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Positive Action Measures

Positive Action Measures

Positive action measures go beyond the prohibition of discrimination, they explicitly allow for differential treatment to achieve greater equality.

Positive Action Measures - a working definition

Between 2004 and 2008, Austria has amended its equal opportunities and equal treatment legislation complying with the European anti-discrimination directives. The legal framework was developed and strengthened for the protection of discrimination on grounds of gender, ethnic origin, religion or belief, age, sexual orientation or disability. However, legislation alone is not sufficient to reduce structural discrimination, which is in conflict with the principles of equal opportunities and equal treatment. Experience in Austria and other European countries has shown that accompanying measures are necessary.

Positive action measures go beyond the mere prohibition of discrimination. They explicitly allow for differential treatment based on any of the grounds mentioned above.

Positive action measures are essentials tools for achieving the aims of greater and substantive equality.

  • Preventing or compensating for disadvantages and discrimination, whether these arose in the past or are still ongoing;
  • Promoting substantive equality by taking into account the specific situation of members of disadvantaged groups and breaking the cycle of disadvantage associated with membership of a particular group;
  • Redressing under-representation and promoting diversity in participation of all groups in social, economic, cultural and political life;
  • Complementing the fight against discrimination through individuals and gradually achieving the abolition of institutional and structural discrimination as well as establishing of equal opportunities.

Where there is substantial inequality, positive action measures can be aimed at various addressees at different levels and in different areas of life in a meaningful and useful way. The collection and availability of (statistical) data to identify systemic or structural discrimination is increasingly important to prove legitimacy. The implementation of positive action measures must be accompanied by continuous monitoring and periodic evaluation. This would verify the measures to achieve the desired effects; and to find out if new adjustments are necessary.

Positive action measures should be terminated when the goal of substantive equality is achieved. If positive action measures are continued after substantive equality has been achieved, they constitute positive discrimination.

It is often difficult to distinguish positive action measures from general social concepts aiming at equality, socio-political measures or reverse discrimination.

Positive action measures have to be distinguished from "reasonable accommodation" (as defined in Article 5, Directive 2000/78), when defined as individual measure adapting the working place and/or conditions to the needs of a disabled person not aiming at any structural changes within an organization.

Positive action measures are also said to be an important tool within wider diversity management strategies in order to for instance increase the workforce diversity.

Criteria defining positive action measures:

  • Provable inequality exists;
  • Define a clear and comprehensive goal, which matches with the general objectives of positive action measures (see above);
  • The measures have to be suitable and appropriate for reaching the objectives defined, e.g. no “rigid” quota;
  • The measures are specifically aimed at disadvantaged persons or groups of minorities.

Examples for positive action measures:

  • Recruitment procedure specifically aimed at under-represented groups (e.g., women of migrant background) by explicitly making them aware of the job advertisements, motivating them to apply for the job vacancy and stating that they will be given prefernce to other candidates in case of equal qualifications;
  • Recruitment and information campaigns to increase the involvement of migrants in certain professions (e.g. project of the Vienna Police "Vienna needs you");
  • Adjust entry conditions for the education system (e.g., advanced degrees, universities, recognition of professional qualifications) of disadvantaged groups and provide supportive measures;
  • Provide mentoring programmes for members of disadvantaged groups;
  • Establish recruitment procedures, working arrangements and special programmes to increase the employment opportunities for employees over fifty years of age;
  • Establish group networks for ethnic minority employees and/ or gay and lesbian staff members;
  • Supply information leaflets on the Austrian welfare and education systems in German and Romani for the Roma population in Austria in order to improve their social and political involvement.



Bell, Mark: Positive Maßnahmen – Einführung des Konzeptes, in: Europäische Kommission (Hg.): Chancengleichheit verwirklichen. Welche Rolle soll positiven Maßnahmen zukommen? 2007

Bell, Mark; Waddington, Lisa: Anntoation to the Legal Definition of Positive Action used in the PAMECUS Project; unveröffentlichtes Dokument vom 8.4.2008

Czollek, Carola Leah; Weinbach, Heike: Lernen in der Begegnung – Theorie und Praxis von Social Justice-Trainings. Informations- und Dokumentationszentrum für Antirassismus (IDA e.V.) NRW, Düsseldorf 2008

De Vos, Marc: Die Bestimmungen des europäischen Antidiskriminierungsrechts und positive Maßnahmen in der Praxis, in: Europäische Kommission (Hg.): Chancengleichheit verwirklichen. Welche Rolle soll positiven Maßnahmen zukommen?

EU-Projekt: “Gleiche Chancen im Betrieb”
siehe: [accessed on 25.03.2009]

Merx, Andreas: Antidiskriminierungspolitik – Positive Maßnahmen in der Antidiskriminierungspraxis
siehe: [accessed on 25.03.2009]

Simon, Patrick: Statistiken über positive Maßnahmen: nicht nur ein Hilfsmittel, sondern eine

Pflicht, in: Europäische Kommission (Hg.):
Chancengleichheit verwirklichen. Welche Rolle soll positiven Maßnahmen zukommen? 2007