November 6, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 38  

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Equality, without reverse discrimination

Kats got your tongue
Laura Katsirdakis

News Editor

When dealing with the issue of "affirmative action" or "employment equity" it is important to remember not to throw out the baby with the bath water.

The concept behind affirmative action-type plans is that a person's gender, race or other such characteristics that are (nearly) impossible to change, should not be a deterrent to their employment potential. (If you happen to be Michael Jackson, who seems to have switched from a black man to a white woman, you are excepted from this discussion).

Some affirmative action plans have failed miserably. In their efforts to ensure that minorities in certain fields are hired, these programs effectively set up an institutionalized reverse-discrimination. For example, if it is determined that Bolivian women between the age of 23 and 47 are under-represented in the field of paper clip-bending, then extra efforts to hire these Bolivian women may result in more qualified white men being turned down for the job in their place.

An anti-discrimination policy that results in reverse discrimination is inherently flawed, no more explanation necessary.

Measures such as the current federal government standards asking employers to have a workforce representative of the population are more realistic. This measure allows employers to submit reasons if they fail to attain a representative workforce. Let's be honest: every company cannot have a workforce that reflects proportions in the population -this is a rather idealistic goal.

Rather than attempting to establish a microcosm of the nation's population in every workforce, perhaps the goal should be to break down the cultural norms that seem to tell us all nurses and secretaries should be women and all factory workers and heads of state should be men.

Suppose a certain group was associated with the types of jobs that are consistently lower paying than others. This would translate into this group consistently earning lower wages than other groups in society. What would happen if women were consistently accepted into lower paying jobs? This would mean that in a family, the man's wage would always be the primary one and should a woman find herself as a single parent it will be far more difficult to support her children on a "secondary" wage.

John Rawls, a political philosopher, uses the idea of a "veil of ignorance" to think about rights. The idea is that when deciding who should have what rights, we should imagine that we do not know our position in society. Under the veil of ignorance one must consider that they themselves could be in the lowest socio-economic class or be in a minority group. From this perspective, one would favour the kind of rights that would benefit all in society, from the most prosperous to the most destitute.

Imagine you had no way of determining who your children would be. Even if you are a white male, your child could be a black woman. What kind of society would you want them to grow up in?

No one wants to institutionalize reverse-discrimination, but the concept of making employment standards more equitable is an important one and should not be abandoned because of failed attempts to implement it.




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