I have written about discrimination before. Everyone discriminates and if you say you don’t then you’re a liar. Quite often you don’t even realise you’re doing it. You make judgement calls based on past experiences; if past experience has taught you that ladies over the age of 50 who smell of talcum powder and wear a camel-hair coat are horrible (because your subconscious remembers a teacher just like that who made you cry) then you will automatically dislike your future mother-in-law who smells and looks exactly the same. It is also part of our nature to create bonds with like-minded people and automatically mistrust those that do not ‘belong’. Human nature is not governed by a single faultless law. It is as colourful and diverse as our species; we will always find something we do not like about someone else and it takes a lot of practice to look beyond instinctive dislike and learn to interact with people we would never voluntarily approach. This is overcoming discrimination, personal discrimination.
Then there is the other kind where you deliberately overlook a prospective candidate based on gender, race, age, (dis)ability, social class, etc. The suffragettes, Rosa Parks et al, have allowed us to develop a superb society where everyone has an equal opportunity. It is the likes of Lord Abersoch that will send us hurtling back into the dark days when a person was selected based on something other than their ability to perform the job. It might be positive but it is still discrimination.
The plumber I employ is hard-working, conscientous, bloody good at his job and doesn’t charge a fortune. I do not employ him because of his gender, class, colour or anything else. I employ him because he’s a good plumber and I want a heating that, at the end of the day, works!
I would like to relate to you a particular example. As you know, I work for a school and I once had over 50 job applications for a vacancy advertised as requiring, among other things, a good command of written and spoken english. The very first thing I did was to troll through the applications and discard all those that showed terrible grammar and spelling mistakes. The odd mistake I let through but things like: ‘i like kids and want work in a comprhensive school because i like…’ In our school there is a ‘failsafe’ practice incorporated within the system whereby another individual, usually from personnel, also discards unsuitable applicants at the first instance. Imagine my horror when the above applicant came through as a possible in her pile. The reason – this person’s first language was not english and so we had to allow for it. Now, I hadn’t even looked at this person’s first language, place of birth, gender, age, education, work experience or anything other than the way they’d completed the form. That this application should have been allowed in because the applicant’s mother-tongue wasn’t english seemed particularly stupid to me and I argued the point vociferously. It was only as I was flicking through highlighting the atrocious spelling, grammar and even handwriting that I noticed something that made me laugh out loud. This applicant had a masters in English and was, unbelievably, an English teacher in their home country. I had been frustrated by the red tape that demanded I give this person a fair chance but when I saw this damning piece of news I was really happy. Why? Because mother-tongue or no, a degree in English cancelled out any preferential treatment I had been told to offer. Later that night I was slightly miffed because if I had not noticed that degree and employment history I wondered whether I might have caved in to the pressure and put that application through to the second shortlisting phase.