Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Equal Opportunities

We’ve had our equal employment opportunities refresher training today at work, and what can I say? Having had this refreshment, I can now attest to knowing exactly why women earn significantly less than their male counterparts and why all the top managers out there seem to come from the very same network of private school graduates who know their way around football.
A lot of it is to do with the weight being carried into the presentation. For example, early on we were told that 20% of our employees come from “culturally diverse” backgrounds [I've tweaked the figures; they're not the real ones]. So I asked how cultural diversity is defined, and in return I got some lengthy meaningless spill followed by a suggestion that it was race related; I asked whether 80% of the employees are race-less and got blank stares in return; then I clarified my point and asked whether a culturally diverse person is anyone who is not a white Anglo Saxon, at which point someone else intervened and answered that this parameter talks about the use of English at home. Yeah, right; that explains why they had to perform circles in the air to give me an answer.
Later we were asked whether refusing to work with someone because we can’t understand their accent represents discrimination. We all said it does, and then we were asked on what grounds, and it turned out the answer is to do with race [again]. Well, excuse me, but I have a friend from Chinese origins who – if you were to hear her voice alone – would sound more Aussie to you than Crocodile Dandy eating vegemite; on the other hand, I know several white Anglo Saxons of northern England or Scottish origins from whose mouth I can’t understand a word they’re saying. My sister in law is a fine example there, but if you want an example you can relate to check out Alex Ferguson in his pre/post match interviews. The fact we automatically associate accent with race says a lot about our preconceptions and explains why discrimination is taking place in front of our eyes all the time and we just take it for granted or fail to notice it.
The biggest problem in the face of equal opportunity is the ambiguities the law is unable to answer. To go to extremes, why can’t I become a supermodel? If that ain’t sexual discrimination, age discrimination, and discrimination on the basis of physical appearance I don’ know what is. And until the law becomes clear and unambiguous about discrimination, as opposed to overusing and abusing the word “reasonable”, there will always be a backdoor for everyone out there who wishes it to actively discriminate.

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