Sick of Special Categories…

Earlier this month the headlines in the sporting world – rarely taken  off of the Olympics – was on a ‘brave Missouri football player who came out of the closet and announced he was gay before the NFL draft.’  Commentators said that while it was brave, it could have been costly, possibly dropping him in the upcoming NFL draft.

Last month there was a call for applicants from either the Federal or Provincial government (I cannot remember which) specifying they were hiring African American women only… or rather people who identified as African American women.

This week the pundits on talk radio in Toronto were discussing the benefits of legislating that a minimum number of directors of public corporations must be women.  Women are under-represented on Boards of Directors as well as in politics.

And of course, let’s not forget the entire Women in IT movement, because there are not enough women working in IT, and the ones who are feel discriminated against and discouraged.

Now here’s the deal… it may seem hypocritical for me, a Jewish Canadian, to say that I do not like all of these special treatments for special groups.  After all, go to Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, or the Young Men’s Hebrew Association… every city with a major older Jewish population has their own institutions, so if the Jews got special treatment, why should I deny the same to gay men, African American women, or women in general?

It’s simple.  In today’s world – certainly in Canada and the United States – not only are all people treated equal, it is codified into law that we are all equal.  In the forty-one years that I have lived on planet earth (yes, I am only 41 years old before you ask where I lived the rest of the time) I have never looked at a woman, an African American, or a homosexual, and said ‘that person is less of a person than I am… they should be discriminated against.’  While I do not deny that there is and has been racism and sexism in my life (and still today) there are no laws that make it easier for me (a white male) to succeed than an African American woman.

When the Jewish General Hospital and other institutions were established for the Jewish community of Montreal they were done so for a simple reason – Jewish doctors were not allowed to practice in public hospitals and Jewish patients would not be treated in public hospitals… which were all run by the church.  They had to establish their own sports teams not simply because they wanted to hang out together, they were actually banned from joining existing clubs.

Now here’s the thing… I understand that in today’s world there are still people that discriminate, and some of those people are hiring managers.  I take absolutely no issue with companies establishing policies that require their hiring managers maintain a balance of genders and skin colours and religions and ethnicities.  That will ensure that at the entry level everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.

In the 2013 NFL entry draft 254 college players were drafted… out of tens of thousands who dreamed of it.  If this college player was expected to go in the first round this year, it is proof that he is one of the best players in the country.  Any team who does not pick him because of his sexual preference is stupid because at that level it is not about ideology, it is about business… and teams that want to win had better draft the best players.  If you don’t draft a guy because he is gay then the team with the next selection will draft him, and your defense will have to spend the next ten seasons trying to solve him.  It will be up to you to explain to the fans why you wouldn’t hire the best player.  Don’t believe me? I remember the scandals when the Montreal Canadiens went out of their way to hire French management, and ended up with a lot of losing seasons under their belt (including their longest ever Stanley Cup drought).

A company is mandated by its shareholders to make money.  Workers in the trenches, even supervisors, should be hired as evenly as possible.  However in the senior management positions the companies not only should be allowed to, but actually required to hire the best people for the job so as to make money for their shareholders.  The corporate world cannot be managed by restrictive laws, especially in the day and age where companies do business in many countries, unless we find a way to enforce the same laws equally in every country where any company may do business then it is not reasonable to try to tell companies to hire someone because of their gender… they should be hired based on ability.

On the other hand, I feel that companies are finally learning that diversity in ethnicity and colour and gender is actually an asset, and that it behooves them to seek out the best candidates for the job that will help them… including African Americans and women and even African American women.  However to specifically restrict hiring to any group is akin to saying ‘Sorry Mitch, you are a white male so we are going to discriminate against you based on that.’  It also, in my opinion, belittles the fights won by every African American and woman who have fought for their equality.  Guess what… they are now equal, why shouldn’t they be treated as such?

I have worked in IT at a pretty high level for the past fifteen years.  I am a huge believer in supporting the up-and-comers in the field.  With that being said, I don’t think anyone should be specifically encouraged or coaxed into the field.  It should be what someone wants to do… and if it is not, then they should find something else.  I know many women in IT who have succeeded at very high levels – Presidents and VPs of companies such as Microsoft, a former CEO of HP, the CEO of Yahoo, and so on.  I have asked female friends and coworkers if they feel they have been outwardly discriminated against, and the majority of them will say there have been minor incidents, but overall they have succeeded, and love what they do.  Those are the type of people I want in IT – because guess what, I have had incidents and setbacks as well, and I succeeded because I wanted it.

The television series The West Wing may have been pure fiction, but the issues and dialogue were very real and well thought out.  In an episode called 17 People (original air date April 4, 2001), Ainsley Hayes (a Republican woman played by Emily Procter) debates Sam Seaborne (a Democratic man played by Rob Lowe) about the ERA… and she picks the side of NO.  In this clip (5m30s long but worth it) she explains many of the reasons behind her position, but the long and the short of it are that ‘I am a person, the law already proclaims that I am equal, and passing other laws proclaiming that I am equal would imply that prior to the passing of that law I was not equal.  Her position is extremely well written and well spoken, and very clear.  The US Constitution proclaims that all men are created equal.  Fortunately the 14th Amendment to same clarifies that all people are equal… so let’s stop treating them as if they are not.

Our world is not a perfect one; I have clearly outlined my position in this article to limit the discussion to Canada and the United States of America.  To not focus would necessitate discussions of anti-gay legislation in Russia (as well as most of the Middle East and Africa); the subjugation of women (again, in much of the Middle East and Africa), racist laws (in scores of countries, and arguably even in the Province of Quebec), and so much more.  This is not a perfect world, and I applaud many of the people and organizations who dedicate their lives to trying to change that.  However the examples I outlined at the beginning of this piece are not from Saudi Arabia, Russia, or Somalia… they are from the US and Canada.

I am not proclaiming that our countries are perfect; in fact they are far from that.  Despite my belief that Canada is among the best countries in the world to live in, I know we have problems.  There are plenty of social issues that we should be dealing with.  However by focusing on the directors of companies we are taking focus away from the 99% – the people who actually work for the companies.  Every hour that we spend discussing gender imbalance on Boards of Directors is an hour that we are not discussing minimum wage, work conditions, poverty, and how the single mother who wants to work at a company can do so without paying 95% of her weekly salary to child care.  By posting a job opening for African American women our government opened the door to a discrimination lawsuit from a whack-job white male who, despite their litigious craziness, would likely win the case because the law says he is right.  By focusing on a football player’s sexuality we are making sure that every time he makes a great play the announcer might say ‘what a great play… there was no sexual attraction at all when he tackled the quarterback!’

…and with regard to Women in IT, let me be clear: I want more women in my field.  I often prefer working with women than men.  However more than whether their private parts are innies or outies, I am primarily concerned by their competence and ability to perform the tasks required of them.  Beyond that, if a woman is competent she should be hired, and if a man is competent he should be hired.  If women feel uncomfortable working in IT then let them work in another field… but if they are intentionally made to feel uncomfortable in their field – whether that be IT Pro, or doctor, or subway operator, or anything, then she should take legal actions, and there are a lot of us who would back her up.  However I have no interest in working with someone who had to be coaxed or cajoled into the field… more often than not they won’t enjoy it.  So for new hires throw career fairs, but do not focus on gender… focus on interest and competence.  Trust me, you’ll get a lot of women interested.

Now, if you want to have groups of women who are established in IT, knock yourselves out… because those within the profession may have insights to how to fix issues.  However those issues will not be fixed by simply dragging more people in.

Rant over.  Enjoy your week-end!

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