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Positive Action

Positive action is the deliberate introduction of measures to eliminate or reduce discrimination, or its effects, including gender stereotyping. Positive action goes beyond a ‘non-discriminatory’ approach.

It is not about special treatment for any one particular group, but the fair treatment of all people. It is concerned with ‘levelling the playing field’ and taking account of the effects of past discrimination and disadvantage, so that everyone has genuine access to the same opportunities. The qualification floor remains the same.


There are three main types of positive action measures:

  • Action that reveals potential discriminatory practice through, for example, the assessment of policies or monitoring.
  • Action which changes discriminatory practice in light of any findings through for example the introduction of non-discriminatory selection procedures, training programmes or policies aimed at preventing sexual harassment
  • Action which attempts to counter-balance the under-representation of a particular group through for example the use of methods such as mentoring schemes, networks, outreach work, target setting and training.

The term also applies specifically to two provisions of the current legislation, the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) - Ss47 and Ss48 for positive action. The SDA permits special single-sex training initiatives either to equip people to work in jobs more often carried out by members of the opposite sex (in the past 12 months), or to return to work after a period at home looking after children or other dependants. The SDA also permits special encouragement where few or no members of one sex have been doing particular work (in the preceding 12 months).

Positive action is not the same as positive discrimination, an example of which would be recruiting or promoting someone purely on the basis of his or her gender. It is illegal to recruit someone purely on that basis, unless there is a genuine occupational requirement (GOR).

However, the law relating to disability is fundamentally different from other equalities legislation; it is lawful for employers to advertise certain posts as only being available to disabled people.

Note: The Equality and Human Rights Commission has information about legal matters. www.equalityhumanrights.com and can advise on the up to date position

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