You call that positive discrimination?

Becky, Rosie, Jasmine - The R&D girls

Rosie recently wrote her feelings about women speakers at conferences and the small backlash against encouraging women to speak.

Most people I’ve spoken to agree that attempts to increase diversity are a goodthing. Inevitably however, there are some that immediately cry ‘positive discrimination!’. I find myself trying to combat the same old misconceptions time and time again

So she runs through some of those misconceptions people cling to when talking about women at conferences. The big one which I hear over and over again is… positive discrimination.

Conflating terms: positive discrimination, quotas, and diversity targets

People often use the phrase ‘positive discrimination’ when they mean something else entirely. Positive discrimination, otherwise known as affirmative action, is the process of; given two equal candidates; preferring the one who is usually disadvantaged by discrimination. This is different to quotas, where a certain number of places are reserved for disadvantaged minorities. This is different again from diversity targets, which as they describe, are a target, not a mandate. Targets often involve simply trying to attract a wider, more diverse range of people to apply for a role, with no preferential treatment after that stage. For brevity, I shall group these under the term ‘diversity measures’. You may take issue with one kind of diversity measure and not with another, but let’s get our definitions straight from the start.

Rosies right, there’s too many people calling things by the wrong name. Sometimes they do it cause fuss and confusion, sometimes its by accident. What ever the reason,  the choice of words tend to strike up visions of people getting ahead not on their own merit and blah blah before you know it, there’s the sliver of anger and before long the rest of the terms come to the minds and out pops…

  • I just want the best person, regardless of gender
  • We should be blind to gender!
  • Women don’t like diversity measures, they’re patronising
  • There just aren’t enough qualified women around
  • It results in a drop in quality
  • Diversity measures are inherently unfair

Yes I know you all have heard this from people we know, and should know better… Ugh. So what we going to do about it?

300 seconds is back in Manchester on Adalovelace day 14th October. Last time we hosted it at the BBC and it was a great night full of enjoyment and a real good chance for some great women to gain some confidence public speaking.

If anything Rosie or I have said chimes with you, and you want to make a difference. Apply to be a speaker, its rewarding and you will be doing something positive which will help pave the path for others to follow in your footsteps.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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