Which is More Important, Gender Equality or Diversity?

I’ve written this post to question whether I’m being overly sensitive or right in taking a hard stance in the face of adversity.

Gender equality and diversity are currently the two biggest social challenges being tackled by industry. This is something I thoroughly support and believe is a long overdue correction which is necessary in all walks of life. Notably, my observations from scrolling through sources like LinkedIn suggests gender equality is a higher priority for industry than the inclusion or ‘fair go’ for other forms of diversity (LGBT, race and so on).

This does not appear to be an issue when the two align (e.g. documenting a success story of a female from a minority background), but when they conflict it appears gender equality trumps support for minorities (I can see the irony in this sentence). This presented me with the following conundrum.

I fly a lot for work which means I invariably meet many immigrant cab drivers; many of whom are highly educated and came to Australia looking for better opportunities and the standard of life which comes with it.

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I dislike this brand but it allows me to make my point

Initially, when I began flying I would make a bit of small talk to be polite which touches on common things like, What do you do? Where are you from? What brings you to Adelaide? And once this was done, I would regress to checking Facebook and other similar antisocial social behaviours.

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The inspiration

As I began to fly more, I decided it was more interesting to ask the drivers more insightful questions (e.g. What are their dreams? What is their 5 year plan? What home custom would they like to see adopted in Australia?). I put this enthusiasm to hear about other people’s stories down to being inspired by the Humans of New York series which shows everyone has an interesting story.

By changing the questions I asked, I learnt things about people that I’ve been able to apply to everyday tasks and this has given me more enjoyment undertaking basic tasks when I think about some of their answers.

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Unfortunately, a negative aspect of these interactions almost always revolved around difficulties in finding employment opportunities in their chosen field of study. Occasionally, I’d suggest to some drivers to add me on LinkedIn and to contact me if I could be of any help in the future. They were more than happy to do so but I have never heard from them, so maybe they were just being polite.

Recently, I’ve joined my employer’s diversity committee and this has helped to continually open my eyes and provide greater context to a number of key issues surrounding gender equality and diversity in the workplace. So much so that when I get an opportunity to help someone (i.e Mr Cab Driver), I want to explore the possibility, even if they haven’t directly asked for it.

This brings me to the Friday which has just passed and the event which has caused my conflict. I had a one day trip to Melbourne, and as coincidence would have it, two of my cab drivers were qualified engineers who communicated well, had the ‘right’ attitudes and outlook towards their careers and so on. Given my employer was looking to hire experienced people in their area of expertise, at least one (if not both) of these people appeared to be a potential candidate. With this in mind I started asking a few more probing questions such as do they intend to stay in Adelaide? What is their family situation? Not that this is an issue (or should be an issue), but more along the lines of, are they just going to uproot in three months time and my employer has to start looking all over again.

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When you’re forced to make a decision you’re not sure about.

For some reason these two questions seemed to open up the discussion of the differences between Australia women and those from their home country. And as this discussion evolved, some derogatory remarks towards females ensued. It was for this reason I decided not to offer these guys any support as a reference or even to tell them about the potential job openings with my employer, even though I felt conflicted in doing so.

On one hand I wanted to help these guys who were struggling to find work as they tried to adapt to a foreign place with very limited networks to leverage off. At the same time I felt a conflict of interest if I referred them to the relevant people, fully knowing their stance on gender equality.

It was disappointing as I would have loved to have been able to refer those guys and give those struggling an opportunity to succeed. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I felt compelled to stand by my own beliefs and my employer’s priorities.

It still kind of bugs me though, hence why I have put this story here and am interested to know what you all think. Let me know in the comments below.

Speak soon.

#Hanbaobao

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