Equality and Diversity
Inequality exists, even in societies without formal stratification (Parsons, 1970). Whilst complete societal equality may be unattainable, Equal Opportunities (EO) policies aim to ‘reduce the gap’. Inequality takes different forms and there is much theoretical debate regarding which grouping variables, such as gender or age, are important. There exist three key notions of ‘equality of opportunity’: formal, liberal and radical.
The former two are minimalist concepts, concerned principally with equality of opportunity – the ‘beginning’ of the process. Conversely, the radical perspective, a maximalist concept, is more concerned with outcome. This paper outlines these three approaches, evaluates their successes and considers whether Managing Diversity (MD) may prove more useful. Formal equality of opportunity, or procedural justice (Weale, 1996), underpins UK anti-discrimination legislation and anti-discriminatory statements in EO policies and some United States policies.
This notion formed the core of such legislation as the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (amended 1986), Race Relations Act (1976, amended 2000) and Disability Discrimination Act 1995, now superseded by the Equality Act 2010. The concept is that when two individuals have equal status in at least one normatively relevant respect, they must be treated equally in this regard. Formal equality adopts Aristotle’s principle that “injustice arises when equals are treated unequally and also when unequals are treated equally” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Book V)).
The formal ideal is equality of treatment; that all will be treated equally, unless otherwise justified by knowledge, experience or ability. Within the formal model, equality is defined as ‘fairness’, which should ensure that equals, or the equally qualified, have an equal probability of selection for education or employment positions. The fundamental aim is to inhibit direct discrimination or the use of ‘irrelevant’ criteria in selection processes, for example gender, ethnicity or ‘newlywed’ status (Blakemore and Drake, 1996).
Whilst recognizing this, the model also accepts that EO policies cannot equalize society, that unequal abilities and merits inevitably result in unequal positions for the unequally qualified. Merit, thus, is the key criterion in the labour market for differential treatment (Mullender and Thompson, 2003). Becker (1998) highlights the ‘Sixties shift to formal equality’, recounting the second feminist movement during which feminists like Friedan (1963) argued that women and men, being similarly situated, should have the same rights and opportunities.
For economists Milton and Rose Friedman, EO should not be interpreted literally, but there should exist no arbitrary obstacles blocking individuals from realizing their ambitions (Friedman and Friedman, 1980). More recently, Roemer (2000) uses the term nondiscrimination principle, meaning that all individuals possessing the relevant attributes for a particular position be included in the pool of eligible candidates, and that an individual’s possible occupancy of the position be judged only with respect to those attributes.
Proponents of the formal approach hold that competition is no less equitable than any other method of allocating employment or places in education (Blakemore and Drake,1996). Johns and Green, (2009) assert that formal equality focuses on “direct discrimination”; a situation whereby individuals or groups target another for different (whether positive or negative) treatment. They highlight numerous problems with conceptualising discrimination in this way which, they hold, have become increasingly apparent since the publication of The Macpherson Report (1999) into the failed investigations of the ‘racially motivated’ murder of Stephen Lawrence.
They support Carmichael and Hamilton’s (1967) assertions that discrimination is not just about individual prejudices and actions, but systemic processes. Macpherson (1999) defined the concept of institutionalised racism, which achieved central recognition and was eventually adopted by the Metropolitan Police Service and other agencies. For Johns and Green (2009), simply to address individual, direct forms of discrimination is insufficient; only two forms of EO can be aimed at institutional discrimination – radical (which they do not support) or liberal.
The liberal notion, incorporating elements of formal EO, defines equality as ‘equality of fair opportunity’ (Rawls, 1999), with the fundamental aim that individuals possessing equal talents and ambitions should also have equal prospects. The model recognises that the effects of past discrimination are likely to impact negatively on current equality of opportunity and the impact of institutional discrimination. Here, whilst merit-based recruitment may be applied, some individuals may not have had the same opportunities as a result of such group characteristics as gender or ethnicity.
Although this model, sometimes known as ‘prospect-regarding equal opportunities’ formed part of the legislation of the early 1970s, it was seldom used (Iganski and Mason, 2003). A need to employ policies to reduce gaps in income, educational attainment, wealth and health was recognised and addressed by such legislation as the Equal Pay Act, 1970, Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Race Relations Act 1976 (superceded by the Equality Act 2010). Liberal notions of equality became the preferred option of New Labour following the Macpherson Report.
For Edwards and Batley (1978), it can be used in two different ways. It can mean targeting additional resources to underprivileged areas, sometimes termed area-based positive discrimination, exemplified by such government programmes as the Urban Programme from the 1960s onwards and, more recently, the New Deal for Communities (Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, 2006). Simply preventing discrimination, even if this were possible, is not enough to equalise opportunities, as it only preserves and maintains the status quo. Positive action, the more common form of liberal equality, takes a variety of forms.
