Recently, I completed a survey from Beth Israel Lahey Health, the mother ship of Mount Auburn Hospital, where I volunteer three days a week. It was a simple, two question survey from the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Career Advancement.
Q1: How have recent Black Lives Matter activities affected your work? (A: They haven’t.)
Q2: How can BILH improve opportunities for all our staff?
My initial response was boilerplate affirmative action stuff: make more opportunities for BIPoC to advance in their careers; have more BIPoC in positions with authority and responsibility, blah, blah, blah.
Then I took off a tangent, not entirely knowing where it would go. “At the hospital where I work, virtually all the transport staff are Haitian men; the housekeepers LatinX women. Why is that? Why isn’t there more diversity at all levels of the job spectrum?”
I offered nothing more specific. But in the days that followed, I realized there could be real advantages to implementing affirmative action in both directions; requiring that, at some proportionate level, every job is filled by a cross-section of our local population.
The knee-jerk response to this idea is obvious. How are we going to get white people to do the jobs that BIPoC’s do when white people don’t want them? Besides, isn’t the whole idea of affirmative action passe? How or why would we ever require more?
Yet there’s beauty nested within the idea of two-way affirmative action. If employers needed to hire a certain number of white people to push stretchers and clean hospital rooms (and process meat and collect garbage and pick crops and do all the other activities that white people rarely do) then employers would have to improve the conditions of work. They would have to increase wages and provide better benefits and improve working conditions to attract white workers. All of which would lift the standards of work for people of color.
Sure, I want to see more BIPoC in professional and managerial positions. But we will actually change the living conditions of the broadest number of people if we elevate the grunt jobs that are almost exclusively the province of Blacks and Browns to include some white folks as well.
A crazy idea, perhaps, and hard to set into law in a country where we can’t even mandate a minimum living wage. But a worthy objective that would raise a whole lot of low-tided boats.