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Quotas, targets and positive action

What is legal, what is unlawful and what can be really useful?

Its important to be clear about what you can and can’t do in relation to setting and meeting targets, actions which often follow monitoring activities.

Basically aspirational targets are lawful, but quotas are not.

Quotas means that people are selected to join an organisation or group simply because of their membership of an under-represented group (ie because they are a disabled person) in order to ‘make up the numbers’. This is known as positive discrimination, which is unlawful in the UK. So you can’t say ‘oh we don’t employ many disabled people, lets set a quota of 5% and then employ only disabled people until we reach it’.

You can set a target of employing 5% of disabled people in your organisation, but in order to reach that target you cannot positively discriminate. You can, however, take positive action.

For example, the Civil Service agreed that the following targets should be reached by 2004-05:

  • 35 per cent of senior civil servants to be women
  • 25 per cent of top management posts to be filled by women
  • 3.2 per cent of top management posts to be people from an ethnic minority background
  • 3 per cent of senior civil servants to be disabled people.

(They didn’t meet all their targets in that year, but are getting close now).

Positive action is where an organisation offers direct encouragement or training to people from under-represented groups, in order to support them to get involved.

Positive actions taken by arts organisations have included:

  • Proactively recruiting disabled volunteers
  • Holding open information days
  • Visiting different groups and communities
  • Running training programmes, mentoring or support programmes

Often the simple fact of running a positive action programme can encourage more people to come forward as they can see that an organisation is serious about opening up what it offers.

The Dance and Drama Awards improved the number of disabled people who are in receipt of such awards from 1.5% (2002) to 7.4% (2005). They did this through taking a range of positive action measures including:

  • Training staff in Disability Equality issues
  • Re-examining confidentiality and assessment processes
  • Running training programmes to raise the standard of aspiring disabled performers
  • Redesigning monitoring forms to explain why the information is required and emphasising that no negative action will result from disclosure
  • Hosting conferences and events that profile disabled performers and address issues of training disabled people