Why Bristol council got it wrong


by Rumbold
2nd June, 2010 at 8:25 pm    

Bristol council is at the centre of a media storm after advertising two posts for ethnic minorities only. The council defended its decision by citing the Race Relations Act (1976), as only 7% of its workforce is from ethnic minorities, as opposed to 12% of Bristol’s population as a whole. Whether or not this would fall foul of discrimination laws is debatable, but whatever the legality, I think it was the wrong thing to do, for a number of reasons.

There is a great deal of debate over how to tackle the historical inequalities that exist in the labour market, namely discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, whether it be in hiring or promotion. One school of thought tends to see the solution in terms of positive discrimination, with devices such as all-women shortlists and jobs like the pair mentioned above. The other school rejects this as simply repeating the mistakes of the past (by treating people as blocks rather than as individuals), and puts the focus on meritocracy and treating candidates as individuals. Yet this approach is criticised for refusing to recognise persistent inequalities in the labour market.

I used to be firmly in the second school of thought, and believed that merely creating an ostensibly meritocratic application process would be enough, as this would allow inequalities to be ironed out over time as the best people got chosen. However, while I still believe that should be the main approach, we also need to examine continuing structural issues. Applicants with ‘non-white’ names are more likely to get rejected from jobs then candidates with ‘white’ names, despite having exactly the same CV, which demonstrates continued racism in the job market. Factors like these show why Bristol council got it wrong.

The statistics highlight that Bristol’s council’s workforce did not mirror that of its local population. Even allowing for some natural variance (there will never be an equality between the two figures), this was still a large difference. The reason for this large difference was either one of two reasons, or the mixture of both. Either ethnic minorities on average were less inclined to apply for council jobs, or they were discriminated against during the application process. Advertising for ethnic minority-only jobs solves neither of these issues. If applicants are being discriminated against then they still will be for every other position, whilst ethnic minorities aren’t holding back from applying because there aren’t jobs reserved for them.

What Bristol council, and other companies and public bodies, should do is create anonymous applications (most council office jobs are online applications anyway, so it would be easy to remove the name information and instead assign an application number). This wouldn’t solve everything, as there is still discrimination during interviews, but it would allow more ethnic minorities to reach that stage. Having non-white jobs/training posts solves nothing, it just makes real reforms harder.


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  1. sunny hundal

    Blog post:: Why Bristol council got it wrong http://bit.ly/9XWclk




  1. Sunny — on 2nd June, 2010 at 8:35 pm  

    Whether or not this would fall foul of discrimination laws is debatable,

    It’s not debateable – it simply does NOT fall foul of the law.

    The other school rejects this as simply repeating the mistakes of the past (by treating people as blocks rather than as individuals)

    It’s arguable that the people treating others as ‘blocks of people’ are the ones not hiring ethnic minorities.

    Otherwise I broadly agree. Except that the Daily Mail also campaigned against anonymous applications.

  2. douglas clark — on 2nd June, 2010 at 8:40 pm  

    Except that the Daily Mail also campaigned against anonymous applications.

    Whaddya mean?

    It should be a badge of honour to disagree with anything the Daily Mail has to say.

  3. Rumbold — on 2nd June, 2010 at 9:19 pm  

    Sunny:

    As with most discrimination legislation, it is debatable, as it relies on one’s interpretation of training post verses job.

  4. cjcjc — on 2nd June, 2010 at 9:21 pm  

    I like the idea of anon applications.

    Have they caught on?

  5. Rumbold — on 2nd June, 2010 at 9:23 pm  

    They don’t seem to have, but then I am not aware of any comprehensive study of it.

  6. Brissle — on 2nd June, 2010 at 10:25 pm  

    ‘Ow bist me babbers?

    Any Bristolian will confirm that the antics of “The Corporation” have even been odd, self-serving and generally out-of-touch with the needs, interests or even wants of the people of Bristol.

