I recently spoke at the AIM Great Debate: Does Positive Discrimination Work? As you can tell by the title of this blog, I was on the negative team. Here’s a transcript of my speech.
Thankyou affirmatives – I don’t think there’s any risk of Melania Trump stealing that material!
My name is Amanda Daff and I am the Head of Client Strategy at Employment Innovations. We agree we are facing a hugely complex diversity issue. We will prove that positive discrimination is not the answer. It not only fails to address the root cause of the diversity problem; it is built upon the same bigotries that caused the problem in the first instance.
I have an absolute powerhouse of a team behind me ladies and gentleman, and whilst positive discrimination doesn’t work – they certainly do!
Our hugely inspiring second speaker, Ben Pentingill, speaks from first-hand experience today, after waking up 98% blind at 16 years of age. Ben will demonstrate exactly why positive discrimination systematically acts to disempower and alienate those it seeks to include.
Our third speaker, Catherine Carter, will conclude that enforced discriminatory practices – however positive – is not a sensible, long term answer in battling the existence of discrimination.
By definition, positive discrimination is the practice of favouring individuals belonging to groups which suffer discrimination. Today, the affirmative ask us to accept that by alienating marginalised groups, we are “making up for” or making those groups feel better about their prior alienation (go figure)?! Affirmatives, we appreciate your intentions, but you can stop trying to put lipstick on a pig.
Lets make this clear – Positive discrimination does not work. It does not “make up for” these shortcomings. It acknowledges these shortcomings – yet fails to deal with their cause. Positive discrimination is built on the illusion that we can all be the same. Aimers – The fact that we are not the same is the very essence of diversity. We are all different and hell – let’s celebrate that! Until we create a society which celebrates diversity, positive discrimination only serves to further engrain the biases and bigotry that we all agree no longer serve us.
Lets look at a 2016 example of a Big 4 financial institution who positively discriminated across its female workforce – making an additional $500 annual super contribution to female employees under their “Bridging the Super Gap for Women Policy”. In the opening statement of their PR release, the bank’s reasons their new policy on the following basis:
“When you look at today’s superannuation system, you can see it wasn’t designed with the specific needs of women in mind”
What the? … Isn’t the fact that we so openly agree that our superannuation legislation wasn’t designed for more than half of the citizens it covers actually more worthy of addressing here? After such an acknowledgment it defies all logic that the solution can then lie in a discriminatory “add-on” to that fundamentally flawed system, rather than tackling the system itself.
Let me be clear – where the financial institution has failed so on point in this act of positive discrimination, is that it too perpetuates discrimination, and the assumption that every employee’s situation is the same. That all women take time out to have children and that no men undertake primary care giver roles. By doing this, the bank has given greater voice to the true threat to diversity. They’ve openly discriminated against men and women who may choose a different path than its policy assumes. Its robbing Peter to pay Paul … or in this case Pauline!
This policy is not a positive step in addressing the true threat to diversity; rather a condescending sympathy payment that recognizes the system itself doesn’t uphold diversity, and worse … it accepts that. Rather, a more impactful approach to real change would be to use the banks influence as a major superannuation provider to lobby government for real legislative change. This would truly be championing diversity.
The affirmative’s argument that positive discrimination works relies on the delusion that there are simple, easy, enforceable solutions to inequality. To hide in this guise of simplicity is nothing more than a wishful avoidance strategy. Positive discrimination is no miracle cure – in fact it is far from it – rather an irritant to an already inflamed issue.
There cannot be positive discrimination without discrimination. Eliminate the need for discrimination altogether, and address the true cause of an engrained lack of diversity, then we are left with the real positive.