Anti discrimination laws have been passed since the 1970s but there is still evidence that discrimination is still happening in work places. These legislations make it illegal for an employer to discriminate against a person on the ground of sex, race, disability, age and / or other arbitrary factors. Despite the legislation and the equal opportunity policies, it is still a challenge for employers although there are vast improvements.
However, there is not much improvement in the types of work they do.Most members of the ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups are usually employed in low paid and/or low skilled jobs both in the public and private sectors as compared to their white counterparts. Another form of discrimination in the work place is the issue of pay, for example the pay gap between men and women. According to (Kirton and Greene 2005) the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC, 96) claims that the disparity can be accounted for by occupational and age structure, levels of unemployment, qualification levels and geographical residence.(Kirton and Greene, 2005:25) however argue that those factors do not give a full explanation especially since there is a significant diversity between the different minority ethnic groups. Discrimination at work can be very costly for organisations. For example, when a claim of discrimination is brought against an organisation in the employment tribunal, the pay out can be a substantial amount of money.
Directives and policies were put in place to combat work place discrimination.One such policy is the equal opportunity policy. The equal opportunity policy was strongly influenced by the anti sex and race discrimination legislations of the 1970s. (Kirton and Greene, 2005:198). They are written code of practices distributed aimed at tackling workplace discrimination. (Cockburn: 1998). These policies include set targets and quotas and requirement for compliance. This means that employers are being force to comply or faces legal actions.
“Equal opportunities policies are a narrow minimalist response to legislative requirement and tend to be perceived as operational and issue which perhaps is sometimes the concern of the personnel manager or those who recruit staff”. (Wilson, 1996). (Cockburn, 1998) characterised equal opportunity as the “short and long agenda” in her research of a retail organisation. She based it on the theorisation of equal opportunity by (Jewson and Mason) who describe it as two concepts that are fundamentally in conflict, the “liberal and the radical approaches”.According to (Kirton and Greene, 2005:115-116), the liberal approach is describe as, people should have access and be assessed within a work place as individuals regardless of their social category. They argued that people should either deny or minimal differences exist. They argue that in principle, equality of opportunity only exit when every individual is enabled freely and equally to compete for social rewards. Therefore there should be a focus on “positive action” that is to do things such as advertisements and programs aimed at removing barriers for ethnic minorities and other social groups.
An example of such things is the opportunity 2000 initiative. On the other hand the “radical approach view” according to (Cockburn, 1998) as describe by Jewson and Mason is concerned with the outcome of the contest rather than the rules of the game. They went further to claimed that discrimination can only be identified at group level not at individual level and therefore equal opportunities policies should manipulate the system so that the disadvantage groups can have more chances than the main group. This is called positive discrimination or affirmative action.Positive discrimination is illegal in the UK and more over even the disadvantage groups do not like to receive preferential treatments at work for example see (Groschl and Doherty, 1999).
However Cockburn’s criticism of the two approaches is that they do not take into account complex situation, for example, a situation where the person is black, a woman and disable. She said that the radical and the liberal approaches can only work if there is only one disadvantage group and one aspect of the EO for example recruitment and promotion.Either the equal opportunities policies are not working for those persuaded by the moral argument,(Wilson, 1996) or organisations realised that there is not much in it for them and the need to move to something which can be of interest to them, (the business argument). Many organisations are now moving toward managing diversity.
The rationale for organisations adopting diversity policies are unclear and are also different from one organisation to another.For example, in their research to find how diversity oriented organisation manage their diverse workforce in a hotel in San Francisco found that the workforce mirrored the demographic composition of the population. (Groschl ; Doherty, 1999:264) Managing diversity have so many definitions depending on how it is been perceived by different academics. However the most common one adopted by many, see for example (Kirton and Greene, 2005, Groschl and Doherty,1999, McDougal,1996) is the definition of (Kandola and Fullerton 1994) as, the basic concept of managing diversity accepts that the work force consist of a diverse population of people.The diversity consist of visible and non visible differences which will include factors such as sex, age, background, race disability and work style. It is found on the premises that harnessing these differences will create a productive environment in which everybody feels valued, where their talents are being fully utilised and in which organisational goals are met.