Employer Branding

Should Companies Actively Use Positive Discrimination?

It was once thought of as the best way to ensure a diverse and inclusive workforce. Jobs and programs aimed just at one specific group to ensure only applicants from those backgrounds would apply and therefore helping companies meet their diversity quotas.

The practise has now been made unlawful but there are other means and ways companies can ensure they attract a diverse workforce. Our panel of diversity and inclusion experts tell you positive discrimination isn’t the way forward.

Natasha Broomfield-Reid

Although positive discrimination has been used in the past to address under representation, it can have a negative effect, and can undermine positive previous work that has been carried out regarding diversity and inclusion, especially at senior levels, with the issue of tokenism.

I am more of a believer in positive action when an employer takes steps to help or encourage certain groups of people with different needs, or who are disadvantaged to apply for roles as this widens the talent pool and enhances opportunities for skilled applicants who are currently under represented.

Natasha Broomfield-Reid, Head of Development at Equal Approach.

Caroline Stokes

It’s unlawful to actively seek a particular gender for a role. However, I’ve seen companies suggest it would be ‘good to hire a woman to balance the 20 men in the team’, where they can clearly see there is a need to have a more diverse team. Whether they end up hiring a woman for the job is irrelevant, as it’s about finding the best person for the job.

Caroline Stokes, Executive Headhunter & Coach. Founder of FORWARD.

Nicola Crawford

An open and transparent diversity policy and practices should be adhered to at all times. Diversity isn’t the tricky bit it’s inclusivity that often poses the problem. Ensuring that all parts of society are reflected in the workforce is important but again it should be the right person for the job.

Nicola Crawford, CFIRM, Chair of the Institute of Risk Management.

Joanna Abeyie

I’d always advocate an inclusive recruitment business which means therefore that you will always have a diverse talent shortlist, as all those who feel they have the relevant skills will apply for those roles.

Sometimes, businesses feel they need to positively discriminate in the first instance to allow for real change, especially if in their opinion they feel they are starting from a position of no diversity. However, while I can understand the reason for positively discriminating, it will only work out if the environment in which you have introduced talent is an inclusive, tolerant and one in which celebrates and welcomes difference, otherwise it’s an empty exercise.

Joanna Abeyie, Managing Director, Hyden, SThree.

 Suki Sandhu

Ultimately, the best person for the job should always get hired. To find this person, you need to ensure that you’re selecting candidates from a wide and diverse enough pool so that all diversity groups are given the same opportunity.


Suki Sandhu, CEO and founder of Audeliss.

Charlotte Sweeney

As a general rule, ‘positive discrimination’ is prohibited in employment. In contrast, ‘positive action’ is permitted and may even be required in certain circumstances. Positive discrimination means treating one person more favourably than another on the ground of aspects such as gender, race, age, marital status or sexual orientation.

Limited forms of ‘positive action’ are permitted under all strands of UK discrimination legislation. For example, employers are allowed to offer disadvantaged groups access to facilities for training and to encourage job applications from under-represented groups.

Employers can use positive action when selecting between two equally qualified candidates. This enables employers to base their recruitment decisions on, for example, gender or ethnicity where there is under-representation in the workforce of that particular group and they are faced with two or more equally suitable candidates for an available role.

Charlotte Sweeney, Managing Director of Charlotte Sweeney Associates Ltd.

Sarah Nahm

No. The goal of diversity and inclusion is to hire and invest in the best people out there, not to specifically hire more women or minorities. Positive discrimination ultimately has negative effects on all parties; it diminishes the achievements of the women and underrepresented minorities you hire (“did they only hire me because I’m black?”) and can lead to misguided resentment among other employees (“they only hired her because she’s black”).

Sarah Nahm, CEO, Lever.


By Ushma Mistry

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