Letter: Positive discrimination is unfair (1)

November 9, 2001

The Equal Opportunities Commission is correct in saying that positive discrimination is illegal under the Sex Discrimination Act ("Macho, white culture to go", THES , November 2). But positive action - creating the opportunity for the "minority sex" to have special training or to be encouraged to apply for jobs - is legal under sections 47 and 48 of the act.

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act has placed a duty on employers to eliminate race discrimination and promote equality of opportunity.

The quotation The THES used from the report of a discussion by heads of Cambridge institutions included the word "equality" in square brackets. The insertion distorts the message, which is about the need for institutions to look at staff profiles as part of any exercise in filling a vacancy. This aim, far from suggesting positive discrimination, reflects the letter and the spirit of legislation.

The university has monitored appointments for more than ten years. Results show that women and men are appointed to posts in the same proportion as they apply.

Nevertheless, the equality audit showed there was still work to do. The university is investing in supporting new policies and good practice in every area, including recruitment. Positive action will play a part in these. Positive discrimination will not.

Peter J. Deer
Director of personnel
University of Cambridge

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