Mandy Watt (Edinburgh citizen) speaks with Caroline Gibb (EaRN Development Worker)
Caroline: What does the word ‘equality’ meant to you?
Mandy: I mean, I think about equality in terms of equality of opportunity and I think that people maybe don’t treat that in the way that I would like them to. They think that if everybody has the same opportunity to succeed, then that’s fair, and that’s equality, but is it? Because some people are just more fortunate than others, right from the start – just circumstances from when you’re born. There’s lots of people who aren’t able to take up the opportunities in the same way. That, I feel, is really unfair. So for me, with equality and equality of opportunities, you have to keep in mind that some people will need more chances and more help to take up those opportunities than other people will – and that’s how I would like society to look at equality, not just as ‘they all have the chance to apply for a job as a judges assistant.. Because you’re not going to get it unless you have had access to all the things that lead up to it in the first place. Some people have layers and layers of disadvantage: economic, gender, race – all sort of cultural things – on top of maybe having a hard start in the first place. How than they ever work their way through all that on their own?
Caroline: What kind of things do you think need to change for people to have equal opportunities?
Mandy: We need to stop viewing meritocracy in the way that it’s now being viewed. The original concept of meritocracy was that it wasn’t a good thing – it layers advantage upon an advantage. If you have any of these disadvantages, you have far more hills to climb and steps to take before you can succeed on merit. As an example, when I first qualified as an accountant there were hardly any qualified female accountants, so if they had a male accountant and a female accountant with the same qualifications, unless you want to actively promote difference, you’ll pick somebody that’s like you – and that’s not somebody getting ruled out on merit, that’s being ruled out because you’re not like them – and I feel that that’s wrong. Meritocracy is not on merit, it’s on ‘that person is more like us than the other equivalently qualified or talented person’.
Caroline: You said a phrase there that struck me, which was ‘actively promoting difference’. Can you say a little bit more about that?
Mandy: Well, I think that it’s really nice for people to have a variety of other people around them – it’s good for them; they enjoy it once they move past that insularity. I’ve been really fortunate in my career as an accountant before I became a counsellor. I worked for a big multinational firm ‘Applied materials’ which make the tools that are used to make intel chips’ and I had to work with people from dozens of different countries, most of them didn’t have English as a first language, and it was absolutely great! We would have teams of people from all over the world, all with different cultures, but within Applied Materials we had a culture of mutual respect and that was such a great place where everybody was treated as a peer, an equal, regardless of their culture, their race, their gender, regardless of how good their English was. It was just brilliant, I really enjoyed it and learnt so much from it. I think, well I hop, that people enjoyed working with me and that it was a really good experience. So, yeah, I really think it’s good for people – it was certainly good for me.
Caroline: So you said that was when you were working as an accountant – what differences have you noticed or how have you started to think differently about things from moving to your counselling position?
Mandy: So I think it’s been a big change; having sort of gone directly from applied, straight into being a labour counsellor – I’d been working part time for zero tolerance and now Edinburgh rape crisis centre – so I’d always been interested in woman’s equality, obviously, because I’d had difficult experiences myself when I started as a young single parent with one child – the sort of attitude of ‘you’ll soon be having another baby, we’re not employing you’- but moved on from that and, having gone back to work for Edinburgh work crisis centre and Zero tolerance, you start to understand the intersectionality – where people have these multiple things to overcome before they can achieve their potential – I think that it’s been really good for me to go from the experience of being sort of the high flying accountant to finance person for small charities where people really believe, with a passion, in what they’re doing, and then through that to being a councillor – because I think that the idea of being a councillor for me is being able to advocate for your constituents and make the world a better a place – and part of that I very much hope will be opportunities where you can put in practice your beliefs and guide people in policy that some people need more chances than others, some people need more help than others. For one thing – this makes people laugh – but I kind of have this thing that we’ll never get a level playing field but that we’d get it a lot quicker if we had to change ends at half time! If you think about it, right, if somebody goes to a really highly thought of, fee paying school, just for example, right. But if they were only allowed to do that alternate years and they had to go to the worst one for the second year and take turns changing at half time, I think you might just find that all the schools got improved quite quickly – just a theory. I think if people really had to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, then lots of things would get levelled out more quickly – but I don’t think people would ever go for that policy where we all get to change ends at half time!
Caroline: Well it does sound good though! Excellent, I think that’s a good point to end on. Is there anything else you’d like to add about equality or inequality?
Mandy: Just a thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to chat about it and I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone else’s contributions!