Is it harder for people from non-minority backgrounds to understand true discrimination?

Chrissi3-300x202This is a question we were asked in response to some rather misguided comments about discrimination on LinkedIn.

So to be clear – right now I am talking about discrimination towards the protected characteristic groups as detailed in the Equality Act. This is something which I feel has always been best explained by this internet response: –

 

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The point this comment rather brilliantly, but slightly crudely, makes is that if you don’t currently have a protected characteristic it is not likely that you are being held back by anything other than your ability, attitude or life choices. These are, in the most part, things that can affect your ability to do your job and can through study, work choices and self-investment be improved or changed.

If you work in the UK construction sector and are white, British, male, straight, abled-bodied, mentally healthy and 35-45 you are in front – or in first place within the Mario Kart analogy.

Don’t be upset about that – it’s a good thing.

For those who do not fall into this category, other people’s perceptions of ability based upon a protected characteristic could hold them back. E.g.

Age – Too old – can’t handle the work, too young – won’t understand

Race – Not capable due to race, not interested due to race, not able to communicate due to race

Gender – Women are unsuitable for this type of work, women are not capable of working in this environment

Disability – Physical disability would breech Health and Safety, mental disability is a hassle and means they can’t cope

Etc., etc., depressing, etc.

These are some of the politer things we have heard or seen in action. And whilst other people’s opinions can be overcome and we can convince people that we are capable, the point is that being required to prove your ability on the basis of age, gender, race, disability, etc. is not something everyone has to do – it can therefore hold us back.

If you have seen, or felt, this in action it becomes clearer – so, yes, on the one hand I think being representative of a protected characteristic does make it make it easier to understand true discrimination.

However, this is not always the case…

‘Those people’

For some people in protected characteristic groups it can be harder to understand, and for a time in my life I was one of them.

Even though, on reflection, I had faced a lot of discrimination I did not recognise or acknowledge it – the very thought of doing so, I saw as weak.

I thought that if I wanted to work in industry I should put up with the way industry was; I felt that I was a builder first and a woman second. It was only when I got older, and arguably a bit wiser, that I realised by just how far I had missed the point.

You see it didn’t matter what I thought.

It mattered what my bosses thought.

And a lot of them thought I was a novelty, limited, incapable and time constrained because of my gender, not my ability. I know this – because they told me.

I ignored it because I wasn’t THAT type of woman – the type of woman that is affected by these things; the type of woman who can’t handle the job; the type of woman who leaves the industry.

Until, of course, I got fed up of working 60 hours a week without a promotion in sight and carrying an increasingly patronising workload. Then I understood discrimination, and then I left.

So sometimes, I do feel that those from minority groups can find it as difficult to understand discrimination as those from the more privileged side of the fence.

With hindsight, I’d probably say that it’s not harder to understand if you represent a protective characteristic – rather, it is harder to accept it is happening.

What we must all start to understand is that we all gain from diversity – the majority group need not worry about the minority taking their jobs – we know we are again seeing the ugly face of the skills shortage.

We should all recognise now is not the time to tell people they can’t hack it in the sector. Rather, it’s the time for the industry to recognise that not enough people want to hack it anymore. Let’s make sure we can offer everyone a chance to work in the vibrant, challenging industry we know so well, whilst they still want to.

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