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Discrimination

Someone brought up the subject of discrimination on a previous thread and I thought it was worth exploring a little further.

The actual statement made was:
"I believe that a hiring decision made on the sole basis of how likely is a potential employee to have a child is a discriminatory practice and IMHO it should be ilegal."

I'm not sure I agree with this! Surely the problem of discrimination is where there are no grounds for that discrimination? We all use discrimination in our lives; it's part of the risk analysis that we all subconsciously carry out every day.

If insurance companies failed to discriminate then they'd lose money, yet no one accuses them of discrimination. Why? Because it's all based on statistics and is quite correct; an 18 year old driving a fast car is more likely to have an accident than a 35 year old driving a family car. Statisitically this can be proven and of course insurance companies calculate their rates accordingly.

An example of similar statistical discrimination that attracts criticism is one of policing. If, in London, street crimes are twice as likely to be committed by young black men then it makes sense that you weight your police activities accordingly. Yet this results in a public outcry. Why?

(by the way, those figures are just an example I've no idea what the true figures are)

So, when I choose where to park my car I choose the street with middle class families living in it, not council tenants. Why? Because there is more trouble in council areas. This makes absolute sense and yet people may accuse me of discrimination. Well, yes! Too bloody right. Of course I discriminate. Based on statistics.

Coming back to the original point, I have an (older) friend who is now retired and worked in the era pre-political correctness. He was always wary of employing young women (particluarly if they'd just got married) and he would normally not employ someone in this situation. Why? Because statistically there was a high chance that they would want to take maternity leave and possibly not come back and this possible disruption outweighed the benefits that he thought employing that person would bring. His statistics came from impirical evidence and experience. When I discussed it with him on what basis could I validly argue that he'd made the wrong decision?

On the other hand if I discriminate based on no facts then this is clearly wrong. To pay a woman less for doing the same job to the same performance level as a man is clearly wrong. However, one would think that the natural laws of supply and demand would sort this out. But I appreciate that in the past some prejudices have perpetuated this sort of injustice and it is good that there were movements to fix it. Although having said that I think I read somewhere that it still is a problem in a suprising number of countries and occupations?

Anyway, enough from me. Let the flaming begin!

Gwyn
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The problem with your logic is that insurance companies have statistics to prove every inch of the premium and it changes every year.

Hiring decisions are hard to quantify because part of it is how much you think you'd like working with the person.  There's no objective way to quantify that.

So it's probably easier to just forbid discrimination and leave it at that.  Women have been taking measurably less time off to have a baby than before.  So a rule allowing discrimination may not make sense 10 years in the future.

flamebait sr.
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

A woman who "gets it"?  Color me shocked!  Statistically speaking, of course...

I would say you're right, but what you're saying has to be balanced against the dangers of irrational knee-jerk discrimination born of ignorance rather than real and present correlations.  There's still far too much of that going around to get complacent about it.

As in all things, there is a balance.  But I agree with you that people really do need to accept that sometimes smart decisions - based on incomplete information and statistical correlation - aren't "fair."  Life's tough. 

Robert
Tuesday, February 18, 2003



Let's back up a bit.

Assume we are in the US.

Discrimination is how you select someone for a job!

You DISCRIMINATE against people that don't have the skills, attitude, ability, background, etc. to do the job.

You DISCRIMINATE against people who want too much money.

Finally, you select one person and you make an offer.

The thing is, in the US, there are certain "protected classes" that federal law says you can't discriminate against.

Sex, Age, Race, Marital Status.

I'm pretty sure that's it.

Want to Discriminate AGAINST known felons?

YOU CAN.

Want to discriminate FOR graduates of Ivy League colleges?

YOU CAN.

Want to discriminate FOR people who have programmed in MySQL and C++ for UNIX environments?

YOU CAN.

Discrimination is, essnetially, choosing one thing over another based on criteria.  There is nothing inherently wrong with it.  Disciminiating against certain protected classes _IS_ illegal. 

Now, it can be argued that some non-protected classes deserve protection (for example, sexual orientation) and should not be discriminated against.  Mostly, that's an ethical question up to the management of the company.

bleh.  Can you tell I've given this speech more than once? :-)

Matt H.
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The problem with discrimination is when it impacts people because of perception alone. For example a married woman and superstar programmer who can't get a job (because she might get pregnant) even if she has no intention of having children. Also some kinds of discrimination ar emore serious than others. If you choose not to park on a 'working class' street frankly that's not disdavantaging anyone. (Feel free to not park on my street any time!) If you are a woman who can't get a job that's a lot more serious. If you're a black youth who has never committed a crime but is still being stopped by the police every few days that's serious too.

Discrimination doesn't just affect the companies practicing it either, as someone suggested in the previous thread. If, for example, half the hirers for any position are not hiring women (because they are prejudiced, or simply don't feel like it) that's a lot of qualified women in the job market. There is no practical way that the remaining hirers are going to be able to pick up all the slack, so that means that some women, who are good enough to be working are not going to be working. The productivity of the industry in question is lower overall than it would be if there was no discrimination, and the economy of the whole country, or region or whatever, is affected.

