By Raymond de Looze
A bad dream
I had the strangest dream the other night. I was participating in a triathlon race. The race organizers had set up a registration system whereby male participants had to pay a higher entrance fee than female competitors. In a discussion about it, some of the women quite aggressively argued that it was logical for men to pay more, since they are generally heavier. As a result, they continued, the damage caused by men to the race course would be higher as well. The debate infuriated me. Not because I had to pay more, but because the rationale behind it was obviously ridiculous and unfair. If someone believed that damage caused to the poor roads would have to be compensated, then weight should be the criterion, not gender. It was the first time I suffered from genderitus.
It doesn’t get any easier from here
When I woke up, I quickly realized it was all just a bad dream. But I still felt the intense anger of being disadvantaged based on something that simply doesn’t make sense. I am an educated healthy white heterosexual Dutch male with hair that increasingly moves into the grey area. Life doesn’t get any easier from here, so I am not very used to this. The point is: it was the first time I actually experienced what discrimination may feel like. And even though it related to something stupid as a registration fee, it was the lack of justification that made me angry. One can only imagine what it must be like if something really matters, like women getting less money for doing the same job.
Discrimination or different treatment?
When developing a robust tax business model, we always focus on ensuring consistency. As well as on other beautiful things such as simplicity, flexibility and robustness, but let’s stay with the consistency for now. In short: consistency is treating similar cases similarly. Not treating all cases similarly. There is a double test here: (1) are the cases similar and (2) if so, are they treated similarly? Discrimination is an inconsistent treatment. Making a (justified) difference may be OK, discrimination never is.
Having a six-year-old kid stay up an hour later than its three years younger sibling is making a difference. Having it stay up longer than its twin sister for being a boy is discrimination; for needing less sleep is a justified difference. Paying more money for a job because it requires unique skills and lots of experience is making a difference. Paying a woman less than a man for that same job is discrimination. It’s simple.
Lack of awareness
The debate about genderitus is driven by a lack of (male) awareness and commitment on one side and (excessive) political correctness on the other side. Female employees in the Netherlands on average still get paid less than men. And their presence in boardrooms is not even close to male numbers. We are living in 2015. And this difference still exists, though other countries are doing much better. Some will argue that women more often choose to focus less on their professional career. And that as a result, they are less qualified when they reach professional maturity. That is: based on the standards set by predominantly male leaders. They are blocking part of the way, often without being aware of it. Since they honestly believe their standards are good ones and are not in any way discriminatory. When reading this they would likely think about other men that are accidental road blocks. We all have our biases. I know I do.
At the same time, political correctness sometimes suggests that any difference is immediately a form of discrimination. But there are differences. And treating different situations differently is also important. Take sports for example. If no differences were allowed, male and female athletes would have to compete in a single race. The number of Olympic gold medals for women would likely be quite limited. Having separate races is making a justified difference, based on generic physical differences between men and women. I don’t think many people will claim that this widely accepted difference is a form of discrimination. But it is obviously a different treatment.
But what about the price money for the female soccer world cup? It that a justified difference or discrimination? Does it result from the mere fact they are women? Or is it related to the fact that on a global scale the number of viewers are not even close to that of the male soccer world cup, since soccer is culturally a male sport outside the US? Or do fewer people watch the female world cup since the media don’t push it as hard? I do not have the answer, but I guess it is a bit of all. Commercial organization will (and should) consider the public’s involvement and will thus pay less for a female soccer campaign. But for FIFA, whose objectives are officially not commercial, I do not really see how it should be any different.
So where does this leave us?
Although I had just a dream that left me feel quite angry, it did help me realize that the lack of rationale was driving this. As in many aspect of life, isolating the root cause can be powerful. Some key observations.
1. The issue is complex and the struggle will have to continue.
2. It can help to consider every single case in the light of consistency: is it a justified difference or discrimination?
3. It requires awareness, action and commitment from male leaders to make fundamental changes.
Where does it leave you?