Gender is one common factor for discrimination and there has been a several cases in the past decade based on sexism in the workplace of a female progression to senior management positions in organisations. A recent article titled “Women hold fewer than third of top jobs” (BBC News, 2012) demonstrates how women occupy fewer than a third of all senior positions across eleven key industries and only occupy 16% of seats in the boardrooms of the UK’s large FTSE 100 companies. This still an obvious recurring problem and there is a burden for organisations to break this ‘glass ceiling’ barrier to provide women opportunities to access the senior positions in the business. It can be aggravating for women as they face this barrier as a form of indirect discrimination in the deeply ingrained sexist culture that still exists amongst many organisations. The fact that this type of discrimination is widely perceived to be morally wrong; it is supported by philosophical principles. With the consequentialist approach and from a utilitarian perspective, we can immediately see how the damage is done to a group of individuals from the decision to restrict women to the senior positions and Richard De George further emphasises this view by arguing that:
“Those who do get the positions and promotions they would not get under conditions of fair competition do benefit. The good done to them, however, is probably not as great as the harm done to those discriminated against” (De George, 2010, p. 357).
De George assumes that the organisations benefits are not utilised as the happiness of the greatest amount of people have not increased. If the organisations had a selection process based on merit, then it would be inevitable that women will fulfil more senior positions in businesses. This imposes a cost to the company, as they are not employing best possible candidates to fulfil the role and combined with the fact that the current employees will not be able to perform to the best of their capable abilities. Such discriminatory practices affects the individuals being discriminated against but also their families, the business itself and society as a whole as it creates a group that is treated unfairly. The utilitarian approach to this problem shows that the outcome of discriminating against women creates more harm than good and therefore is seen as immoral and unethical.
Another common factor for discrimination is race and has been prevalent for many centuries. There have been many various cases of racial discrimination brought up in the workplace and one of the most high profile cases involves the Metropolitan Police. The report of Sir Hernan Ouseley concluded that institutional racism was a major issue in the organisation. The ethnic minority officers complained of discrimination throughout all levels of the organisation and claimed it was in denial of issues of racism and other forms of exclusion (Fisher and Lovell, 2013). By following a deontological approach to analyse the case by the use of Kantianism conveys that the respect of people should exist and it is an obligation within the institution to express the equality. Kantian theory argues that:
“...human beings should be treated as ends and never used merely as means. At a minimum, this principle means that each individual has a moral right to be treated as a free person equal to any other person and that all individuals have a correlative moral duty to treat each individual as a free and equal person” (Velasquez, 2006, p.321).
The obligation of the Metropolitan Police however was not fulfilled as they failed to enforce their stance on their equality policy and as a result, many ethnic minorities felt discriminated against and treated unjustly and therefore the organisation is regarded as immoral and unethical. Consequently, the reputation of the organisation has deteriorated and recruitment and diversity issues have arisen due to potential ethnic minorities being discouraged from joining the force. This is illustrated by the statistics that “within the 43 police forces, 5% of police officers were from a minority ethnic group compared to 9% in the general population” (Parliament.uk, 2013). The ethnic minorities should not be discriminated subject to their stereotype of their respective groups that degrades themselves as individuals and instead should be given opportunities based on attributes such as experience, potential, intelligence etc. Kantian ethics demonstrates standards that are not reliant upon results and aids moral governance by acting on principles and right duties.
There are various legislations put forward by the government since the 1970s to combat the problem of discrimination and to protect both organisations and employees. Such policies are known as affirmative action and can be “referred to plans to safeguard equal opportunity, advertise positions openly, ensure fair recruitment, and create scholarship programs for specific groups” (Boxill cited in Beauchamp, 2010, p. 535). It is the practice where it intended to remedy the imbalance between different individuals and groups that had brought in by previous discriminatory practices. This is done by taking into account factors such as gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age or disability and to apply ‘positive discrimination’ on those grounds in order to promote diversity and equal opportunities. On the other hand, it does bring about reverse discrimination where by providing equal opportunities to people comes at a cost to others who are equally or more qualified for positions in employment or education. A common example of both types of discrimination being applied is where hiring less qualified women over more qualified men and another example is where a highly qualified individual is rejected by a company because they have to fill a quota of a certain race.
