There is no freedom under the Act for an employer to discriminate on grounds of sex in a current selection procedure in order to make up for what are perceived to be the sins of the past.
Equal opportunities legislation exists as an attempt to guarantee each individual applicant fair and equitable treatment, regardless of their sex or race. Everyone who applies for a job has the right to expect their case to be considered purely on the basis of ability and experience. The current position of other members of their sex or race in the organisation to which they are applying is irrelevant to their right to fair treatment.
The school that asked the question in Helpline has every right to state in its advertisement that women are under-represented at senior levels in their establishment and that it , would therefore, particularly welcome applications from women.
The school has no right whatsoever to hint that it will consider sex as a factor in selection once applications are in and the shortlisting process gets under way.
Should the school take the advice given by Archimedes and place an advertisement that allowed "an intelligent reader" to feel they could deduce that their own "prospects of securing the job" depended upon their sex, then the school could find itself being sued for unlawful discrimination.
Local education authorities and the Department for Education and Employment go to great lengths to ensure that school governors and heads understand that no account should be taken of sex or race in any selection process.
For your writer to suggest so casually that this idea is dispensable the moment that the proposed discrimination is thought to be in a noble cause sadly confirms the trend towards seeing equality of opportunity as a secondary matter to pursuing predetermined guaranteed outcomes in employment situations.
It is not the fault of any male applicants for a vacancy with an employer if women are currently under-represented in the kind of job being applied for. As a consequence, the moral case for punishing these men by unlawfully discriminating against their applications is non-existent.
M CLARKE 38 St Chads Road Bilston, West Midlands
Archimedes writes: "The purpose of my advice was to allow the governing body to have a reason to choose a female applicant if they were faced with two candidates who were, in respect of all other criteria, equal. Beyond that, my advice did nothing more than indicate ways in which the advertisement and material might be worded so as to encourage females as well as males to apply."