These include establishing goals and targets, out-reach recruitment efforts, advertising in specific forms of media aimed at certain groups, even additional training for those already in post. This is done in recognition of systemic disadvantage and in an attempt to equalize background conditions. Whilst, as stated, this has been legal since the 1970s (at least in relation to race, ethnicity, nationality and gender), such activities were rare until the late 1990s (Iganski and Mason, 2003). Positive action now forms a central component of the EO agenda for the public sector and often the private sector.
However, any real scope to influence the labour market by these means is limited by fiscal men and five percent emanated from ethnic minority backgrounds. Moreover, only fifty-nine percent were selected from the A-list; the remainder were local candidates. As well as similarities, there are philosophical differences between formal and liberal approaches. Although theorists have attempted to conflate them (Liff, 1996), Iganski and Mason (2003) highlight fundamental contradiction, asserting that these principals are mutually exclusive equality policy options.
The formal commands equal treatment, while the liberal requires differential treatment. Even if used during different stages of selection processes (which is unusual) they remain philosophically opposed. For Colebatch (2002) this has crucial implications for effective EO policies, since consistency is universally recognised as a central prerequisite for any policy measure. Radical equality of opportunity conflicts with both the formal and liberal approaches since it is concerned with outcomes, or equal shares, rather than opportunity.
A radical approach may be justified by the limitations of the principles of the formal and liberal. From a radical viewpoint, degrees of equality and inequality are demonstrated by representation; the focus is to achieve equal outcomes by removing entrenched social divisions. Existing inequality is based on inherited structures of privilege and discrimination against politically and/or economically disadvantaged groups. In this model, organisations become microcosms of wider society and some inequality is acceptable, provided it reflects variation in aptitude, ability and personal choice (Blakemore and Drake, 1996: 56).
Radical thinking questions the possibility of merit being objectively defined, arguing instead that it is socially constructed, that powerful groups set societal criteria which are neither value-neutral nor fair. Bourdieu (1990), for example, highlighted resistance to standardisation in educational testing systems, originating from an inherited elite fighting to preserve invisible modes of evaluation that reproduce the privileged status of a select few. From this perspective, skills, abilities and knowledge are not equally available to all.
Further, Human Resources (HR) procedures cannot produce equitable outcomes (Cockburn, 1989; Liff, 1996), so emphasis is placed less on procedures and more on labour market outcomes. The radical solution is to politicise decision-making processes in order to promote the interests of disadvantaged groups and overcome inherent or historical bias. The state should be acknowledged as a key player in any practice which will ensure equitable employment outcomes for all groups in society (Waring, 1996).
Affirmative Action, known in the UK as positive discrimination, refers to radical equality policies which consider variables such as race, religion or gender in order to benefit underrepresented groups in employment or education. Justification for this, from the radical perspective, is that it compensates for past injustice, such as the legacy of black slavery (Anderson, 2005). Positive discrimination is quite different from positive action, and its use in UK area-based policies in the 1960s attracted widespread disapproval (Smith, 1987).
In the 1980s and 90s, in both the UK and the US, positive (or ‘reverse’) discrimination became understood as ‘preferential treatment’ of some groups over others. Positive discrimination allows preferential treatment of disadvantaged groups regardless of merit; organisations fill quotas by selecting individuals on the basis of their membership of an underrepresented group, for example their ethnicity or gender. This was illegal in the UK under racial equality laws and the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. MD, an entirely corporate notion with no legal status, was first used in the United States in 1987 as a ‘way forward’ for organizations (Bagilhole, 1997). The concept embodies two key assumptions; that because social groups are diverse, discrimination and disadvantage are multifaceted, and that organisations can benefit from valuing, and effectively managing, diversity. The aim is to harness differences, creating a productive environment in which individual potential is maximised and organisational goals are met (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998).
MD is often defined via comparison with EO approaches, as summarised by Torrington, Hall and Taylor (2002). Regarding drivers for change, EO is externally driven, rests on moral and legal arguments and perceives EO as a cost, whereas MD is internally driven, rests on ‘business case’ and perceives MD as investment. Concerning degrees of integration, EO is operational, concerned with process and externally imposed, with a low ‘buy-in’, whereas MD is strategic, concerned with outcomes and internalised by all.
EO and MD concepts’ perception of difference also varies; EO considers difference problematic and advocates assimilation, whereas MD celebrates difference and advocates mainstream adaptation. MD aims, through a business-driven model, to challenge organisational culture to view diversity as positive. Liff (1996) identifies four different policy approaches within the MD notion: dissolving differences, valuing differences (e. g. training for underrepresented groups), accommodating differences (e.g. targeted recruitment drives) and utilizing differences (e. g. alternative promotion tracks). Various methods are used, including audits, vision statements, business-related objectives, communication and accountability. Currently with less equality legislation than the UK, Jersey is one example of a jurisdiction which takes the MD approach to a greater extent than EO. For Kandola, the main difference is that MD is inherently individualistic, concentrating on every way in which people differ.
