A recent BBC incident has got us in a muddle againby Jessica Abrahams / October 4, 2016 / Leave a comment
Though most are happy to say that they’re in favour of equality in the workplace, “positive discrimination” is one of those concepts that tends to get people in a tizz. Without it, it’s difficult to make the progress in representation and diversity that needs to be made; with it, it looks like some candidates are being unfairly favoured over others. Even within the feminist community, there is no real consensus on this.
Now we’re all in a muddle again as Jon Holmes, a Bafta-winning writer and long-time presenter of Radio 4’s The Now Show, says the BBC has given him the boot because producers want to “recast [the show] with more women and diversity.” In an article for The Mail on Sunday, Holmes stressed that he is in favour of diversity but asked, reasonably enough: “Should I, as a white man (through no fault of my own), be fired from my job because I am a white man?”
Many colleagues, commentators and equality campaigners have defended Holmes, with much of the criticism focusing on a concern that appointments should be based on merit, rather than skin colour, sex or other qualities irrelevant to the job. “What if we’re all just ‘people?’” Holmes himself wrote. “Call me crazy but what if, regardless of skin colour, or anything else, the best candidate gets the job?”
Of course we all want the best person to get the job—that’s exactly what positive discrimination is intended to achieve.
Here’s the problem (as if it needs reiterating): white men, among other groups, are wildly over-represented in almost all positions of power and prominence. As an example: although men make up less than half of the UK’s adult population, they account for almost all FTSE 100 CEOs, more than 80 per cent of national newspaper editors and around three-quarters of MPs, judges and university professors. The more senior the level, the more exaggerated the disparity—an effect replicated in workplaces across the country.
I repeat these statistics in order to make a point: unless white men are simply better than the rest of us, appointments are currently not being made…