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Ideal Candidate Must be Disabled

Last week the BBC posted an advert which caused a bit of a stir online. The BBC Academy tweeted:

It’s not a job advert but is a free training opportunity. The ideal candidate does not need any qualifications in meteorology, just a proven interest in this area along with plenty of enthusiasm. There is no guaranteed job at the end of the training but candidates will be eligible to apply for future vacancies. The only catch is that the candidate must be disabled in order to qualify. The posting says ‘the BBC does not currently have any weather presenters who are disabled and we are actively seeking to improve on screen diversity’.

Most of the current weather presenters are qualified and experienced meteorologists. For example Alex Deakin has an Astrophysics degree, Philip Avery is a navy weather expert and Peter Gibbs is a polar meteorologist. That’s not to say that someone without qualifications cannot learn to do a role. In my own business I have found it almost impossible to get qualified HR people who transition well into this environment so we recruit for attitude and intelligence and train for skills. Our approach sometimes raises HR eyebrows but it works!

But this is a slightly different thing. The BBC’s idea has been widely criticised as political correctness gone mad and that the whole thing sounds like a story line from W1A, the BBC’s spoof comedy in which Sadi Iqbal is employed because he has a beard.

The anti-discrimination legislation is there to level the playing field and to ensure that those applicants who are at placed at a disadvantage because of a protected characteristic, such as disability, have the playing field levelled so that they are able to compete. In other words, if but for the disability an applicant could do the job, then a potential employer should consider what reasonable adjustments can be made. Positive discrimination (i.e. where you are taken on because of your protected characteristic) is still largely outside for the law in the UK for job seekers.

However, the Equality Act 2010 allows an employer to take positive action if he believes that employees or job applicants who share a particular protected characteristic suffer a disadvantage connected to that characteristic, or if their participation in an activity is disproportionately low. This means that if you have two candidates with identical skills, experience etc. applying for a job and one has a disability and one doesn’t and disabled workers are under-represented in your business you could appoint the disabled worker because he is disabled.

I am very uncomfortable with this approach. It might be called positive action but it seems extremely close to positive discrimination to me. And of course in many cases the unsuccessful applicant could challenge the decision arguing he or she has suffered unlawful discrimination (though not in the case of disability). Since I have never in my 30 year career ever found two candidates who were precisely identical the issue has not arisen.

This of course is not a job advertisement so possibly the fuss is a storm in a twitter tea cup. We give young people the chance to experience work as interns. Is this all that different albeit with a different group of beneficiaries? The BBC said it is “........ not advertising for a disabled weather presenter. This three day training opportunity is open to men and women with disabilities who have a passion for weather and the environment and who have the potential to become weather presenters in the future. There are no jobs guaranteed at the end of the training. There is nothing ‘PC’ about offering training to people with disabilities.”

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