  7. The Judge — on 2nd June, 2010 at 10:28 pm  

    Except that they’re not jobs, they’re management training posts, as 5cc has rightly pointed out:

    http://www.fivechinesecrackers.com/2010/06/when-is-job-not-job.html

    I’m surprised at you being taken in by yet another bilious racist scream from The Fail without checking the facts.

  8. Dalbir — on 2nd June, 2010 at 11:13 pm  

    So the shite starts even before you’ve got into the damn firm……

    I dread to think what sort of crap the knobs get up to if you actually manage to pass the interview stage and actually get a position. Who am I kidding, many of us have been in that position.

    I find it strange how only white people act astonished at the regular behaviour of other white people? The only conclusion must be that either:

    (1) The racists do their shite cleverly and non-racist whites don’t see it.

    (2) Non-racist white people are blind to, or to dumb to see what is going on around them.

    (3) Non-racist white people see and don’t really like what goes on but are too scared to make noise about it and decide to live with it for a peaceful life.

    (4) Non-racist people aren’t really that bothered by it because it doesn’t really effect them.

    Who knows.

  9. John Christopher — on 3rd June, 2010 at 12:31 am  

    Dalbir

    Out of the street, we call them liberals. The most dangerous animals on the face of the living earth.

  10. Kulvinder — on 3rd June, 2010 at 12:45 am  

    Except that they’re not jobs, they’re management training posts

    To be fair theres probably a chance of the applicant being offered a permanent role; having a training post which a company or council doesn’t utilise would be useless.

    Like Rumbold i also disagree with the strategy they’ve taken. If their aim is more ‘equality’ or ‘harmony’ creating a dichotomy between ‘white’ and ‘all ethnic minorities’ will create nothing but conflict – and not between ‘white people’ and the ‘others’ as everyone seems to be talking about but amongst ethnic minorities.

    Its a constant source of personal irritation but its all too easily forgotten that one of the causes of the lozells riots was minority communities fighting over meagre statehandouts and resources.

    Naive 70s and 80s race politics where the council takes the approach that more ‘non white people’ are needed won’t only, rightly, alienate white people but will result in more acrimony amongst whatever ethnic minorities are fighting over those positions.

    After all what happens if those positions are predominantly taken up by ‘asians’? How on earth does that even begin to solve the issues the the ‘black community’ might face? The minority group most likely to face discrimination and violence in britain are the travellers; if they get one of those roles what do you say to the vociferous asian/black ‘community leaders’ who shout racism because despite the problems faced by the travellers, they’re white

    Top down approaches to such issues never work and only cause resentment on all sides; the problem isn’t the % of ‘non white’ people in bristol council its whether the people in bristol council can adequately address the needs of the population.

  11. Kulvinder — on 3rd June, 2010 at 12:57 am  

    nb id be interested to know, as rumbold said, what the percentage of people from ethnic minority communities who saw a job in bristol council as a viable career was.

  12. Cauldron — on 3rd June, 2010 at 8:22 am  

    Rumbold and Kulvinder – sensible comments.

    I am reminded of the situation in California, where the absurdities of racial quotas has resulted in Asians being deemed to be an “over-achieving” minority group. Basically, the Latinos and African Americans got all upset when Asian communities started showing that it is quite possible to overcome any residual institutional racism if you come from a culture that values education, hard work and the nuclear family unit.

  13. Rumbold — on 3rd June, 2010 at 8:28 am  

    Good points Kulvinder.

    The Judge:

    They are two year, fully paid positions. For all intensive purposes, this is a job (as plenty of jobs are fixed-term contracts). I like 5CC, but on this I think he is just splitting hairs.

  14. Brissle — on 3rd June, 2010 at 8:37 am  

    “Id be interested to know, as rumbold said, what the percentage of people from ethnic minority communities who saw a job in bristol council as a viable career was.”

    Yerr, job down The Corporation? Nice work, if ‘ee can gerrit, look.

