Archive for the 'ableism' category

Discrimination in an inverted hierarchy

May 11 2011 Published by under ableism, academia, industry, racism, sexism

At most institutions, we have systems in place to cope with people being sexist/racist/ableist when in a position of power over us. For example, if the offender is a professor and the offendee is a student, or if the offender is a director and the offendee is a department head.

But what about the other way around? When we talk about a "harassment free" workplace, what does that mean in terms of people "lower" than us in hierarchical stature being sexist/racist/ableist to us?

Kaija's comment on FSP's recent post about student -> professor sexism said, "Would it be ok if Mr. A$$hat had said the same things about black scientists, handicapped scientists, or any other particular group of people?" This was very interesting to me. At many places, it is unequivocally Not Okay for a white student to be overtly racist to a black professor, but it is ok for a male student to be overtly sexist toward a female professor. There are dozens of articles out there about how female professors tend to get the brunt of student incivility, yet where are the institutional policies addressing this?

It's bad for institutions to accept inverted hierarchical discrimination. Attitudes like, "Oh, don't make a fuss, you only have to teach him for the rest of the semester." or, "It's not like she'll be writing your annual review, don't worry about it." are not helpful to anyone involved - they are just sweeping the problem under the rug.

I would like to see more prophylactic measures taken by institutions to ensure all incoming people regardless of rank (interns up to CEOs) receive some sort of indoctrination training. "These are the best ways to talk to people of other races / genders / abilities than you." This is especially important for multi-cultural workplaces, where employees may come from a culture where sexist/racist/ableist comments are commonplace and socially accepted.

I also really encourage institutions to take a stronger stance on how they discuss inclusion with their employees. I'd like to see policies and practices that not only offer support from a legal perspective, but also state unequivocally that intolerant behaviors will not be tolerated, and have some serious consequences beyond wrist slapping.

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