Binders of Women, of Minorities, and the Disabled

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I didn’t watch the US presidential debate last night, and I wasn’t even checking social media while it was going on. I had hundreds of tweets to read directly related to that debate when I finally had the time to check on things, and I decided to skip it. A couple of friends summarized it for me. One said all I need to know is “binders full of women.”

She then linked me to an article on the Guardian website that deconstructed Mitt Romney’s comments about women and employment. It’s a classic case of how many people, particularly white men, perpetuate the patriarchy without seeing anything wrong with it. Those of this mindset hear the title of Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal work “The Second Sex” and think “yeah, what about them?” Many of his comments were worded in a way that makes blatant the underlying biases that the majority of people have from being entirely encased in the society we have and calling it “reality” rather than a representation of the accumulation of power relationships.

That’s why the way Romney was speaking of women in high-end positions is prevalent. The subject – why women aren’t represented in certain jobs – has been addressed in the federal jurisdiction of the Canadian workforce under Employment Equity legislation. That’s essentially what he was talking about, except Employment Equity also includes aboriginals, visible minorities, and persons with disabilities. White men take offense to being excluded from the groups that they see as being “favoured” and I’ve spoken to several of these men who resent not being selected for a certain job because other applicants were female/native/coloured/handicapped. (I used some innocently offensive terms for a reason, of course.)

Employment Equity is not throwing job applications of white able-bodied men in the waste basket. It’s expanding the means of recruitment – like Romney asking organizations and getting “binders full of women” – to reach those who are not reached through traditional methods. It’s examining the labour pool for the relevant positions to measure the diversity within that pool, and taking setting goals to reflect that in the organization. It’s ensuring past barriers, like internal referrals from an Ol’ Boys Club, or assumptions about the career dedication of women of child-bearing age, or equating a foreign accent with a lack of intelligence, are broken down and fixed by recognizing the qualifications these designated groups have and why it is systemic rather than by merit that they have not worked their way up the corporate ladder as quickly as white men. Those long-practiced barriers, the ones spoken of in Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC regarding Barack’s grandmother, have created deeply rooted inequality that cannot be leveled by simply saying “From now on, both men and women can apply for these jobs, and I will select the best applicant to hire.”

The eyes evaluating the best applicant are the ones who say “yeah, what about them?” when you mention women, aboriginals, visible minorities, and persons with disabilities. They fail to see the shining qualifications because they put a “the other” shell on the person first and foremost. It seems unjust to have to put in the effort to remove that shell, but that is only the case because for the privileged demographic they never noticed that they put it on in the first place.

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