Konferenz in Antwerpen: „Challenging inequalities in contemporary societies“

Post in: Englisch

I just returned from the 2nd ‚Equal is not enough‘ Conference, entitled „Challenging differences and inequalities in contemporary societies“, held in Antwerp (Belgium), 1-3 December 2010. The goal of the conference was to understand “the causes, consequences and underlying dynamics of inequalities,” and how policies help to overcome them. Types of inequality include gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, disability, class and age and their intersections. The conference was hosted by the Policy Research Centre on Equal Opportunities (PRCEO), a partnership between the University of Antwerp and Hasselt University.

The conference brought to light several important aspects of the academic and policy work being done toward creating a good society. By “good society,” I mean a society where gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and social background do not hinder people from (a) expressing and applying their talents, (b) making contributions in the labor market at the level of their abilities, and (c) leading meaningful lives according to their wishes.
The conference brought to light several important aspects of the academic and policy work being done toward creating a good society.

The entire conference was excellent, but two speakers brought important insights to my work and thinking: Myra Marx Ferree illustrated the challenge of merging two contradicting strands of thinking. On the one hand, Anglo-Saxon-type “diversity management,” ascribes dimensions of “diversity” as characteristics of individuals and thereby abdicates responsibility for protecting “groups” and instead focuses on the bottom-line value-added of including such people in organizations. The central-European-style “gender mainstreaming” comes from a tradition of class protectionism and thereby views gender as a class issue and women as a class that needs protection. The inherent contradictions between these two poles are what make the reconciliation of “diversity management,” on one hand, and “gender mainstreaming” on the other hand, so difficult.

Organizations seem to have ambivalent, “love-hate” relationships with their missions toward diversity and inclusion.
Sara Ahmed pointed out the immobility and rigidity of an institutional wall that blocks progress toward integration of diverse groups within organizations. This wall represents the inertia of organizations and their institutional logics, and the wall creates the noticeable difficulty in trying to move an organization toward inclusion of previously excluded groups. Workers in diversity management or equal opportunity face the constant challenge between institutional lip service that supports their work and deep structures and attitudes that resist the ways in which their work challenges and threatens existing status quo. Sometimes they are attacked personally and professionally for doing precisely what they are hired to do. Organizations seem to have ambivalent, “love-hate” relationships with their missions toward diversity and inclusion. I recommend keeping an eye out for her forthcoming book.

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