Put an end to affirmative action
NationalPost.com – Opinion/Editorial
Saturday, Jul. 24, 2010
The Conservatives may have misstepped on the census, but they have it right on affirmative action. This week, Cabinet Ministers Stockwell Day and Jason Kenney announced that the government will review discriminatory affirmative action policies that, for the last quarter-century, have given preferential hiring treatment to women, minorities, aboriginals and the disabled in the civil service.
According to Mr. Kenney, “I strongly agree with the objective of creating a public service that reflects the diversity of Canada, and with fair measures designed to reach that goal. But we must ensure that all Canadians have an equal opportunity to work for their government based on merit, regardless of race or ethnicity.”
This welcome move was prompted by the case of an Ottawa-area mother who was shocked to discover that she could not apply for a job with Citizenship and Immigration because she was white. And she is not alone. A cursory review of the federal public service job website reveals that all posted positions — even those not explicitly restricted to favoured groups–come with the following proviso: “The Public Service of Canada is committed to building a skilled, diverse workforce reflective of Canadian society. As a result, it promotes employment equity and encourages candidates to indicate voluntarily on their application if they are a woman, an Aboriginal person, a person with a disability or a member of a visible minority group.”
This statement appears whether you are applying for work as a cabin inspector, a financial officer, a telephone interviewer or an administrative assistant. While it is intended to promote the hiring of “disadvantaged groups,” it has the effect of discriminating against other groups, even when those groups are, ironically, underrepresented in the positions that are being filled.
Indeed, for certain jobs, and even overall, it appears that affirmative action would need to be applied in the opposite direction, at least where the sexes are concerned. In the federal civil service, 54.7% of employees are female, as were 57% of employees hired in 2008-09. But only 51% of the Canadian population is female. It would thus appear that men need help, not women. (The disabled, aboriginals and visible minorities were also all “over-represented” in government hires last year, making able-bodied white males the “disadvantaged group” in the equation.)
Supporters of affirmative action will argue that women are “overrepresented” in support and administrative positions and “underrepresented” in managerial or directors’ positions. By their own logic, then, the government should discourage women from applying for certain jobs, such as receptionists or secretaries — and favour men. Of course this isn’t happening, as women are still considered a blanket “disadvantaged group.”
This is an outmoded, politically correct approach — one long overdue for reform. The trend to female employment is not restricted to public service jobs–or to jobs on the low end of the wage scale. According to social scientists, the “new economy” actually favours women. In an article in the July/August issue of The Atlantic Monthly, entitled “The End of Men,” author Hanna Rosin chronicles how womn are outpacing men in higher education, the general workforce, and managerial jobs. Apparently, even artificial sex selection of children is skewed toward women, with 75% of prospective parents seeking to conceive a girl.
As for affirmative action on the basis of race and aboriginal ancestry, it comes with an entirely different set of problems. Many high-performing East and South Asian job seekers shun government jobs, for instance, not because they face discrimination, but because they simply prefer to find more lucrative positions in other fields. As for aboriginals, it would make far more sense to invest federal dollars in improving their education, rather than simply hiring them into government jobs for which they aren’t truly qualified. The same is true for blacks and other minority groups that skew toward the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum: Affirmative action merely addresses the symptoms of the problem, not the cause. Moreover, it has the added, socially toxic drawback of stigmatizing all minority members as under-qualified affirmative-action hires — even those who were hired on the basis of pure merit.
The bottom line is, social engineering of the workforce is not only wrong in principle, but makes no sense in practice. Individuals should succeed on merit, regardless of sex, race or other characteristics. Market forces and technological changes will dictate the jobs of tomorrow, and who will fill them. Kudos to the government for recognizing this, and for reviewing these discriminatory regulations. Let’s hope they take the necessary next step, and put an end to them.