Positive Action in Practice

Positive Action in Practice

Positive Action in Practice

Positive Action is about taking specific steps to improve equality in the workplace and create a level playing field for all. It involves activities which assist employers to identify and remove any actual or perceived barriers to the recruitment, retention and progression of people from underrepresented groups. The UK Labour Market and Ethnic Diversity Black Asian and minority ethnic people are underrepresented at every management level in the workplace.

Currently, only 12% of the working-age population are from a BAME background, however only 10% are in the workplace and only 6% of top management positions are held by an ethnic minority person (Race at Work, 2015). As such, positive action aims to provide opportunities to people from BAME communities to address past and current labour market disadvantage and barriers. In its widest sense the term is sometimes used to refer to a range or spectrum of measures the overall aim of which is to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity. In short, the Act levels the playing field so that everyone has an opportunity to compete on an equal basis. Positive Action and the Law The Race Relations Act 1976 covered a range of measures which employers could legally take to assist people from BAME backgrounds to compete on equal terms for employment where they are under-represented.

The Equality Act 2010 brought a wide range of equalities legislation together into one act. This includes the “Positive Action” measures within the Race Relations Act There are 2 parts to the positive action measures within the new Act. The first part harmonises provisions allowing voluntary positive action and came into effect on 1st October 2010. The second part relates to positive action in recruitment and promotion and came into effect in April 2011.

Positive action is lawful when individuals with one or more protected characteristics are under-represented on your training programme or in your workforce. These characteristics are;

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Marriage or civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Religion and belief
  • Sexual orientation

Siome Positive action sugestions

Training aimed at underrepresented groups

■ Taster days

■ Work placement

■ Returner programmes (for those who have left the industry e.g. returner programme for those with time out to raise family)

■ Internships ■ Leadership programmes (e.g. women only). Internal networks for specific groups

■ Forum (e.g. internal forum for BME staff and/ or apprentices)

■ Allies group (e.g. LGBT allies group where any staff member could join to support their LGBT colleagues)

■ Mentoring scheme (e.g. females in construction)

■ Networking groups.

Advertising of jobs in a manner to attract more diverse applicants

■ Including a paragraph on your job advert stating the case for diverse applicants. Skills Development Scotland includes the following statement; ‘At SDS we are ambitious about diversity and inclusion. If you’ve got the right skills for the job, we want to hear from you. We encourage applications from the right candidates regardless of age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, belief or race.’

■ Using diverse images

■ Displaying case studies with diverse apprentices on website/social media

■ Having positive role models from underrepresented groups attend school events and/ or recruitment fairs

■ Open day and/or careers fair targeted at under-represented group/s. (e.g. girls into IT)


Outreach programmes or events

■ Information days held in community centres

■ Promote opportunities through ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) courses

■ Taster opportunities advertised through local support organisations

Additional Information

When considering recruitment practices, positive action is only legal where it is a proportionate way of addressing underrepresentation or disadvantage. This means that the gravity of the under-representation or disadvantage needs to be balanced against the impact that the proposed action may have on other people. Clearly there is a need to adopt an evidence based approach.

The first step, therefore, is to understand if there is clear and consistent under representation by a particular group, and then work to remove any barriers or take positive action to redress the balance. You may gather your own statistics that allow you to research this information such as data on recruitment or participation by equality group.

Positive Discrimination

Positive discrimination is the act of an orgnisation favouring someone less capabe because of a protected characteristic they possess to fulfil an objective or quota. This is often confused with positive action. The key difference between positive action and positive discrimination is that positive action is legal under the Equality Act (2010) whereas positive discrimination is not. An example of unlawful positive discrimination would be where an employer or learning provider recruits a person because they have a relevant protected characteristic rather than because they are the best candidate. For example, it would be unlawful to hire someone simply because they are from BAME background. However, if BAME are under-represented in your workforce then you could take steps to promote vacancies to this group, or to provide extra support for them to apply.

Other issues you shoud consider sandf take action to mitagate at the outset are:


The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.

For more information click here.

White Privilege

Refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. Generally white people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it.

For more information click here

Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias relates to social stereotypes that we hold about groups of people outside our conscious awareness. These are often incompatible with our conscious values, however, they still affect our thought processes and the decisions that we make, especially when making quick decisions.

For more information click here:

Provided that the conditions above are fulfilled, some exampes of positive action for BAME people are:

  • targeting advertising at specific disadvantaged groups, for example advertising jobs in media outlets which are likely to be accessed by the target group
  • making a statement in recruitment advertisements that the employer welcomes applications from ethnically diverse people who are underrepresented.
  • providing opportunities exclusively to the BAME group to learn more about particular types of work opportunities with the employer, for example internships or open days
  • providing training opportunities in work areas or sectors for the BAME group, for example work placements
  • reserving places on training courses for people with the protected characteristic, for example, in management committees.
  • providing exclusive training to the target group specifically aimed at meeting particular needs, for example, English language classes for staff for whom English is a second language.
  • the provision of support and mentoring to support people from BAME bakgrounds.
  • creating a work-based support group/network for BAME staff or groups.
  • setting targets for increasing participation of the BAME groups.
  • providing bursaries to obtain qualifications in a profession such as journalism for members BAME groups whose participation in such profession might be disproportionately low
  • outreach work such as raising awareness of public appointments within BAME communities.
  • targeting networking opportunities, for example, in banking
  • working with local schools and FE colleges, inviting students from groups whose participation in the workplace is disproportionately low to spend a day or a specified palcement at the company, and providing mentoring.
  • CV development and leadership training skills if The key is to establish what works best after consulution, then pilot /action it and evaluate for continuous learning and further work – cycles of action and reflection. So a useful exercise is to decide what works best for you. This can be derived from the list above or something developed in consultation with target groups that creates innovation.



Business in the Community -  Race at Work 2015

Skills Development Soctland - Guide to Positive Action 2020/21 

Equality and Human Rights Commission -  Employers: what is positive action in the workplace?

PATH (Scotland) - What is positive action?

Muslims’ high unemployment rate ‘not due to cultural and religious practices: Study challenges idea poor outcomes are due to Muslims’ so-called ‘sociocultural attitudes’ For more information click here

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