One of the ways to overcome the inequality between men and women (and also regarding other minorities, but I will focus on gender here), is the idea of affirmative action – a type of discrimination that favors members of a disadvantaged group. The idea is that this would lead to a reality in which there will be more women in higher positions, in order to stop men from being promoted instead of women.
There are quite some problems with this approach. And one of the fundamental errors in this method is that is continues the definition of members of the disadvantaged group based on them not-belonging to the norm.
Many job postings end with a clause that states that women are especially encouraged to apply and that in case of equal participants the woman will be chosen for the position. Which is interesting, because it imposes an idea of equality, an idea that there is such a thing in the first place and that it is something we need to strive for. So the qualities that we look for in someone to fulfill a certain position in a company, a job that in most of the cases was designed and developed for a man, should be described in such terms that men and women can apply for them.
We should however not forget that those terms in which we describe qualities and prerequisites are male in their approach. So in other words we allow women to conform to male structures and we encourage them to do so, because that way they can get a job. If women show they are equal to the (male) norm, they will get the job.
This can be seen in many facets: the job listing, the selection criteria, the process of the job application and the selection process itself. But for some positions male characteristics might be exactly what is needed. And in other positions we might need female characteristics. Which have nothing to do with gender-distinctions, but with framing.
But when will there be a job opening for a manager in which the idea of leadership is described in female terms? When will not the being better than your classmates but the amount of dedication to the well-being and prosperity of the whole class become a selection criterion? When is it not the amount of papers you have published, but the amount of people you have brought together that have formed alliances to create innovation together?
That it is actually difficult to not even make distinction in the selection process is nicely written about in this blogpost, by a head of a department who reflects on the problems involved.
Wikipedia tells me that “in Sweden, the Supreme Court has ruled that ‘affirmative action’ ethnic quotas in universities are discrimination and hence unlawful. It said that the requirements for the intake should be the same for all.” Affirmative action is discriminatory, yes. But that doesn’t mean that one should agree with the idea that requirements should be the same for all.