Life isn’t fair – but it should be

Share this with

I have a brother.

Growing up, he and I were rarely treated equally.

Before you think otherwise, this is a good thing. I realise now how difficult it would have been to have treated us “equally” – not only are we opposing genders, but I am three years older. He likes watching The Ultimate Fighter and pumping iron at the gym. I like watching Moto GP and shopping.

He excelled in Maths. I was better at English.

We’re fundamentally different.

Treating us identically (i.e., equally) would have been “unfair”. We have different interests, different social groups, and different needs. If my parents had forced my brother to watch Speedway, he would have hated it and complained all day. I would have been in my element. It would have cost the same money, taken the same amount of time, and have been an identical day out for the two of us. Would it have been “equal”? Yes.

Would it have been fair?

No. Because we aren’t the same person.

This is so applicable to the workplace. A working environment is effectively home to an office family. There are managers, who make the decisions about how their staff are treated. There are the staff, who live by these decisions. These decisions determine whether the workplace remains fair.

Sure, there are certain things that must be kept consistent for everyone. Not only is this the law, it is also the professional way to behave. When I hear stories about the gender pay gap, I get angry. When I see on the news that employees are victimised because of their race or sexual orientation, I shake my head in disbelief.

Why? Because it is unacceptable.

The Equality Act (2010) determines these nine areas as protected characteristics:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Religion or belief
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Sex

In effect, workplace discrimination based on any of the above mentioned characteristics is “inequality” – but more importantly, it is unjust. Being offered (and then maintaining) a job should be governed entirely by merit. It should not be determined by race, pregnancy, or any other protected category.

Similarly, two people working identical jobs warrant the same pay grade. Money is calculable – and therefore, is not open to subjectivity. Though this is, technically, a matter of “equality”, it is also a matter of fairness.

It is subjective areas that need more careful consideration. And this is why equal does not always mean fair.

Though a workforce can hardly be compared to siblings, it’s necessary to understand the individualities of a team, and manage them accordingly. Some workers have children and need more flexible hours. Some workers will become pregnant and require maternity leave. Some may suffer with poor circulation and require regular breaks to move around. You name it – someone will need it.

But does every worker need all these things, all at the same time?

No. So, technically, it’s unequal.

Indeed, “inequality” could so easily be taken to the extreme. After all, if someone gets a promotion, the rest of the team have been treated “unequally” if they aren’t promoted to the same level.

It’s fair – because a promotion is merit based.

It’s unequal – because it wasn’t given to everyone.

Discrimination is absolutely wrong. But so is treating people identically. People don’t want to be treated like nameless, faceless, carbon-copies of each other. They want to be seen and considered as individuals.

Getting equality practices right is essential to the successful running of any business.

Isn’t fairness just as important?