Special people

Another depressing thing today was the totally predictable reaction from some quarters about what I assume was a piece in the Telegraph on Lib Dem controlled Bristol City Council’s decision to offer two graduate traineeships for BME candidates only.

I say I assume… I haven’t bothered to look it up, but I was called yesterday by a Telegraph journo who’d seen something in the BEP (anyone would think the paper was on Lib Dem watch!) and was probably wanting me to condemn the decision. But I wouldn’t.

I think it’s an entirely valid objective to want your workforce to be broadly reflective of the community it serves. As someone who once occupied the exalted position of Vice Chair of the Personnel Committee on Luton Borough Council I did a fair bit of work on issues like this. It’s not easy to achieve change.

It’s important not just to look at numbers, i.e. percentage of BME workers in the workforce cf. percentage of BME population in the local area. What’s also matters is the type of jobs people occupy. Otherwise you can end up achieving your target, but it’s because all the cleaners and porters are black, and none of the senior managers are. It ticks a box, but it’s not the right box. Which is why it’s important to offer things like graduate traineeships too.

You can go so far without resorting to positive discrimination – for example advertising in job centres located in predominantly BME areas, or in the ethnic minority press. Or stopping the informal ‘I’ve got a mate looking for a job’ type recruitment which, we eventually realised, was why all the binmen in Luton were white.

But as we know from our attempts to make Parliament more representative, if you just adopt an approach of allowing these things to ‘happen’ gradually you make very slow progress indeed. Which is why Labour went for all-women shortlists and Cameron resorted to begging and pleading and arm-twisting his Conservative constituency associations to take his A list candidates.

I have a question for those who got so worked up about this on Twitter. Why the outrage over this, of all issues? Why such a sense of injustice over two – a mere two – traineeships being offered to BME candidates, when all across the country thousands of young BME people miss out on the jobs, the training schemes, the internships and the work placements that posh white kids from private schools and Oxbridge have handed to them on a plate? Where’s your sense of unfairness about that? Where’s your concern about the talents that are never discovered, the skills and creativity that are never given the chance to flourish? Eh?

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Comments

  • Chris Paul  On June 3, 2010 at 12:07 am

    This is NOT Positive Discrimination surely? Illegal in this country. This is Positive Action. These two are often conflated.

    PA on race been legal since RRA of 1971 I believe. Training schemes/jobs/roles which do not include a contracted job at the end and where the target group are under-represented CAN recruit in this way and quite right too. Illegal though, last time I looked, if there is a definite job and none of the other exclusions apply.

    These are things like “authenticity” for some roles e.g. waiters and chefs and performers, and also just about possible to make a case for cultural understanding on very limited number of posts. But that’s not usually even attempted.

    Under SDA 1968 there are also PA exclusions for roles where gender is relevant e.g. sauna attendant, women’s refuge, performing roles.

    This stuff is FORTY (count ’em) years old Kerry. Possibly flowing from EU way back when – my partner tells me – though it’s so long ago that I thought it was all our own work.

    Not to be confused with the innovations in more recent legislation e.g. if it’s tied for a post (very rare) employers can but are not forced to choose the under-represented candidate.

    They can still draw lots or flip a coin under that (misunderstood) innovation, but balancing the workforce just seems, like, doh! a reasonable management objective.

    When I used to work in this field the most cynical managers and elected members were often finally won over – if not by “it’s the law, you will do this whatever you may think you bigoted feckwit” – by a stating the obvious argument.

    That being that choosing only clones or from just white men or white middle class men or white middle class men of about 40 in suits with Oxbridge firsts (ahem) was in effect limiting the employer’s scope to 1% to 10% of the true talent pool.

    That usually got ’em. Even the real bigot b’stards. Enlightened self-interest.

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