  15. Shatterface — on 3rd June, 2010 at 8:51 am  

    £18,000 a year ‘training’ is better paid than a Band B permanent position with a local council and a two year contract is more secure than a council worker on a fixed term contract. The council are clearly exploiting a loophole here.

    That said I can’t see a single reasonable objection to anonymous job applications, which would also ensure fairness towards women, younger people and older people as well.

    Not that it’s going to make much difference to minorities with Anglicised names.

  16. MaidMarian — on 3rd June, 2010 at 9:26 am  

    Dalbir – Or possibly there are a lot of people with faux racist chips on their shoulder?

  17. MaidMarian — on 3rd June, 2010 at 9:45 am  

    Rumbold – Whilst I tend to agree with the thrust of the article, anonymous applications are not the solution they are cracked up to be.

    There certainly has been some research on NHS recruitment to medical training posts on the effect of anonymous applications. In the NHS anonymous applications are routine (and have been for some time) and people go to great lengths to remove names. It is also very labour intensive and hence costly.

    Whilst taking a name off can help, it is often very obvious that someone has at least a ‘non-UK’ background. Names of schools, qualifications and the like are almost impossible to strike. My wife could have her form anonymised, but it would be obvious that she is Macedonian who came to the UK in 2000. There is no way to just black out someone’s employment history. The anonymising impact is not that great. There has also been a suggestion that some overseas shcools/universities have a greater prestige than UK ones so total anonymisation may work against some candidates from minorities.

    The slightly more interesting question is whether there is truth to the perception that the greater one bangs the equality drum (and the NHS bangs it like none other) the more vulnerable one is to challenge.

    More widely, the question on solving this probably comes at the application stage – getting greater proportions of applications, but there are no easy answers.

  18. Dalbir — on 3rd June, 2010 at 10:22 am  

    @15

    Aha! The old, “attitude problem” defense. So we must accept this bullshit with a big smile on our face huh?

    Pass me the watermelon please, I’ll go and find my special shuffling shoes for you.

    Here we go again, yet again institutional type racism is identified but MM types somehow twist it to be the fault of those on the receiving end because they probably have chips on their shoulders. The only people who’d use that one were racist assholes in the 80s, and then it was usually directed at blacks. Were you one of these assholes in your younger days?

  19. Jonus — on 3rd June, 2010 at 4:10 pm  

    Dalbir, you undoubtedly do have a massive chip on your shoulder and a stinking attitude.

    You clearly ARE in favour of discrimination too, just as long as it’s in your favour.

    Bad old whitey appears to be bending over backward to allow hundreds of thousands of people into their country and legislate against the original inhabitants so that they cannot apply for certain jobs in their own country. Jobs they have paid for themselves with tax money no less. And bad old whitey has made such laws that ethnic quotas must be fulfilled but that’s not enough is it? Its never enough

  20. Dalbir — on 3rd June, 2010 at 4:32 pm  

    Shut it Jonus

    We wouldn’t need such stuff if we truly had a meritocracy instead of that surreptitious Anglo-Nazi shite that lurks around underneath the surface of British society.

    Plus let’s be honest here, if we truly had a meritocracy the chances are that we would have a disproportionate representation of talented non indigenous people in good positions. Seeing as so many of the indigenous are lazy, barely competent fuckers (not all mind you).

    That is whole reason we are here in the first place. Now indigs need to stop faffing about and be given much more work to do so they don’t have so much spare time to spend on being pricks towards non indig colleagues.

  21. MaidMarian — on 3rd June, 2010 at 4:41 pm  

    Dalbir – I don’t suppose that it has crossed your mind that in some cases there is an attitude problem? Probably not, because your comment is a standard attempt to drive an ideological square peg into the round hole of the real world.

    Your comment is an excellent exposition of what the diversity and equality industries have become. Your vision of state intervention to ensure equality is not one where there is relief given to those facing material disadvantage due to a priori moral condemnation based on their identity, no. This is all about a dogmatic belief that some identities are always and everywhere malign whilst others oppressed and held back.

