What is meant by positive discrimination?

What is meant by positive discrimination?

Positive discrimination is the process of giving preferential treatment, especially in employment, to minority groups of society that have been prejudiced against in the past.

It should be noted that ‘preferential treatment’ does not mean that these individuals will automatically be preferred to another candidate, but rather should two candidates be deemed a similar level, the individual from the minority group will be preferred.

For example, should two candidates who are equally matched in skills go for a job and one is from a minority group and one isn’t, then positive discrimination will see that the former candidate will receive the job offer.

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Arguments for and against positive discrimination

The concept of positive discrimination is a controversial one and something that usually causes heated debate. Those who advocate against positive discrimination point to the fact that discrimination of any kind is wholly wrong. They claim that while it is unfortunate that certain minority groups have been prejudiced against in the past, by implementing a system of positive discrimination the problem is not helped.

It is argued by those against positive discrimination that not only is it wholly unfair to favour somebody on the basis of their background, but also that the whole process leads to more division in society. The reasoning for this is that people who have failed to get jobs as a result of positive discrimination, or even those that haven’t but assume they have, may resent certain parts of society that have been favoured, and society as a whole suffers as a result.

Proponents of positive discrimination point to the fact that the best, or at least most well-paid jobs in society tend to go to people from majority social groups. While a growing percentage of the population come from groups that were previously discriminated against, there is still a small percentage of these people being represented in top-level jobs. This seems to show that clearly they are still being prejudiced against (if not directly, then by the system). Supporters of positive discrimination claim that this means there is a problem with the way top jobs are filled and therefore positive discrimination, used when there are two similarly skilled candidates, is the best way to resolve this.

Affirmative action

The idea of positive discrimination came form the US where an ‘affirmative action’ programme has been used to try and ensure the make-up of certain work places reflects that of society. It should be noted that under UK law you cannot discriminate against somebody because of their race, sex or social background as that would be against the law.

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