Keeping Us In Our Place

Julie Bishop resigned. She went out with a bang. In her own subtle way she hinted that the Liberals are not giving women a chance. She suggested that quotas maybe the way to go. The Liberals are a party of sexist old men who think women must compete on merit. Which is fine except that women traditionally do not enter politics or big business at the same rate as men. So what do we do?

If women are to compete solely on merit they will be royally screwed. Simply because there are just so many more men that are in big business and politics, particularly in the Liberal Party, that men are always going to be over represented. If you ask most women to compete based on only on their business and political experience then they will have no chance. Why? Well because men have simply had that much more of a head start. On merit alone women will not be able to compete.

So Bishop is suggesting that the Liberals need quotas for women. She is suggesting that she be replaced by another talented woman rather than a man. And why not? The Liberals don’t have enough women. Why not aggressively target women to fill vacancies at the expense of men. I say go for it because merit as a principle sounds great but when it comes to disadvantaged groups it is simply a tool to keep them in their place.

I have been thinking of this lately. I have been thinking about how people with a disability are kept in their place. I started thinking about this because a friend asked on Facebook whether Advisory Groups are much chop. Advisory Groups abound in the disability area. They are a tool used by disability organisations and the Government to show that they are actually listening to people with a disability. Problem is – Advice is one thing having to act on it is another.

Consensus seemed to be that Advisory Groups really are not much chop. Giving advice is fine, but useless if it carries no legal bearing. Agreement seemed to be that advisory groups are simply tokens to show that orgs and the Government have made an attempt to listen and implement the views of people with a disability. PFFFFFT!

What people with a disability want is real representation and power. They want a real say in the decisions that are made about them. They don’t want to be on a group where they are flown business class, given a nice scotch and a fancy lunch. They want power. They don’t want to just say, “Please consider this…..” They want to be in a position to say “WE WILL DO THIS…” There is a difference!

But of course even when people with a disability are in a position of power on Boards they are often out voted. They are usually the sole person with a disability. People nod sagely at them. “Hear, hear…” they will say when token Deafy speaks up and then just do the complete opposite. When asked they will say that they have disability representation on their Board and that they take it seriously. Usually something like 8:1 in favour of non-disabled. Yup that will work.

I was once on a board of a reputable deaf organisation. I was token deafy among ten to 12 others. In Board meetings the hearing members would all talk at once, interject and generally make it nigh impossible for me to partake fairly.

One day it got particularly bad. The Auslan interpreters looked at me imploringly to take control as everyone spoke at once. It is fair to say I lost it. I told the board it was pathetic that a Board representing the needs of Deaf people could not even conduct itself in a manner where deaf people could participate equally. I remember bellowing – “150 years of service to deaf people and what have we here??? … A bloody shambles!!!!” or words to that effect.

And what happened? Well a Board member piped up and said, “ …. Well if you don’t understand something Gary, just put your hand up and tell us.” I lost it and demanded he take his patronising drivel elsewhere and take some responsibility instead of expecting it all to be on me. It wasn’t a pleasant meeting but it is an example of the ableist and audist attitudes that we people who are Deaf or who have disabilities must confront every day. Especially at work or at executive level where you expect people to know better.

And you know this same organisation asked me in for an interview to discuss a management level job. I had let them know I would be interested. So they called me and asked if I would like to come in and discuss the position.

Now before I go on I should tell the reader I am pretty hot. I am skilled. I got experience. Lots of it. I have written tenders. Business plans and funding requests. I have been involved at Government level developing tender documents, deciding the successful tenders and then part of committees that evaluated performance against the tender requirements. I wrote my organisations submission to continue the delivery of the program that I was employed. This had a three year strategic plan to go with it and a yearly business plan for each of those three years. I am hot, not too modest, but I am hot.

So anyway I came into “discuss” this position. First thing that was said as I walked through the door was basically – “We don’t think you are right for this position.” No questions about any of the skills or experience that I have. Nope, just a pre-judgement and then informal discussion. No questions about how I might transfer my considerable skills to the job. Just dismissed even before I had walked in the door.

And you know this same organisation appointed its CEO from its Board who has even less experience than I do. But it is ok. You see the person is not disabled. So it is ok. That my friends is how it works. One rule for them and another rule if you are disabled. Do I sound bitter? I am not, I am just supremely frustrated.

Merit? Not in this world my friends. Like the women in the Liberal Party – The barriers to equality for people with a disability seem almost insurmountable! It is how they keep us in our place.

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One thought on “Keeping Us In Our Place

  1. Thank you Gary for that very insightful piece. Yes, unfortunately it’s true! I’ve had to explain why I thought I deserved a higher duties increase this year. This equates to $30p/w. I was asked “What makes you so special; we all do jobs we’re not paid for!” I originally asked for a pay rise, but this is what they offered! So frustrating and exhausting!

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