. It would appear that things won't change unless things are done very differently. But could these moves however well intentioned be counterproductive, creating tension in the boardroom, resentment in senior management teams, and hostility on the shop floor? If you see a job you would like to apply for but can't because it is only for BME candidates how would you react? If you are an ambitious middle manager how would you feel about an all black short list which excludes you despite the fact that you have more experience? How do you react to the suggestion your new boss only got the job because they are black? How do you feel if you are that new boss?
You can sum up these concerns in one question, will positive discrimination result in incompetent people being appointed to senior posts? I agree with the feminist who replied "we will not have true equality until an incompetent woman can rise to the same heights as an incompetent man."
We use to say we fill all our posts with the best candidates irrespective of race, gender or faith, most people would see that as fair. So why then has it not resulted in a more representative workforce? Why are 80 percent of public sector employees’ women but only 20 percent senior managers? There are lots of reasons but the solution is simple all women short lists. Likewise we can speculate why there are so few BME senior managers or we can simply fill all future vacancies from all black short lists until the workforce has the same proportion of black people as are present in the local area. Of course employing more BME people will not of itself tackle ignorance or challenge negative stereotypes, stop harassment or prevent bullying these require management action and staff training. New managers and senior managers from BME groups will need additional help and support if they are not to be set up to fail. Fast track development schemes, mentoring and peer support groups have shown that if they are adequately resourced and have the enthusiastic support of senior managers they can make a real difference.
Blair McPherson author of An Elephant in the Room- about equality and diversity published by Russell House www.blairmcpherson.co.uk