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The Straight White Male Blog. Sorry!

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I'm sorry for my immutable characteristics, and if you're "white", you should be sorry too, apparently.

I recently attended a seminar on HR Law.  I was pleased to learn that SIGMA already had all the necessary policies and procedures in place, and that our interview processes were non-discriminatory.

When we touched upon Sex Discrimination during the interview process, and being a straight white male, I used all my innate privilege to ask a potentially problematic question:

Aren't 'All Female' shortlists a form of sex discrimination?

I'm not going to name any names here, so we'll refer to the person leading the seminar as “Mr Tutor".  The answer I got from Mr Tutor was one that made some sense, if you don't think too hard about it…

Mr Tutor: “Well, they are in a way, but some companies have a history of hiring mostly men, so they are allowed to do it because it's redressing the balance."

I hope we can all agree that some companies do need to do something about their complete lack of diversity.  What the solution is, I don't know, but are discriminatory shortlists (in any form) really the best solution?

To be fair to Mr Tutor, he was just trying to interpret the law as best he could to provide useful advice to a room full of small business owners. Unfortunately, I felt I couldn't leave it there…

Me: “So…what you're saying is, it's okay to try and fix historical discrimination against one group, by discriminating against the other group?"

At this point, Mr Tutor was wishing he hadn't told everyone to feel free to put their hands up if they had a question.

I don't remember Mr Tutor's exact response, but he handled the riddle pretty well, and managed not to incriminate himself in the process.

On the next slide of the presentation, we arrived at Race Discrimination.  Mr Tutor looked at me with trepidation.  Don't worry, Mr Tutor, not even I am that brave/stupid to ask the same question about that one in a room full of people…I'll write it in a blog on our company's website instead!

I'm a big believer that Merit is the most important thing about a person – so much so that it's one of our Five Core Values.  Surely, an 'All-ANYTHING' shortlist is a terrible idea?  All I care about is that the person joining our team has mutual respect for everyone else, can learn, and is good at their job; everything else is irrelevant.

I can only imagine, but if I was a female who successfully got a job from an 'All Female' shortlist, I wouldn't be able to help but wonder, “Did I get this job on merit, or because of my sex?"

So, Mr Tutor, if you're reading (probably not), I'm sorry for putting you in an awkward position, but this was something that had been on my mind for a while, and I needed answers! 

I know what you're thinking – how dare I question the efficacy of all female shortlists, when I'm not female!  But if I put my critical thinking hat on, I can only see this sort of narrative driving a wedge between men and women, between people of different ethnicities, and sexualities.

At what point does 'positive discrimination' turn back into just 'discrimination'?  Surely if we're going to engage in the prior, we should first be agreeing where the line should be?  Otherwise, we risk making the same mistakes again, but in the opposite direction.

Anyone being given preferential treatment based on immutable characteristics, will inevitably result in resentment from those who don't share those characteristics.  The only outcome I see in the long term is that we will become a nation even more divided and polarised, and that's not the sort of place I want to live or bring my children up in.


Full-time Straight White Male
Part-time Managing Director

12 October 2021