Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Affirmative Action Policies Are Demeaning to Women in Academia

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Affirmative Action Policies Are Demeaning to Women in Academia

Article excerpt


Preferential hiring policies are often based on the erroneous assumption that if a designated group is not represented in an occupation or profession in the same proportion as it is represented in the population, then negative discrimination has taken place. In the school of discrimination-logic, no alternative explanations are considered. Not only is it asserted that the white male majority keeps women out by deliberate exclusion, but also by creating a climate in which women are uncomfortable. This explanation is emphasized particularly for the smaller numbers of women in science and engineering.

Although there may have been a bias in favour of males in the past, a look at the evidence suggests that, currently, women in Canada are being hired in academic institutions at rates higher than would be expected from the number of qualified applicants. Moreover, their persisting low representation in some fields may be a matter largely of self-selection, reflecting different talents, different emphasis on the importance of family, and different occupational preferences from men.

Hiring women over better-qualified men will inevitably lead to the downgrading of women in academia, to a reduced respect for the professoriate, to poorer education for students, and to a deterioration of collegial relations between men and women.

A colleague of mine (not in the Psychology Department) had a discussion recently with two graduate students about the advisability of hiring more women in their department. His comment was along the lines "I have no objection to hiring competent women, but I do not think we should hire someone on the basis of possessing a vagina". This reductio ad absurdum pungently encapsulates the objection many of us have to preferential hiring policies, because it points out the absurdity of the extraneous criteria. How can one justify academic decisions based on the possession of one or another set of genitalia? or on skin colour? Lest some readers feel that such a comment denigrates women, in that it reduces them to sexual beings, I should point out that those sectors of society that most avidly promote the preferential hiring of women are generally also those who erroneously deny any native differences between men and women other than just such obvious physical differences.

Affirmative action policies are just one aspect of the complex generally referred to as "political correctness", and which has been defined by several of the other authors of this special issue. Psychology as a discipline probably more often suffers from the excesses of political correctness than it perpetrates them. Anyone who studies the variation in behaviour associated with sex, race, and even age, will probably have encountered, at the very least, disapproval. The bulk of such negative reactions do not come from fellow psychologists. We may have avoided some of the difficulties of other Social Science disciplines, such as Political Science and Sociology. For example, Sociology's current status has been described by a noted sociologist as "a set of ideologies ... instead of ... a study of ideology" (Horowitz, 1993). I would speculate that the extent to which Psychology has escaped is in part related to the fact that in recent years it has become more and more a biological science, in practice and not just in name. To that extent it has broadened its consideration of the root causes of behaviour and has avoided the narrow socialization (politically correct) point of view.

But lest we congratulate ourselves prematurely, a list of special sections of the American Psychological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) should give us pause. It includes not only discipline specialties such as "Developmental", and "Experimental" but also sections which have no discipline connotation and which have a dubious place in academic associations. These include "Women and Psychology" and "Ethnic Minority Issues", etc. …

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