Rare chance for an open debate on discrimination

Judging by the reaction to our front page news story last week about a new recruitment agency that only places ‘visibly non-white candidates’ in jobs, emotions clearly run high at the mention of race discrimination.

Our story prompted the agency, Rare Recruitment, to alter the wording on its website, which now claims it is open to all. The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the chairman of Rare Recruitment’s advisory panel both wrote to us to defend the agency’s aims and actions (see letters, right) in tackling the under-representation of ethnic minorities in UK industry.

Personnel Today is supportive of employers that take ‘positive action’ to ensure ethnic minorities get the same opportunities to succeed in the workplace as ‘visibly white’ people – but not if that means breaking the law along the way in a bid to balance the demographic make-up of an organisation.

If a company introduced a ‘whites only’ policy, the CRE would be the first to stamp down on it.

Organisations such as the Somerset and Avon Police (which turned down white applicants) have found to their cost that there is a fine line between positive action and discrimination, which is why there is a clear need for a serious debate on this issue.

In this week’s news analysis (page 10), we kick off that debate by questioning whether there might actually be a case for positive discrimination on the basis of race or gender. Generally, the answer is no – recruitment decisions should be based on talent alone. But employers still need help in identifying the causes of inequality in their workforces so they can take steps to address them. This needs to go far beyond training staff in diversity and, on page 20, our feature argues that this approach risks becoming a ‘tick box’ exercise.

The debate may throw up more questions than answers. But patronising people by giving them jobs on the basis of their gender or race is certainly not the answer.

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