Equal Opportunity Please?

I’m going to put this bluntly:

I hate equal opportunity employment.

No no, not in that way.  Let me make it abundantly clear that I don’t care about race, sex, or disability.  That’s why I care about equal opportunity employment, and why I hate the concept of it.  Please note here that I’m talking about Equal Employment systems that companies set up, not Employment Equity; Employment Equity is enforced, legal racism, plain and simple.

I was applying for a job today, and at the end of the form, it said “We’re an equal opportunity employer.  Please let us know if you’re a woman, in a visible minority, or if you have a disability.”  All I could think was “If you’re an equal opportunity employer, shouldn’t those things not matter?  Those are questions a company who DOES discriminate would be asking.”  By actually asking about any distinguishing features relating to the above, you’re saying that these things DO matter to you.  Furthermore, when you ask about these things, it sends a rather disconcerting message to “privileged” people like myself (that being a white male); if a company is actively trying to increase the diversity of its workers, then what does that say about my chances of being hired?  To what end will you favour race over ability?

Equal opportunity shouldn’t be a policy of a company, it should be a default.  By having policies such as this, we’re showing that we think race, sex, and other such innate traits have some intrinsic value.  “But Buncy,” you say, “these policies are meant to make sure that people aren’t placing value on one race (or other attribute) over another by trying to make sure that there’s a mix of all of them in the company!”  Okay, here’s a suggestion: get a proper mix by hiring the appropriate people for the job without worrying about that at all.

I think a major symptom that’s causing this obsession with equal opportunity is the fact that the world is still overrun with old boys clubs.  I don’t think the solution though is to try to force things to change.  That kind of thing is artificial and will at best only be a passing trend.

I can only hope that when my generation comes into the spotlight, and we’re in the position to dictate these kinds of policies and initiatives, that we don’t.  Because that is the only true way to be equal.

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~ by buncythefrog on March 1, 2010.

2 Responses to “Equal Opportunity Please?”

  1. While I understand the sentiment, two things come to mind:

    1) During the hiring process, there are often biases involved that can hinder the ability to make a decision completely based on ability. There is almost always some subjective component to the hiring process (usually on the part of whoever conducts the interview), and it is likely that a lot of the time, sub-conscious processes factor into the decision. Equal opportunity measures could help to alleviate the difficulties such biases have on minorities which are often discriminated against.

    2) The fact that there is a small proportion of some gender or ethnic group in a particular field or place of work can perpetuate the lack of inclusion in these fields or places of work. This is mainly relevant to gender equality. This is because (biases and work atmosphere aside) when there is a lack of role-models in a particular field, people are less likely to pursue that field. The idea that a particular field or job is “for” a particular type of person is then perpetuated, ingraining further disparity between gender and race.

    Are either of these reasons sufficient justification for legally enforced employment equality programs, considering that there are some quite valid criticisms of these sorts of programs? I don’t know. I certainly don’t think it is a black-and-white issue. Will this be less of an issue in the future, as the world becomes less “overrun with old boys clubs”? I certainly hope so, but even so, it could be the case that employment equity now plays a part in making these programs unnecessary tomorrow. Even if they are not permanent, they could still play a role in ushering in the age when they are not needed.

    Just some thoughts =)

    • I sympathize with some of the things you’re saying, Tommy. Let me try and respond as best I can.

      I’ll try and split it up between Equal Opportunity, and Employment Equity. They’re theoretically different things, and therefore deserve a little bit of distinguishing.

      Equal Opportunity differs between companies, but mostly is an attempt to try and ensure their hiring process is unbiased. It’s a noble pursuit, but I fear that at times companies might skew the numbers too much to correct for any bias that might exist. Yes, that’s a little paranoid and pessimistic. The other angle, purposely hiring people of varied races and sexes to purposely create a diverse field of employees just seems unfair. Yes, people need role models, but what’s a better role model? Someone who got hired because the hiring manager needed to fill a quota, or someone who earned their position, and is damn good at what they do? I dunno, of course people’s opinions differ, but I think that the latter has much more worth than the former. That being said, putting people in the position to fill the former description should be the role of society in general, especially government.

      Employment Equity… I find it hard to support, really. Yes, it helps correct a bit for the issues you mentioned, but it’s entirely artificial. It creates a sense of entitlement, of not having to work as hard to get what other people have, which is partly why these issues exist. You might have gotten a chain e-mail concerning a native speaker who would chastise anyone who came to his speeches late, saying “Indian time isn’t good enough any more.” Trying to make sure that people understood that the expectation of being handed something is not helping them move forward as a group. Plus, it creates a situation where even if you had a totally unbiased interviewer, the deciding factor between two otherwise perfectly equal potential employees is race or sex, not something like personality. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

      I find it hard at times to reconcile my views on society and business, and it occasionally gets jumbled up together in posts like this.

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