The Even Playing Field

Graphic shows two pictures of three children, tall medium and short. In the graphic to the left they are all standing on a box of the same size watching baseball. The small child can not see over the fence, In the graphic to the right the tall child has given his box to the small child – he can still see over the fence and now the small child can too. This demonstrates equity.

It’s started already and they have not even read the job applications yet. What?  Well people have contacted The Rebuttal to ask us to stir the pot a little. This time it is in regard to the selection of the CEO at Deaf Children Australia (DCA). Naturally the pro-Deaf CEO brigade  are maneuvering to put pressure on DCA to pick a Deaf CEO. Even before the final selection committee has been agreed, accusations are going out that the panel is biased. It’s culturally insensitive, there needs to be more input from the Deaf community and so on and so on.

I know not if any of this is true. I suspect that whatever DCA do that they will not please everyone. They will be criticised for picking a Deaf CEO. People will say that the Deaf CEO is a token and they are pandering to the community. If they pick a hearing person, particularly one with no background in deafness, the critics will scream blue murder and bemoan the fact that many imminently qualified Deaf professionals are being denied an opportunity. I do not envy DCA the task in front of them.

In recent years Deaf Societies around Australia have started to employ people who are Deaf as their CEO or leaders. Queensland have Brett Casey who is Deaf. New South Wales have Leonie Jackson who is Deaf. Deaf Can Do in South Australia have Debbie Kennewell, not CEO but high up in the leadership team. It is said that Vicdeaf are grooming Brent Phillips for the CEO role. I find the concept of grooming faintly patronising because Brent, and many other people who are Deaf, is already imminently qualified for the role.

All of this is music to my eyes. Why? Because the very first Rebuttal ever, back in 2006,  raised the idea that people who are Deaf should be CEOs of our deaf organisations. It is terrific to see that the trend now is exactly that and long may it continue.

That said I still think we can go one step further. I reckon we should actually only target deaf people for the CEO roles and then only open it up to hearing people if these people targeted prove not to be  suitable. WHAT??? I hear the nay sayer’s protesting. That’s discrimination! That’s tokenism!!!! What about merit??? As I often say to my good friend James — Calm down Fluffy. There is a strong argument to do this.

In recent years organisations have tended to use consultants to recruit. I am very skeptical of consultants. I have heard stories that some consultants actually screen people with a disability out of jobs. If you do not believe me, watch this video. I have written about this in an earlier Rebuttal but what transpires in this video is compelling. Watch it until you get to the part where the human resources and recruitment experts offer advice. It is not pretty.

I have worked in employment and education for nearly 30 years now. I can tell you that these sorts of prejudices exist. In human resources, where finding the right candidate earns the dollar, disability raises uncertainty. People with no experience of disability often have prejudices about people  with a disability and exclude them from selection processes. In professional life people who are Deaf, or who have disabilities, face this discrimination everyday. It is a tough battle. (Not all Recruitment consultants are like this, some promote and practice diversity.)

What is the end result of this? It means that people who are Deaf, or who have disabilities, are denied opportunities. While they fight this prejudice hearing and non disabled peers are working their way up the career ladder. The end result  is that they are denied opportunities. This makes it difficult to compete with hearing and non disabled competitors.

This does not mean that they do not have the skills or ability to do the jobs, particularly high management jobs. It just means that their CV and their range of experience might not be as broad. It is a constant and uphill battle. This is why many in the disability sector call for quotas where employers must demonstrate and reach targets for employing people with disabilities, including in management roles.

So what is the answer?  I believe that organisations must be proactive. They must practice what they preach. Vicdeaf have a goal, clearly stated in their annual report – Access and equity for Deaf and hard of hearing people – Yet for all the deaf people they employ only one is in senior management.  The Deaf Children Australia annual report screams Empowering Potential, A future without barriers, yet they have just one Deaf person on their senior management team. Deaf Can Do, for all the Deaf people it employs including Debbie Kennewell as leader, is part of the Can Do Group of Townsend House, which has not one Deaf person on its senior management team. For all the advances that we have made, we clearly still have a long way to go,

But! We should celebrate progress and progress has been made. That said we have to keep hammering home the message – organisations that promote equity and opportunities for Deaf people, and people with disabilities, must lead the way in creating those opportunities. This means employing people who are Deaf, and with disabilities, as leaders and CEOs. I hope in the next decade all our deaf organisations will have a Deaf CEO.

The balls in your hand Deaf Children Australia – Go on, you wont regret it.


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