Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Special Protections for Social Good

Should laws be passed to protect certain groups? In my upcoming e-book discussing women and financial literary, I argue that if studies show women are vulnerable to financial abuse, policies should be in place to protect them. But not everyone believes that special protections should be implemented to favor a particular demographic.

Arguments opposing special protections have merit. They can be counterproductive or pit one group against the other. Other times, the policies can come at the expense of others. But how can we function as a society if we turn a blind eye to unfair treatment? This question becomes even more important today as empowering women catches global momentum.

Historically speaking, policies that have been implemented were meant to change the domination of white males in society. We had the civil rights movement of the 1960s which paved the way to elevate the rights of women and non-whites. This led to the rise in diversity training in the 1980s, affirmative action policies and a broad national campaign to advocate on behalf of women and non-whites.

Diversity training initiatives were at their peak in the 1980s and 1990s, as companies jumped on the bandwagon to welcome an influx of women and non-white employees. There were benefits to forcing workers of diverse social and racial backgrounds to get along. A cohesive workforce led to bigger profits, reduced turnover and fewer lawsuits. So companies invested in training and employees sat through grueling workshops and theatrics. The result was, white males were targeted and cries of reverse discrimination escalated. They felt targeted and humiliated, and productivity and morale plunged. It wasn't long before diversity training lost its charisma and became a thing of the past.

Affirmative action has created similar problems. In the past decade, two major lawsuits have materialized taking headlines by storm. They involve college admission policies and to what extent race should play in a university's decision to choose one candidate over another. The court has ruled race should play a factor in the admissions process.

As the diversity training brouhaha later reflected, special policies do more harm than good. Affirmative action policies have been found to hold back non-whites more than help them. An excellent article recently published by the New York Times explains why. Pressuring students to attend universities they're not qualified for actually discourages them and negatively impacts their performance.

Special protections are not wrong though. The problem is not that they're passed or even honored to protect a certain group. They become counterproductive when they're used against the groups whose influence they are trying to control.

If special protections serve any benefit it is that they bring attention to a social injustice. They are implemented because there's a dire need for them during a specific period in time. And they are especially important when the group whose interests they protect are in grave danger, especially blacks during the civil rights movement and women now with financial abuse.

What policies accomplish is they give the people they're protecting a chance to catch up with the rest of the population. It affords them rights that society was denying them before the policies were ever considered.

So if they're counterproductive, why pass them? Because they need to be. Because every year thousands of women are abused physically and financially and are unable to defend themselves. Because without protection, they will remain in abusive relationships, stay unemployed and rely on federal assistance. Even unabused women will benefit. They will gain the confidence to participate in the market, join the workforce and take control of their own finances.

Without such laws, vulnerable groups will remain victimized. And a healthy society and economy is possible only when all people are given a fair chance. Even if laws are passed to enforce that equilibrium.

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