HR Hartley: Equal opportunities policies don’t mean much

Equality, meritocracy and anti-discriminatory measures and practices enjoy
almost totemic status in the HR profession.

That’s one reason so many job adverts are plastered with messages
proclaiming an organisation’s commitment to various levels and notions of
equality and merit.

Then hirers have to discriminate and find it is not so easy to square
apparently fine ideals and legal requirements with hiring the best person for
the job.

Home secretary David Blunkett came up against that very problem last autumn
when he appointed management consultant, Matt Cavanagh, as a race relations
special adviser.

What made Blunkett’s choice newsworthy, six months later, is that the press
discovered Cavanagh had stated views that are anathema to the equality
industry, especially its race relations branch.

In a 2002 book, Against Equality of Opportunity, written when Cavanagh was
an Oxford University philosophy don, he proposed that not all discrimination is
wrong or irrational and that equality is pie in the sky.

Cavanagh wrote: "People just aren’t equal in any important wayÉ they
are not equally deserving and they are not equally needy. The only context for
equality is in giving out something that is not scarce."

That’ll be the vote and GCSEs.

So, what should HR managers make about Cavanagh’s appointment? They may
think it proves Blunkett is either brave or stupid. But perhaps they should
consider what their equal opportunities policies mean in practice. In my
experience, not much, especially when it comes to recruiting.

For too many, the words ‘We welcome applications etcÉ’ ring hollow. They
should be replaced by ‘We will recruit whoever we think is the best person for
the job’.

Hartley is an HR director at large

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