EEF director-general speaks out against calls for positive action

Calls for the government to enforce positive action have been branded “populist, false thinking” by a UK business leader.

In an exclusive interview with Personnel Today, Martin Temple, director-general of employers’ group the EEF, hit out at the increasing pressure on the government to use positive discrimination, which could see organisations forced to employ more people from ethnic minorities.

“It is very easy for people to talk like this,” he said. “It is a superficially interesting way of doing things, but it brings in all sorts of complexities that employers cannot manage without bringing disadvantages to others.”

Speculation that positive discrimination is on its way to the UK grew last week when a government-commissioned report backed the use of US-style contract compliance. This system is used in the US to ensure companies doing business with the government are set goals and timetables for increasing ethnic employment.

This is not the best way forward, Temple said. “If you are going to positively discriminate, how do you prioritise between women, black people, ethnic minorities, disabled people and so on?”

Diversity expert Binna Kandola, senior partner at consultancy Pearn Kandola, also spoke out against positive discrimination. “I am not in favour of targets, let alone quotas,” he said.

“This is merely [an attempt] to fix the numbers by artificial means. But I fear the government might go down this route. It is edging that way all the time.”

Kandola this week recommended a simple technique to reduce bias in the selection process by encouraging interviewers to pause and consider their subconscious bias when seeing a black or ethnic minority person.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, backed more widespread application of the technique, saying it could have “significant implications”.

See next week’s issue of Personnel Today for a full interview with Martin Temple

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