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Diversity and Fairness: do they go together?

We often hear that both fairness and diversity are increasingly important in today’s world, but the fact remains that the two do not always go hand in hand. But why should this be? In principle, there is no conflict between these two ideas: why should society not be both fair and just, while also being diverse and representative? What might prevent the two from coexisting? The answer lies in how these ideals actually operate in the world, and how the notions of fairness and diversity exist in the social imagination.

Broadly speaking, the idea of fairness is considered a universal good by most in society. We might think about fairness as simply the idea that people should be treated in an equal and right way. In short, to treat people fairly is to treat people as they should deserve to be treated. Of course, there are all sorts of ways in which the odds are stacked against fairness. We might think about the various ways in which people are advantaged and disadvantaged by virtue of their background: that is, did someone go to a good school or a bad school? Were their parents high-earners or low-earners? Were they brought up in a stable, safe and nurturing environment? Then of course we have other factors like intellect, health, race, gender, nationality and social status, all of which are to some extent out of the individual’s control. Therefore, the world is beset by all kinds of inequality, which complicates matters somewhat, and far from getting better, inequality is as much of a problem as it ever has been. In fact, research shows that global inequality is worsening over time. This might be taken as a sign that the global society is becoming less and less fair, and the society at present is inherently unfair.

But to some, the idea of fairness does not depend so much on an equal society, but the supposed equality of opportunity, and equal treatment of individuals. This is the idea that regardless of background, people are not (or should not) be treated differently based on who they are, and that as a result people can theoretically access any career, class, or institution they wish, as long as they are willing to work hard enough to get there.

Regardless of whether or not this is yet the case, this kind of thinking is predicated on the assumption that there are no barriers in people’s way, and that there are no measures in place that maintain the status quo of society. Even if it were the case that true equality of opportunity exists, it is clear that equality of outcome does not.

As long as both inequality and this broken idea of fairness persist - the idea of fairness as equality of opportunity - diversity and fairness will continue to elude one another. There cannot be both fairness and diversity in a society where people have to work harder than others in order to get where they want to be.

By far the most salient example of the contradiction between notions of fairness and diversity is in ‘intelligence testing’. While intelligence testing proclaims itself to be an objective method of measuring an individual’s intelligence level, an ever-expanding body of research supposes that it has played an active role in establishing and maintaining societal inequality, by supporting the perceived intellectual strength of privileged groups, while undervaluing the intellect of disadvantaged groups.

When it comes to gender and race in the context of intelligence, the scientific consensus appears to be that neither race nor gender play any causative role in intelligence, yet in many forms of standardised testing, there is a significant bias against specific groups. This suggests either that there is either a socio-economic cause for these discrepancies, or that the tests themselves are geared towards different kinds of ‘intelligence’. Either way, this represents evidence that even the supposed fairness and objectivity of intelligence testing is as subject to bias as anything else. The result of this - needless to say - is catastrophic from the perspective of social equality. People from disadvantaged backgrounds find it even more difficult to succeed when the only ‘objective’ measure of their capability is stacked against them.

So how might diversity and fairness be reconciled? There are two possible ways: the first is to make an equal society. This is likely the most difficult option, and may not even be possible, and there is an ongoing debate about whether a truly equal society would even be desirable. The second option involves giving varying levels of support to those who need it. This is what’s often referred to as equity - which is distinct from equality. Equality means equal treatment of people, whereas equity refers to proportional treatment of individuals, according to their need. This is a vital distinction to make.

At TiiQu, we regard equity as an important part of our work. We seek to enable all people of all backgrounds to have the ability to represent themselves in the professional world, and to put their best foot forward. Our technology allows people to regain control over their reputations, and to prove their worth by testing and demonstrating their skills. We see this as a paradigm shift in the way that the employment and education markets will function, and we hope that our work will help people to make society a fairer and more diverse place in which to live.

Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

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