Dev Lall

Role of opportunity and choice in equality

Recently I filled in an application form and within the demographics there was a question to state one’s gender. There were four options. I chose the fourth one. Let them wonder, I thought.

But it left me wondering. Presumably the question is there to ensure equal opportunities for both (read all) sexes. But surely asking this question will reveal any preponderance of one gender compared to another. What then? Increase recruitment aimed preferentially at the other to redress the balance? Or examine why this has happened and look for ways to change the process to even things up? Either way, one group will become more equal than the other(s).

This gender issue seems to be cropping up all over the place of late. Female soldiers in the front line, female politicians in Parliament, business women in senior roles and of course, women in surgery. The debate seems to be around careers and professions where there are fewer women than men and seeks to ‘correct this’ anomaly.

I am unaware of efforts to highlight and increase the number of male primary school teachers, male paediatricians, and male nurses and this is undoubtedly because there is no perceived discrimination against men in adopting these roles. If more men wanted these jobs, they would just apply and go through the usual recruitment process, would they not? Of course they would. What we see is that fewer men choose this option.

The crux of the matter is in the ‘opportunity’ part of the phrase ‘equal opportunities’. The opportunity to apply to a job, enter a profession, progress in a career, should be equally open to all. It does not mean gender specific recruitment. The best people should be appointed regardless of their demographic.

I believe opportunities are equal but in many areas both men and women do not choose the same options because they are different. The cliche is true. Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus but there has been some degree of inter-galactical cross pollination. Kind and compassionate nurses are not solely female and those individuals arrogant enough to run the country (which does require a certain degree of arrogance) are not all men.

Intelligent adults know their strengths and weaknesses and those roles and responsibilities to which they are best suited and quite rightly pursue these avenues. Individuals working to their own strengths is in the common interest is it not?

Bias is not only with regard to gender. Age, too, is another potential discriminant whether it be positive or negative. Today Kirsty Wark, a well known Scottish, female, news journalist, broadcaster and presenter states that her career rose quickly through the ranks thanks to positive discrimination variation of various bosses at the BBC.

She was in the right place when they needed more women, then again when women were required on television, then she represented the lesser group of Scottish women on television. Now aged 59 she feels she benefits from the need for older women to remain seen on our screens.

So why this belief that women are perpetually disadvantaged? Have they not merely chosen not to pursue certain routes? I am sure there are fewer women in general surgery because they don’t want to do it, for whatever reason, not that they can’t ‘get into it’ or are ‘not cut out for it’. I think it more likely they have seen exactly what it involves and choose alternative options. Who can blame them?

As for career progression again it comes down to choice, not gender. Whether you are male or female, if you take time out and return at less than full time, of course you will not progress as quickly or as far as those colleagues who have invested a greater proportion of their time and effort into their career without interruption. You cannot expect to do so.

Sadly, there is no such thing as ‘having it all’ when referring to having a career and a family. Only on the X-factor and at Wimbledon do we see individuals who have 110% and 120% to give. We mortals have only 100%, finite time and effort to spread across all aspects of life. If some choose to concentrate 100% wholly on a single area, any single area, they will become more experienced in that area. There is nothing wrong with that but we must recognise that it is not that the opportunities were unequal, it’s that the individuals  made choices which have opportunity costs.

And for those still wondering, I am 100% female.

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2 Responses to “Role of opportunity and choice in equality”

  1. caroline says:

    Andy Murray clearly reads HospitalDr. In his interview about appointing his new (female) coach he said he identified the qualities he required in a coach and that Amelie Mauresmo had the complete skill set! Go Andy!

  2. Malcolm Morrison says:

    Well said, Caroline – as usual! (delayed response because been away). Of course men and women are DIFFERENT – otherwise none of us would be here! Or should our ‘gender equalists’ conside the ‘opportuinites’ for men to have babies – and be able to stay at home to look after them?!

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