For all too long there has been gender discrimination within our society, along with a whole range of other discrimination, to which the suffix ‘ism’ is often liberally applied. Awareness of these issues is changing, but there is still some way to go.
It could be argued that I am one of the worst placed people to comment upon gender equality issues in the workplace. In these days of “lived experience” it isn’t unreasonable to question what qualifies a white, middle-class, middle-aged male to comment on this issue. The truth is however, many of my clients are women trying to make their way in business and commerce, and they face a number of challenges that men rarely encounter.
In terms of gender discrimination, we have seen proactive recruitment policies, quotas in the boardroom and other initiatives to try bridge the “representative imbalance” gap. While it is important to challenge outdated attitudes and assumptions, some policy initiatives are frankly wooden and potentially tokenistic. In a world of true equality we should be looking for the best person for the job, free of gender-based and other assumptions.
We also have to recognise that for some women climbing the corporate ladder the “double day”, where childcare responsibilities take up as much times as paid employment, is not a necessary evil but an endemic part of that person’s lifestyle and choices. This should not be viewed as an inhibiting factor in corporate processes, but something that should be celebrated. It is important to recognise that a person’s expression of their lifestyle through their choices, values and leadership development; is not just a reflection of what goes on in the boardroom, but a reflection of that person’s total self. It is the identity of the complete person that belongs in business.
The nub of the debate is the inability of some individuals to see all fellow human beings as equal, irrespective of their sex, sexuality, ethnicity, age, disability and lifestyle. Preference for one “ism” over another risks the creation of selective perception, and neglects the need to transition to a pluralistic, multi-lifestyle society that celebrates difference as well as sameness. In such a society corporate decisions would be made based on objective business needs, with an integral recognition of the value of diversity to the organisation.
When we make a mistake whilst recruiting or allow bias or negative discrimination to creep into our judgement, this not only fails the people we are dealing with, we also fail our organisation, ourselves and our common humanity. Addressing all workplace inequality starts with good leadership development and confident managers who see beyond simple psychological biases to seek the best people, and celebrate the multiplicities of lifestyles we now all have, rather than seeking the familiar.
From an evolutionary perspective, the natural tendency to tribalism and seeking people who are like oneself, may meet the primal needs of the herd, but it falls well short of meeting the needs of modern, evolving organisations.