b Equality of opportunity
The introduction was, You see four persons applying for a job who have the same qualifications and the same experience. Two are men and two are women. The persons come from different races, cultures and religions [also tribes, languages and castes]. What do you think will really happen in practice? [Five YES/NO questions follow, and then an open-ended question.]
The object of this group of questions was to get students to think about equality of opportunity in employment; specifically they had to consider the situation in their own societies with regard to similarities between those appointing to jobs and those appointed, the acceptance of “quality” or meritocratic criteria, racism etc. gender equality and ageism. Finally the open-ended question required them to suggest what they thought was a fair basis for an appointment.
The key findings here were:
i That the samples showed some confusion as to how far meritocratic considerations currently apply to appointments to jobs in their own countries. The first, second and fifth questions represented different ways of coming at this issue, and the answers did not tally, thus:
There is an obvious contradiction between the idea of likeness to the appointing persons in gender, ethnicity, religion etc and the more open, meritocratic idea that the “best at the interview” should get the job. Similarly, although the four countries do not share equally in a “complaining culture” over employment, and there are significant differences in legislation and the state of the labour market, one might expect a greater parallelism between the answers about the best interview performer getting the job, and the justice of complaints if, instead, the worst interviewee is offered the post. Only for the older group in India and the younger group in Zimbabwe was there an approximation between these two responses.
ii In spite of this confusion the final, open-ended question showed that the samples were overwhelmingly of the opinion that the best qualified, in terms of skills, qualifications and experience, should get the job. This view was expressed by 82.5% in Botswana, 85.9% in India, 83.7% in Northern Ireland, and 81.6% in Zimbabwe (where significantly more of the older group than the younger group stated this.)
iii That, although all countries had seen campaigns for gender equality, at least a third and sometimes nearer a half of the national samples thought that a man would always get the job when male and female applicants were equally qualified. Only among the younger Zimbabweans was there a majority which believed that the man would get the job (by 51.5% to 48.5%), but the comparable figures expecting a man to be appointed were 46% in Botswana, 32.7% in India, 39.7% in Northern Ireland and 46.2% among the older Zimbabweans.
iv That ageism was perceived as less significant than sexism. In no country was there a majority for the view that youth or age would be decisive in obtaining a job. The view that in practice neither the youngest nor the oldest would get the job was held by 56% in Botswana, 83% in India, 76.2% in Northern Ireland (where female students were more likely than males to take this line), and 64% in Zimbabwe (where younger students were more likely to respond in this way.)
In conclusion: Most of this section required students to focus on their own countries, looking at different dimensions which might apply to recruiting procedures, and only at the end were they asked to state what they thought ought to happen. The questions were not easy, since in every country “ideal” fair employment practices can be subverted and in India (where 5.8% said that the most needy should get the job and another 4.5% referred to the most qualified and needy) a policy of affirmative action reserves jobs for depressed classes (eg Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) and in some situations for women. The most striking result was the support for a nondiscriminatory approach based on merit: over 80% of each country sample believed that the best qualified person should get the job, irrespective of race, culture, religion, sex or age.
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