Equalities Bill lets firms favour female or ethnic-minority job applicants over equally able white males

Companies will be able to use positive discrimination to favour female or ethnic-minority candidates who apply for jobs at their firms, under new government plans.

The proposal aims to address a lack of balance in terms of sex and ethnicity, especially at senior levels, which is a particular problem in certain industries such as building. The construction sector has one of the lowest ratios of female and ethnic-minority workers in UK industry, with females making up just 1% of its workforce and ethnic-minority people 5.4%.

Female bricklayer
Women make up just 1% of the construction workforce

Harriet Harman, the equalities minister, will propose the plans in the Commons later on today. The Equalities Bill will allow firms to select women or ethnic-minority candidates over Caucasian males of equal ability, should they choose to do so.

It will also force companies to disclose salary structures to close the gender pay gap, and will ban all age discrimination. Age discrimination is already banned in the workplace, but this will extend the legislation to areas such as travel and health insurance, so that elderly people will not have to pay more simply on account of their age.

Speaking to the BBC, Harman said: “They might think, 'We don't want an all male team - we've got a new post coming up; we've got equally qualified men and women going for it - we are going to pick the woman because we want to have a more balanced top team.' The law at the moment is not clear and we are clarifying and saying if you want to do it, you can, and it makes it much more open.”