A COLLEAGUE OF MINE has had a nagging doubt that she was hired here at The Washington Post not because she is a graduate of a really terrific college, not because she is a gifted writer and not even because she applied with examples of her work that knocked a few editors off their chairs, She thinks she was hired because she is a woman.
She has her reasons. She came to the paper at a time when it was trying to make amends for what is sometimes called past discrimination and she was told that being a woman helped her get her job. Now a whole generation of women can share her feelings. The Post, in settling a sex discrimination complaint, has agreed to hire whole bunches of women for no other reason than that they are women and maybe talented. Just which of the two is the more important will be left for the women themselves to figure out.
In addition, The Post has agreed to award $104,000 to women who worked at The Post during the years 1972 through 1974. It is these women, all 567 of them, who will share the money The Washington Post has bestowed on them in an agreement that skirts any admission of discrimination in either hiring or promotion.
I could point out, of course, that some of this is just plain silly. Among the women who can receive the maximum $250 are Katharine Graham, board chairman of The Post. Also sharing in this largesse is Meg Greenfield, who is editor of the Editorial Page and a columnist for both Newsweek and The Post, and Sally Quinn, a star reporter. As my aunt used to say when she gave me a gift, I hope they all spend it on something fun.
I could also point out, of course, that the money was awarded the women regardless of whether they actually suffered fron discrimination or whether they complained of discrimination. In fact, some of the women who are eligible for the money say they had no complaints: They had neither been discriminated against nor thought discrimination even existed. To them, too, I offer my aunt's advice.
The truth is, of course, that whenever you make a group settlement you are going to have to give money to both the deserving and the undeserving. That's the way it goes. And the truth is also that there really was discrimination at The Washington Post. It was not an institutional thing, not policy, but it existed because the place was run mainly by male supervisors of a certain age. Some were better than others and some were really terrific, but a few were truly awful. No matter. None of their supervisors called them on the carpet for it.
And so some women suffered. There were some, probably, who left the paper because of discrimination and some who were never hired because of discrimination and some who were assigned differently because they were women and some who saw their careers stagnate because they were women. If anyone deserved the money, they do.
But that is not what is being done. Instead, the money is being awarded to a group -- all women employed at The Post at a certain time. In addition, The Post is setting aside sabbaticals and scholarship programs just for women and has established certain employment targets. God and The Post willing, one third of the new employes on the foreign desk by 1985 will be women.
Some of this makes sense. A firm that has discriminated has a duty to show that it no longer does, and employment targets (not quotas) may be a way of doing that. A firm that has discriminated -- that has, in effect, kept women out of journalism -- has an obligation, maybe even to the nation, to make amends. In that sense, the scholarships may not be a bad idea.
But what is troublesome in the agreement is the notion that all women today are entitled to compensation because some women once suffered on account of their sex. It is the flip side of the same sort of thinking that holds an entire group -- blacks, Jews, whatever -- forever responsible for the actions of a few of their number.
The agreement condones this type of thinking. In agreeing to hiring standards and in agreeing to reserving certain sabbatical programs just for women, The Post and the women involved have agreed to consider certain people first as women and only secondarily as journalists. In other words, no need applying for a sabbatical reserved for women if you happen, by some bad luck, to be a man.
It is patronizing to treat women this way. It is insulting to reserve for them, solely on the basis of sex, programs or positions that they should be able to get on the basis of ability. I couldn't blame a woman if she wanted to wear a little tag saying that she got her job because she deserved it, not because The Post was making amends. After all, special consideration is a two-edged sword. The same man who gave up his seat on a bus for a woman, wouldn't hire her when he got off.He saw her only as a woman. In that sense, The Post, with the help of some women, is still a perfect gentleman.