A Guide to Positive Discrimination vs. Positive Action

Written by Richard O'Connor
Last updated May 20, 2024

Positive discrimination and positive action are two regularly misunderstood terms in the world of employment. Many people thoroughly disagree with positive action because they believe it to be positive discrimination, which is an entirely different matter. 

People often have strongly negative reactions towards the terms positive discrimination and positive action. They may feel that there is a real sense of injustice going on here and maybe even something illegal. In fact, this is a complex topic worth talking about because not everything to do with these terms and practices is fair and legal under employment law in the UK. There’s a fine balance and important distinction to be aware of so that everything is carried about appropriately and ethically. 

In this blog, we’ll explain the critical difference between positive discrimination and positive action. Then, we will plead the case for how and why positive action is an essential practice in modern business, recruitment, and employment. 

An Explanation of Positive Discrimination vs. Positive Action

Let’s get started by clarifying the difference between these two all-important terms.

Positive Discrimination

Positive discrimination is the unlawful process of favouring people from protected characteristic groups. These groups are set out in the Equality Act of 2010 and they include:

Positive discrimination takes place when someone with a specific status in one of these categories is hired over someone else due to that fact alone. For example, imagine an underqualified Asian candidate and a highly qualified white British candidate applied for a job. Positive discrimination would take place if the Asian candidate was hired simply because of the protected characteristic, race.

Under the Equality Act, positive discrimination as described above is an illegal practice.

Positive Action

Positive action takes place when companies actively try to increase the diversity of their staff force by noticing weak spots and taking affirmative action. Someone may be hired over another candidate when taking into consideration a protected characteristic, however, this can only happen if: 

  • The candidate is of equal merit to the person not hired
  • The candidate has a protected characteristic that is under-represented in the workforce
  • People with that same characteristic suffer a disadvantage connected to that characteristic in the workplace, and/or
  • The workplace does not typically favour people of the protected characteristic

Positive action aims to balance the scales for people who are typically underrepresented and under-favoured in the workplace. It does not aim to unfairly favour certain candidates over others nor does it aim to keep qualified and skilled people out of jobs. Positive action is an equitable and reparation-based practice that helps keep EDI figures in the workplace where they should be.

It may involve rooting out unconscious bias, making sure recruitment processes are fair, and being vigilant about a company’s current EDI figures and what might be contributing to any unnecessary failings. It may also, at times, include the simple practice of picking one candidate over another if they are equal in every way apart from fitting in a specific protected characteristic. In this case, that is ok.

Let’s discuss a few more of the benefits involved in this practice. 

The Benefits of Positive Action

The benefits that any company engaging with positive action can expect include

  • Developing a more diverse and inclusive staff
  • Providing opportunities to those who may normally be excluded
  • Creating a more fair and equitable recruitment process
  • Decreasing the employment gap between certain social groups, e.g. for disabled and non-disabled people or white and black people
  • Creating a more diverse working environment in which a wide range of people feel safe and supported
  • Finding valuable and skilled members of staff
  • Demonstrating a diversity-positive mindset both internally and to the general public

Positive action doesn’t hold any of the negative connotations that you may hear associated with positive discrimination. As “discrimination” is no part of this process. Positive action is, in its nature, a positive process that aims to help, support, and grow communities and groups of people, rather than take anything away from anyone else. If you hear someone with a negative attitude towards positive action, likely, they are instead talking about positive discrimination. 

Find Positive Action with Aspiring to Include 

At Aspiring to Include, helping to promote positive action in recruitment and employment is our namesake. Our resources and services help to support both job seekers and employees to find and create true diversity at work. If you want to engage and/or benefit from positive action, we have a home for you on our site.

For job seekers, we can help you learn everything you need to know about discrimination and diversity at work. We have tonnes of blogs, pages, and guides to help you find out about all the must-know topics, from intersectionality to pronouns. Then, we have our inclusive job board and directory of diversity-positive employers. Using these resources, we can help you find jobs that truly care about and promote diversity and positive action. 

For employers, we similarly have a wealth of resources for you to avail of. You can learn about everything from the benefits of hiring female employees to how to reduce bias in job interviews. On top of this, we have valuable services for employers that can help you engage with positive action and equitable employment. We can help you reach a diverse pool of job candidates and be ethical while doing so.

Whoever you are and whatever you want to do, we can help you find diversity and inclusivity at work right here at Aspiring to Include.

And if you need help with something we haven’t mentioned, why not get in touch and let us know?

Let’s work together. 

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Last Updated: Tuesday April 23 2024
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