Positive Action, not Positive Discrimination: notarising the difference

Positive Action, not Positive Discrimination: notarising the difference

Some businesses may be unfamiliar with the term ‘Positive Action’, but many will have heard of ‘Positive Discrimination’. It is imperative that businesses learn the difference between these two practices, as positive discrimination is not lawful, yet the nuanced positive action is. This article is to help your business stay on the right side of the law. 

What is positive discrimination?

Positive discrimination is the term used for the act of favouring groups who have previously been discriminated against in order to fulfil inclusivity quotas. 


An employer has two candidates applying for the same role. One is an under-qualified woman, and the other is a fully qualified man. If the employer chose the women, based on the fact that there is a shortage of female employees within their company, this would be positive discrimination, as the male is more qualified for the position. This is an unlawful practice. 

What is positive action?

Outlined within the Equality Act of 2010 (sections 158-159), positive action applies to schemes or measures targeted at groups with protected characteristics in order to help them overcome disadvantages in recruitment. In other words, it levels the playing field, so that when individuals with protected characteristics are applying for jobs, they stand a fairer chance of being hired, based on merit. 

There are 9 protected characteristics:

  1. Age
  2. Disability
  3. Gender reassignment
  4. Marriage and civil partnerships
  5. Pregnancy and maternity
  6. Race
  7. Religious belief
  8. Sex
  9. Sexual orientation

How to use positive action:

Before initiating positive action, a company or employer must have evidence in the form of data, that positive action is warranted. There needs to be proof that a specific group is underrepresented or has needs that differ from others without shared characteristics. 

Examples of positive action could include:

  • Adjustments for disabled people
  • Internships for disadvantaged groups
  • Development programmes targeted at specific groups
  • Job advertising for a specific audience
  • Stating on job applications that ‘we welcome (e.g. female applicants) for this position’
  • C.V development and pre-application workshops for specific groups
  • Mentoring schemes
  • Targeted careers fairs and open days

Positive action can also be applied in a ‘Tie-Break’ scenario:


Two applicants, a man and a woman, are equally qualified for a management position at a company. If both will be able to perform the job to the same level, the employer may choose to hire the woman based on the fact that there may be few women within management roles at the company. Due to it being a tie-break scenario, the male applicant cannot claim this to be unlawful as both were equally qualified; signalling the difference between positive discrimination and positive action. 

Exceptions to the rules:

To an extent, disabled individuals can be positively discriminated against. It is possible to apply positive discrimination when recruiting an individual with this protected characteristic because positive action to level out disadvantages cannot easily be overcome with things like training, as the disadvantages faced by these individuals are more physical. An employer may be signed up for the ‘Disability Confident Scheme’ (which has replaced the ‘two-ticks’ guaranteed interview scheme) involving commitments to making adjustments to their workplace or offering interviews to allow equal access to those with a disability. 

Why you Should Consider Positive Action

  • Carrying out positive action will help your organisation reach inclusion targets lawfully, as well as providing evidence of your commitment towards bettering your company. 
  • Providing equal opportunities means you will hire the best of the best.
  • Positive action will help an employer understand the needs of specific groups better within the workplace. 
  • More diverse hiring means your employees can better represent a more diverse clientele, expanding your outreach. 
  • Due to diverse companies having more shared knowledge, as their staff come from different backgrounds, they outperform other companies by an estimated 35%!

More help and information:

For more help and information about how your company can work towards inclusivity, feel free to get in touch with our dedicated team at Asian Business Connexions. 

Address: 19 Main St, Ponteland, Newcastle upon Tyne NE20 9NH

Phone: 01661 823234

Email: hello@abconnexions.org

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