    Hence you have to hark back to the 1980s. Your dogma resolutely insists that the identity situation is pickled in aspic and everyone you come across can be neatly categorised according to your world view.

    So the two visions of racism are two cheeks of the same posterior. Genuine racism holds the inferiority of races, the modern day ‘institutional’ version holds that some people are incapable of taking people as they find them and must be nudged to act in a certain way by diversity experts and the force of law.

    And in the middle of it all are good people, getting on almost always across racial boundaries, sick and tired of the hectoring they receive from both the chip-on-shoulder crowd and the industry that has sprung up to indulge them with liberal guilt. Type, ‘sensitivity, rescue me,’ into YouTube for a good idea of how people treat this.

    Not for you Dalbir are the ideas of individual responsibility or personal values – all must be subsumed into a belief in, ‘institutions,’ that act on behalf of everyone collectively, and which are used as a stalking horse to project racialised angst. Institutional racism (post-MacPherson at least) is nothing more than a stick used to beat good peoples who have nothing to hide. It is a way of conflating the individual and their beliefs and values with something, anything that can be usefully portrayed as victimhood. In this way, institutional racism is a self-perpetuating notion, not something to be solved. Any individual act can be projected across vast institutions, regardless of the quality of the link, any individual act becomes a, ‘structural,’ matter – to heck with anyone having some say or private sphere.

    You ask what I did in my younger days. I watched my miner/trade unionist grandfather fight for jobs and rights and against the National Front. And he did it standing next to people of all races because he was able to take people as he found them. I take great pride in what that man did, yet today people like him would be denounced as institutionally unsound.

    So Dalbir, I have twisted nothing. I have not rolled everything under an, ‘institutional,’ flag of convenience, I have not put words into the mouths of others and I have judged no one and I have not made a before the fact assumption of guilt based on colour.

    I have no problem sleeping at night on this one.

  22. Dalbir — on 3rd June, 2010 at 4:45 pm  

    I have no problem sleeping at night on this one.

    I’m sure you don’t.

    Read point 4 in post #8 above. Resonate.

  23. MaidMarian — on 3rd June, 2010 at 4:56 pm  

    Dalbir (21) – Your point 4. I suppose it depends on which vision of racism you mean.

    Non-racist people may well not care about diversity industry, chip-on-shoulder ‘institutional racism’ as per your vision. Nor should they because they are likely good people with nothing to hide.

    In my experience, such people probably do care greatly about material disadvantage due to a priori condemnation on identity grounds. Otherwise known as real racism.

    Is that resonating enough, or do I need to take your approach and get all huffy and smart-mouthed?

  24. Dan — on 3rd June, 2010 at 5:38 pm  

    Having taken part in recruiting staff at a Council, I fail to see what impact anonomous applications would have. All it would mean is you would have a few more people to interview, and discriminate against them at that point. Interviews are still pretty much a subjective process, dressed up in nice ‘objective’ numbers.

  25. Dan — on 3rd June, 2010 at 5:39 pm  

    Curse my spelling! Anonymous.

  26. Rumbold — on 3rd June, 2010 at 9:21 pm  

    MaidMarian:

    I agree that anonymous applications are not a panacea. As you say, there are still tell tale signs. However, the study found that candidates with non-white’ names were more likely to get rejected than candidates with ‘white’ names (the 14% difference being outside the margin of statistical error), which suggests that there is a significant focus on the name itself.

  27. MaidMarian — on 3rd June, 2010 at 10:17 pm  

    Rumbold – Thanks for the reply.

    It is interesting that the name itself should have such an impact, and it is certainly at odds with my experience. Possibly there are differences across sectors e.g. there are just more BME doctors relative to the number of jobs around, for whatever reason.

    It perhaps would also be interesting to know if, say, an East European name would have any impact.

  28. J — on 4th June, 2010 at 1:21 am  

    Hmmm..,

    Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be doing that Dalbir or taking a blind bit of notice from a big mouthed attitude merchant like you.

