It isn’t fair, isn’t it (and what we can do about the uneven playing field)

fairness run
An image from the "Global Fairness Run" in Germany -- an initiative to improve working conditions in third-world sportswear manufacturers.

Readers here know that I am a voluntary moderator (Top Contributor) on Google’s AdSense ad-serving help forum. This role provides an opportunity to see the world form a different perspective, quite literally, since the forum serves an multi-national?audience and (although there are non-English language editions of the service), quite a few folks from some very far-away places still arrive with their questions, frustrations, and problems.

Frequently, when things go wrong for the publisher (often losing his or her account because of serious rule violations), the angry individual posts a message: “It isn’t fair. I’ve been discriminated against because of my race or language. I can’t reach anyone to get a second chance.”

Let’s start off with the fact that racism and unfair discrimination are real problems and issues. When white supremacists wrap themselves in the Rhodesian flag, I am transformed to the time when I heard the Rhodesian national anthem live, in Rhodesia. (I lived there for 18 months as a journalist during the transition to Zimbabwe.) ?As well, I recognize I’ve had the fortune to live a privileged life — as an upper middle-class Canadian who (fortunately) has never experienced the brutal hate and genocide that my European Jewish distant relatives experienced decades ago.

However, efforts to be fair often have unintended and unwelcome consequences. Individuals abuse their?”rights”. This is especially painful for Canadian employers, for example, who must tread carefully when either hiring or denying employment to someone in one of the protected anti-discrimination groups. There are indeed serial abusers — people who get themselves hired, then perform so poorly that the employer needs to fire them — and then they run straight to the human rights commission, accuse their former employer of discrimination, and extort tens of thousands of dollars in settlement payments — only to repeat the story again, and again, because no one has the courage to provide a negative reference to the serial bad employee.

In a practical level, in business, nothing can be totally “fair” — we all exploit our advantages and if we are successful, we have enough advantages that we can earn a profit. We generally get there by doing good, delivering value, being honorable in our business dealings, and treating everyone with respect.

Perhaps I learned my most important lesson about these concepts some three decades ago, during an economic crisis when everything seemed to be going wrong. In a momentary flash, I realized that no-one was to blame for my predicament, but I certainly was responsible for my circumstances. I would do my best and see if I could solve the problems and not hold anyone to account but myself for my unfortunate plight. It took two years, but things turned around pretty quickly once I achieved that insight.

From a marketing and business development perspective, yes, remember, it isn’t fair and you may deserve a chance when incumbents are locked into the good places. If you are fortunate to be a minority or women owned business, you also may have the advantage of anti-discrimination rules for public sector work, including set-asides. If you are not in the protected class, and feel there is the evil of reverse discrimination, maybe you should count your advantages and focus on your strengths and build on the relationships you have to create your opportunities.

Most importantly, sometimes the best approach is simply to be fair, generous, and respectful, and put your business interests aside in the name of community and voluntary service. Perhaps the most effective and ironic way to achieve an unfair advantage in market share and branding/reputation, is to be utterly selfless in community and voluntary service.

If you have thoughts or observations about this post,you can email or write a comment.


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