EO approaches fail to emphasise the strategic importance and value of diversity and equality, focusing on the operational processes and considering equality in terms of its cost implications rather than its organisational benefits (Stankevich, 2001). What is clear, assert Parker and Hall (1993) is that progressive firms see a positive correlation between diversity, productivity and competitiveness, but are more likely to identify EO with legislation and cost. Diversity serves as a driving force, while EO is a regulating one.
Anderson and Metcalfe (2003) found that diversity can benefit a business complex, arguing that many workforces are diverse in a range of both invisible and established categories (See Appendix). (Johns and Green, 2009) agree that the growing evidence in support of MD is becoming hard to ignore. Within Higher Education Institutions, asserts Warner (2004), benefits of this approach include increasing student numbers, ‘tapping the talent pool’, opening new roles and markets, improving teaching and learning and enhancing reputation and access to funding.
MD approaches also benefit the community; policies supporting ex-offender employment reduce reoffending rates and crime. One can clearly see why MD presents an attractive alternative to managers and government. Here, the focus shifts from the employee to the goals of the firm or economy as being of prime importance. MD enables firms to respond to changing market conditions and links investment in human capital to recruitment and HR functions (Gardenschwartz and Rowe, 1998).
The problem with this, for proponents of EO, is that the entire basis of the legislation would be lost, and entrenched discrimination against certain groups could be legitimised. If we focus on individual factors, excluding nobody, then nothing prevents employers from recruiting an entire workforce of white, middle-aged men, justifying this on the basis of individual qualities and skills (Michaels, 2008). Cook (1978) disputes not only the value of ‘diversity’ as a concept, but also the specific model of MD proposed by Kandola and Fullerton (1998).
Individualisation is a dangerous path to take in terms of equality, resulting in individual pay bargaining, personalised contracts and performance related pay. The potential for exploitation, cautions Cook, is clear. Other writers assert concerns that, because MD is internally driven and directly linked to business aims and wider economic success, there are obvious adverse consequences for social justice (Ross and Schneider, 1992; Dickens, 1994; Wilson, 1996). For Johns and Green (2009), a further problem with MD is that it would spell the end for positive action measures.
They believe Kandola (1995) and Kandola and Fullerton (1998) mistaken in their claim that EO is driven by positive action, which is problematic because: “… such approaches do not fit in with a MD approach and need to be rethought if an organisation truly wishes to become diversity-oriented” (Kandola and Fullerton, 1998:5) Therefore, argue Johns and Green, the MD framework provided is inconsistent, incoherent and incomplete. Earlier, Johns (2006) argued that MD amounts to little more than a cynical, flexible tool designed for employers to recruit exactly the people they want according to their own needs and prejudices.
Johns and Green assert that if MD displaced EO as a government priority, it is possible to see the entire edifice of EO legislation and policy collapsing. Many theorists, in answer to criticism, have highlighted the importance of leadership in successful diversity management. For Blumer (1969), interaction with the ‘self’ is critical and Mintzberg (2004) asserts that the successful future of MD lies in engaging leadership styles. As the Cabinet Office (cmps Online 2010) highlights, to achieve true diversity, organisations may face significant culture change, examination both of history and present practice.
Whilst the concept of MD may have its disadvantages, then, if properly managed, it can be a positive force for change. Looking to the future of equality and diversity, inequality patterns continue in the UK labour market. A major report (The Resolution Foundation , 2011) ranked Britain fifteenth for female employment among OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, due to insufficient childcare funding (Merrick, 2011). However, a more recent report revealed that in 210, out of 374 local authority areas in England, Wales and Northern Ireland women made up at least half of all employees (Kenny, 2012).
Kenny argues that this makes equal pay for women an issue not only of fairness, but one which impacts on the economic prosperity of many areas. Employers must provide flexible working and family-friendly policies. Whilst EO policies have had positive impact, a Managing Diversity approach may be more useful in moving forward. Liff (1999) indicates that “traditional equal opportunity strategies encourage a view that women (and other groups) have a problem and need help” (p. 70).
In essence, Liff and others believe the EO approach an oversimplified response to a complicated problem, effective only in dealing with sypmtoms, not roots, of inequality and discrimination. Whilst the question of whether EO or MD is the more useful may be viewed essentially as a ‘stick vs carrot’ argument, it seems that perhaps the most useful approach make take elements of both. Governments and organisations face a challenging task: successful leaders must cross cultural boundaries in order to encourage and harness the full potential of an increasingly diverse population.
A structure which upholds EO, with an effective MD culture would be the ideal combination. Unlike traditional approaches to EO, MD cannot easily be legislated, nor can it be target-driven. Valuing difference is not achieved through training programmes focused on legal obligations or authoritarian management dictates. It is rooted in the understanding that everyone has a stake in diversity and a responsibility to engage in the ways it affects equality in society. Whilst it may present challenges, and requires radical change, MD is an approach which has the power to support the goals and continue the achievements of EO policies.