Friday, 14 January 2011

Positive Discrimination Versus Meritocracy - The Moral Maze BBC Radio programme.


(This is a very good radio programme, with the meritocrats putting foward particularly strong arguments against the use of positive discrimination in the workplace.

Blacks, gays, and asians are mentioned, but the feeling I get from this programme, is that whats really being talked about here, is wether women should recieve special treatment in the form of 'positive discrimination'.

Most of what I've summarized is the common sense spoken by the meritocrats. What I havent written about, is that the guests supporting meritocracy are questioned by two 'positive discrimination' advocates, Portillo and Taylor. These two people have to be heard to be believed. They are absurd. The arguments they use, the way they twist things around (listen to Taylor, ex-political advisor to Tony Blair, on the benefit of positive discrimination for male primary school teachers. If he was sincere, which I dont think he is, he would try to understand why there are so few male primary school teachers in the first place. That will be the subject of a future blog post.)

Positive Action Versus Meritocracy - The Moral Maze.

'When is it fair, to be unfair?

Thats been the big argument this week, in the wake of the governments decision to press on with that bit of Harriet Harman's 'Equality Act', that encourages employers when faced with candidates of equal merit to pick the woman, the black, the disabled person, maybe the gay.

All of those catagories are held to be under-represented in the more desirable parts of the workplace.

Only around 1 in 12 FTSE company board members are women.

Is that because they dont want that kind of job, or is it because they just arnt up to it? or is it because the model for success is white, male, able-bodied and heterosexual? as are most of the people on selection panels.

Either way, as no two candidates are ever as exactly of equal merit, it now seems there is official approval to discriminate, at the very margins at least, on grounds of group identity, rather than personal qualities.

There are deeper questions here about the idea of equality.

How far is it possible, or even desirable?

Is inequality the basic human condition? Even the essential spur to achievement?

Is only equality of opportunity the ideal, or equality of outcome?

Is either at all realistic when life is a lottery, and being born to stupid or uncaring parents mean you probably lost before you began.

The truth is, our society is very unequal, and becoming more so.

There are those that argue that our evolution from an old fashioned class system, to an albeit imperfect meritocracy, has resulted in an elite less self-concious, or apologetic, about its privileges. More determined their children should have them too.

Equality verses merit. Thats the Moral Maze tonight.

Our panel includes Melanie Philips social commentator for The Daily Mail, Claire Fox from The Institute of Ideas, the former conservative cabinet minister Michael Portillo, and Matthew Taylor once Tony Blairs political advisor now chief executive of the RSA (the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce).

Our witnesses are Laurence Davis the founder and owner of Equal Justice Solicitors who's been involved in the largest of the sex discrimination cases to date, Simon Howard who's the founder and chairman of WorkGroup PLC a recruitment services business, Linda Belos who chairs the Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners, and Ross Clarke author of 'How To Label A Goat - The Silly Rules and Regulations That Are Strangling Britain'.

Interviewer to Melanie Philips: "Is all this a step forward for woman-kind?"

Philips: "I dont think its a step forward for human-kind. Im a meritocrat, and I think theres a terrible confusion here between equality and what I would call indenticality. Yes, we're absolutely all equal as human beings, but the idea that we're all entitled to identical outcomes, taking no account of our behaviour, or particular circumstances, is I think an idea that is both absurd, and has sinister consequences."

Micheal Portillo to Simon Howard: "Would you not be very worried if you thought that people of talent were being excluded for reasons that simply had to do with their birth or their sex?"

Howard: "I am worried, that for example, if an employer says "Im going to set a 2:1 (degree) bar for applicants, what they are therefore doing is disadvantaging black males and those from asian origins who are unrepresented in universities. Whats more, 40% of all those achieving a 2:1 and 1st are men, 60% are women.

The education system is something which disadvantages men, across the board, it disadvantages those from ethnic minorities."

Interviewer to Ross Clarke: "On the face of it, women are underpaid and under-represented, not many blacks are in postions of power and influence. Rob, whats wrong with a bit of a push at the margins?"

Clarke: "Well it depends how you measure the pay-gap. We keep getting this pay-gap quoted at us. There is a gender pay-gap if you take male and female earnings and completely disregard what they're doing, how many hours theyre working. If you actually compare like-for-like, that pay gap tends to disappear.

"What I dont understand is why, when quite clearly things have been going in the right direction for 50 years, do we suddenly need this great weight of extra legislation, that is putting huge burdens on business, and is putting employment into an atmosphere of fear, which is a bonanza for lawyers, frankly."

"The justification of equality discrimination legislation hinges on this principle that employers are too stupid to choose the right people to employ, and that they have to be told, that there is this great number of hidden talent out there, which their prejudices are denying them. I dont think thats the case."

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