    If you don’t like it here, you know where the airport is, shut up with your non-stop moaning and attempts to get something you haven’t earned and haven’t merited.

  29. Rumbold — on 4th June, 2010 at 8:41 am  

    MaidMarian:

    That would be interesting- there don’t seem to have been any studies into discrimination against Eastern Europeans in the work place.

  30. MaidMarian — on 4th June, 2010 at 8:58 am  

    Rumbold – No, and it is something that is rather annoying.

    My own feeling is that if ‘diversity’ has let anyone down it is the Eastern Europeans who have come to the UK. There seems to be this feeling amongst campaigners that Eastern Europeans are a) white b) have rights to be here (an assumption that does not always hold) c)don’t complain loudly. As such there are no issues.

    It may well be the case that Eastern Europeans do not face a quantum of discrimination, but no one seems bothered one way or the other.

  31. Ravi Naik — on 4th June, 2010 at 11:00 am  

    That would be interesting- there don’t seem to have been any studies into discrimination against Eastern Europeans in the work place.

    I wonder why. I always find that these studies are rather incomplete, and leave me with more questions than answers, partly because they seem to be designed to fit a particular narrative. Is institutionalized racism a result of Islamophobia (Muslim names)? Xenophobia (any non-Anglo Saxon name)? Is it based on race?

    There is a myopic view that the end result of a diverse and fair society (something we all desire) is that all sectors of public and private life must have an equal proportion of diversity as you find in society. And to achieve this, you engage in “positive” discrimination, as we have seen in this case in Bristol.

    The goal is to have a meritocratic system that absorbs the best people – why do we lose track of this? I find it offensive that your skin colour is somehow an asset or a liability when getting a job.

    I have yet to see in what context this sort of identity politics is a good thing. The sooner we start thinking in terms of individuals rather than groups of people, the better.

  32. Sofia — on 4th June, 2010 at 11:38 am  

    Ravi – positive discrimination is against the law…positive action is different..and as far as I know not illegal.

  33. Cauldron — on 4th June, 2010 at 1:00 pm  

    #30 – correct. But you will never get the Left to discuss things in an individualistic, atomistic framework. From Marx onwards, the Left’s entire frame of analysis has been to lump people into groups – working class, LGBT, bourgeoisie, BME, kulaks, wimmin etc. Socialists don’t do individualism.

    #31 – That’s a very fine distinction between positive discrimination and positive action. I guess the bigger question is whether this positive discrimination/action thing is effective. Personally, I think it’s counter-productive: (a) it doesn’t work (ref: Malaysia, India, USA, South Africa for case studies in failure); (b) it just feeds into the BNP/Daily Mail narrative of the persecution of indigenous people and (c) talented individuals from minority groups don’t need a helping hand from do-gooders, thanks very much.

  34. Ravi Naik — on 4th June, 2010 at 2:01 pm  

    But you will never get the Left to discuss things in an individualistic, atomistic framework. From Marx onwards, the Left’s entire frame of analysis has been to lump people into groups – working class, LGBT, bourgeoisie, BME, kulaks, wimmin etc. Socialists don’t do individualism.

    Lumping individuals into (one-dimensional) identity groups is not a monopoly of the Left – the Right speaks the same language, and individuals themselves go along with this sort of thing. And to be fair to the Left, it has been the driving force for advancing the goals of equality and fairness in our society.

    I understand and agree with the distinction Sofia is making (#31), but when it comes to disadvantaged groups, ethnicity itself cannot be considered a sole factor, not when there are extremely successful Asian communities. It would be less controversial if this training scheme was designed for low socio-economic backgrounds, which would include white individuals as well.

  35. Sofia — on 4th June, 2010 at 2:42 pm  

    In practice it could prove difficult to enforce positive action anyway in the more nuanced cases of having two candidates of equal merit. You would then look at the entire make up of the team you are recruiting the candidate in, taking into account all the equality strands including race. It is not about having quotas, rather balance and diversity

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