The government had imposed targets to the police to recruit more women and ethnic minorities, which lead to unlawfully practiced affirmative action but the end result showed it to be futile (BBC News, 2006). In 2006, Gloucestershire police force openly admitted to illegally rejecting 108 white applicants as they were under pressure to meet target that 7% of the workforce should be from ethnic minority groups by 2009. But with the fact that in September 2005, only 1.6% of their police force was black or Asian proved that the targets were highly unrealistic. The lack of success could be due to the fact that the police had already established an undesirable culture amongst the under represented groups since the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.
A law had recently been passed called the Equality Act 2010 (Legislation.gov.uk, 2010) that allows and employers in the UK to openly practice ‘positive action’ in their organisation. This provides measures that encourage people from under represented groups to apply for work and that the selection process must be based solely on merit. The act will rank the HRM objective of diversifying the workforce at the top of the list. This opens more paths and opportunities for these groups and can be argued that having a more diverse workforce can increase productivity. Although there is an increase in diversity in the organisation, it can be argued that there the level of diversity in top positions is still disproportionate. This act will help avoid unlawful positive discrimination practices in the case of the Gloucestershire police. Yet even after such measures, a question arises as to whether women and ethnic minorities will be inclined to fulfil the jobs offered with this legislation.
After looking at the two ethical theories, Kantian ethics does not align or agree with Utilitarian ethics yet they both accept that discrimination is morally wrong and are against the concept. The distinction between the two is that Utilitarian is consequentialist where the amount of happiness will be utilised when opportunities are allocated to individuals based on merit and ability, whereas Kantianism is non-consequentialist and states that ‘individuals should be treated as ends and never used merely as means’ thus it is wrong to discriminate as it violates the basic human right to be treated equally. After analysing these two classical theories, it increasingly seems to me that the primary moral wrong committed by discrimination is the denial of opportunities in a workplace due to reasons other than competence and merit, thus preventing egalitarian attitudes being brought into a workplace. From an ethical perspective, people should be treated and valued as beings and not the division of an unavoidable system as “to demean is to treat someone in a way that denies their equal moral worth…” (Hellman, 2010, p.29). Many modern global businesses generally agree that having a diverse workforce brings value and more productivity, thus is important to build a workforce by employing people from different backgrounds (Beauchamp, 2009). Discrimination is therefore a burden to any organisation as it is both anti-profitable and anti-productive.
It increasingly seems to me that the main moral justification for affirmative action is that is achieves diversity, yet it produces the undesirable outcome of reverse discrimination. Also, businesses may have to lower their standards in order to accept a less qualified person over a more qualified one to meet diversity goals. The outcome is favourable towards the minorities as they are benefitting whilst the whites are being punished. Regardless of the importance of achieving set goals of diversity, affirmative action is self-defeating itself as it sill discriminates (reverse) and still violates human rights but can be morally justified if it is based on good reasoning such as merit and competence and by taking into account any other factors would deem such actions as unjust. For example, should a factor such as race have precedence over accomplishments in an area that is as serious as the science and practice of medicine? The system itself is hardly meritocratic thus achieving a more egalitarian society is distant.
Discrimination has undoubtedly been in existence for a very long time “…but it no longer has the power to thwart blacks or any other group in achieving their economic, political and social aspirations” (D’Souza, 1995, p. 525). There had been a time where affirmative action was useful in allowing minorities the same opportunities as others but we have advanced in our society where affirmative action is no longer useful but harms businesses. Therefore, I believe that affirmative action is not justified as it violates both Utilitarian and Kantian principles.
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