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Money's not Everything

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

We've had a few reminders, this year, of the inequalities in our cultures. Although it's not acceptable (or legal, in many countries) to discriminate against a person based on something they can't control, we often witness that discrimination in action.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that people who are non-Indigenous are more likely to have a significantly higher income than people who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Worse, that disparity widens with remoteness.

What about gender differences in income? The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports that being a woman is still a barrier to income parity. It's interesting, when you look at the graph that shows a 14.9% gender pay gap in 2004, which increases in 2014 to 18.5%, and then comes down again to 13.4% in 2020. What was happening politically, socially, and academically in those years? Could it have been our government? John Howard was Prime Minister from 1996-2007 (Liberal). However, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were Prime Ministers from 2007-2013 (both Labor). The peak in 2014 certainly occurred while Tony Abbott was PM (2013-2015, Liberal), but you would think that the gender pay gap would have improved during a Labor government (and while the PM was a woman). So, what happened?

I think it all boils down to the individual personalities of people who employ people, and the cultures of their businesses. I remember a time when I'd be interviewed for a job by just one person. Their personal preferences would bias their decision. I've interviewed applicants one-on-one, just as I've been on interview panels too. Even those panels could possibly be biased. The last few times I was interviewed for a role, a whole panel of people had various questions, and they'd discuss me once I left. I'm pretty sure that one of those interviews was "going through the motions", in that, they'd already decided they were going to promote someone, but had to advertise the position anyway.

What happens, when you're in a group, can be influenced by just one member of that group, or by all members. But the thing about groups, is that we're more likely to choose to side with someone from our own group than someone from another group. Assoc Professors Stefania Paolini and Mark Rubin have been researching ingroup-outgroup interactions for a long time. Their work is incredibly interesting!

All that beautiful research reminds us of the simple fact that we need to be less mono-dimensional. The world simply isn't "black and white" (or even "black versus white"). We're all bitzas - bits of this and bits of that - and that means we're all the same on some level. Once we have a conversation with someone who looks different, we'll find that they're a human just like us. They will have dreams, aspirations, inspirations, challenges, tribulations, successes and failures. Just like we do.

It makes me think about socialism. I studied socialism and the revolutions of France, Russia and China when I was in high school. There is something really inspiring and secure about a system that is designed to ensure that each individual is equal to every other individual. Personally, I don't like the regimes in which the leader gets to have that role for as long as they like. I think that is incredibly dangerous, because that kind of power - unchecked - can lead to all sorts of evil. Totalitarianism and authoritarianism are not the ultimate political (or religious) systems!

But, what would the world be like if we had income equality?

There are certain systemic concepts which need to be in place for that to happen. We need role models and champions - those people who are "first in family" to do something. Those champions should be applauded, recognised and recognisable, and given opportunities to share their stories with others (others of every persuasion).

We also need those people to be visible in mainstream media. For example, I love to watch programs on NITV and SBS. This is partly because I often learn something when I do, and partly because I find some fantastic programs. Their news programs are especially enlightening, and their films are often brilliant. But I would never have discovered these amazing programs if I hadn't bothered to look at those TV stations. So, it gets back to having those NITV and SBS stars on all the other channels.

I remember a program about Hillary Rodham Clinton, in which she noted the lack of women who had studied law before her. She and her few women classmates were the first, and surrounded by men who bullied and gaslighted them. That's quite an image, in my mind ..

Imagine you are the only one.

When you are outnumbered by some other group (any other group), you start to imagine all sorts of horrible things are going to happen. Maybe those horrible things actually do occur, and your fears - now validated and vindicated - become full-blown anxieties. Not only are you walking this path alone, you are walking it lonely and afraid.

That makes me think that anyone, who is "first in family" or the first in a classroom full of others, is a pretty amazing and brave individual. They feel the fear and "do it anyway". What courageous human beings! These are the people to whom we can aspire. They show dedication to something bigger than fear.

Why can't our societies encourage children to go to school, have fun, become friends with everyone, and achieve all kinds of dreams? Maybe our schools are so big, the kids get lost in a sea of uniforms. Maye our schools are so small that the kids don't have a chance to meet anyone who doesn't look like them. Maybe, our schools don't just need excursions to Canberra to see the War Memorial and Parliament House; the kids need equal access to all education levels and all health services, and to experience living in other places, if only for a week.

I remember when my school had a thing with another school up the highway a bit. With all the other girls from my year, I hopped on the bus to Gunnedah, and stayed with a family who lived on a farm. We took turns with the bath water - something that would never happen in Newcastle! The following year, a girl from the Gunnedah school came to stay with my family and me. We got to discover how alike we were, despite any differences in the ways we were being raised.

My primary and high schools also arranged pen-pals, so we could start writing to someone from far away. My pen-pals were in Germany, Mauritius and an American in the navy! It opened my eyes to other ways of living.

The most telling thing in my back-story, is the story of "Jam and Jelly and the Greasy Greeks from next door". I was friends with two little girls from the fish and chip shop next door, and my father would bait me with that label. My friends' parents were Jan and Gerry, hence their nick-names, and they were from Greece. Dad actually had no racist bone in his body; he was toughening me up for future skirmishes. He could see that, not only was I a sensitive child, I was also fiercely protective of my friends and their family. He loved to see me riled up to come to their defence; it made him proud of me! But he knew, that one day would come, when I'd have to be that defender out in the real world. I had to be ready.

What would you do today, if you witnessed injustice caused by prejudice or discrimination?

Sure, it's about money; but it's about so much more.


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