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Women in business: Is positive discrimination the right decision?

Written by: Hayley Downing - Associate Director, Investigo
Published on: 9 Feb 2015

Having recently attended two networking events about women in business (Women on Boards and Women in Recruitment) it is apparent that this remains a very hot topic at the moment.

Consider Emma Watson's iconic gender equality speech to the UN in September launching the HeForShe campaign which went viral and has over six million views. Watson takes a very interesting perspective on feminism and gender equality, identifying this as a cause for both men and women to drive – not just women. It was interesting to see how many male celebrities threw their support behind the campaign and began actively promoting it off the back of Watson’s speech, including the likes of musicians Jared Leto and Harry Styles and actors Tom Hiddleston and Simon Pegg.

Hollywood men aren’t the only ones supporting the agenda of women in business recently with Washington also pledging support when Barack Obama said "lifting women up lifts our economy and lifts up our country...we've got to be sure that...somebody is standing up for them".  Hear, hear.

It seems to me that businesses are finally realising how essential it is to have women ‘at the table' and are recognising the valuable and alternative dynamic women can contribute. It's exciting that the government and Vince Cable (Secretary of State for Business Innovation & Skills) are pushing for 25% women on FTSE 100 boards by 2015. Further, as of July 2014 there are no all-male boards in the FTSE100 which just shows the progress we have made in this space in recent years.

While I am passionate about gender equality in the work place it is important to note that women do not want to be a statistic. I was previously offered a role with a company where the Managing Director said "we really want you to join our business as we don't have any female Directors at the moment". While it was flattering to receive an offer from a global organisation, I want to be hired for my skills and ability not based on my gender.

Positive discrimination is “the process of giving preferential treatment, especially in employment, to minority groups of society that have been prejudiced against in the past.” It’s a controversial topic but judging by my experience, one that may need further public discussion.

Despite the growing support for women in business and the recent media attention I would counsel employers against actively practising positive discrimination when hiring at senior levels. At the end of the day the most important factor should be candidate capability not gender.

Please connect with Hayley on LinkedIn if you are also passionate about women in business.