The employer employee relationship is not an equal one. If, as an employer, you would like to be able to exercise your prejudices in your hiring, imagine being given a complete tax audit every year because the Govt decided you belonged to a group of people who statistically were more like to cheat on their taxes.

David Clayworth
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

" If, as an employer, you would like to be able to exercise your prejudices in your hiring, imagine being given a complete tax audit every year because the Govt decided you belonged to a group of people who statistically were more like to cheat on their taxes. "

I have news for you - that's precisely how auditing works, as it should be.

Smart and effective decision making is not the same as "fair" decision making.  Take your pick.

Robert
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

I feel these discussions too often take place at a micro level.  Sometimes laws are not made to directly benefit business, but for longer term social needs.  For example, should we make it hard for young women to get jobs, if doing so encourages only jobless women to have children?  And isn't it good overall to increase the supply of labor?

If The Economist is to be believed, Japan is going through this problem right now, and US business are reaping the benefits of an ignored, inexpensive and educated female workforce.

Of course, I'm a techie who took some polisci classes, so ymmv.

Tj
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

You should be able to discriminate based on age or sex for certain jobs. You might not want to hire an 80 year old man as a topless waitress, for instance.
For programmer jobs, you should discriminate only based on intelligence, education and experience. You can't assume that women will take long maternity leaves -- maybe their husbands are going to stay home with the baby.
I once heard an employer say he would never hire anyone over 35 because they drive up the health insurance costs for everyone. The same argument could be made against hiring anyone with any kind of chronic health problem. Considering the high cost of health insurance nowdays I guess I could understand why an employer would only want young healthy employees. According to that reasoning, they should also discriminate against smokers, non-exercisers, those who eat junk food, etc.
I guess my point is that if you discriminate against women because they might get pregnant, you should logically also discriminate based on health status. And since women must be healthier in general, since they live longer, maybe you should only hire women.

PC
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

I must admit that perhaps I was overly excited when I wrote the word "illegal" refering to discrimiation. My point had a lot more to do with an understanding of human condition than risk assesment.

I am happy when a colleague decides to have children, or decides to go back to uni to get a second degree, or people having normal, emotionaly rich and fulfilling lives. I _don't_ go all "new agey" about it and hug everybody when I come in in the morning. But I do not feel intimidated or challenged when a pregnant woman walks in the room where I am about to interview her. I celebrate the fact that she is statistically accurate and has decided to have 1.3 children at the age of 32.

For those still with an eye on the bottomline. When the time comes this woman and her partner (if existing) will get a subsidized leave that can be sorted out with minimal paperwork by the employer. And I don't see how I (as employer) should have to worry in the least, and have potential pregnancy be an issue in the first place?

I dunno, maybe I'm just weird.  :]

Beka Pantone
Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The Civil Rights act of 1964 Title VII prohibits dicriminaiton based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

For what it is worth, here is quick overview of some of the U.S. laws regarding some forms of dicrimination.

Equal Pay Act of 1963: addresses the inequities of paying men more than women.

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 does not address hiring, promotion, or firing practices. These employment problems were addressed in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Sex includes pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. It makes it illegal for employers to discriminate in hiring, discharging, compensation, or terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 extended the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 1991 Act authorizes damages, both compensatory and punitive, in cases involving intentional discrimination.


Equal Pay Act of 1963:
http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/epa.html
Civil Rights Act:
http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/vii.html

And of course see
http://www.findlaw.com/

A. Coward
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

God I feel old.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

This stuff "even if she is not planning on having children" really ticks me off. it implies that if she IS planning on having children, discrimination is justified.

MEN HAVE CHILDREN TOO.

I don't know if it takes a village to raise one, but it takes TWO to make one.

Why not ask men if they are planning on having children? Why isn't that discussed. Because you cats are sexists pigs that's why. No wonder engineer types are seen as a bunch of whiney losers.

How is it any different from a man or woman who plans on leaving the company to start their own business? That's a disruption too! Or the person who intends to take a long vacation? Or is thinking of switching careers? Or is planning on volunteering at the homeless shelter on weekends? All of these things can affect one's work life.

Pigs!

Charlotte C.
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

thanx Charlotte, I would not have put it that harshly, but the point bothered me, too :-)

Men, putting nice pictures of your children on your desk and bringing in enough money to get them through college might not be the only role you can or should play in your children's life.

Have fun,

Jutta Jordans
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Discrimination is nothing but camouflaged fear. When we discriminate we have a split view on the world: "safe" and "unsafe". Of course "safe" is good while "unsafe" is bad and the bad part of the world must be diminished or destroyed if possible. With the "unsafe" removed, our fears should be gone, right?

How unrealistic ... "safe" and "unsafe" exist only as opposing relative terms. Discrimination is pointless.

The right thing to do is fight our own fears instead of finding pathetic discriminative excuses.

Statistics are a notable example of the kind justifying "murder by numbers": they can change our simple decision of where to park the car; or they can change the life of millions (e.g. Harry H. Laughlin, Viriginia 1924).

When everything is said and done, we are still responsible for our own doings. No excuses, no exceptions.

Dino

Dino
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Discrimination is rational. Yet sometimes the best possible action for each individual is not the overall best action for society. That is why society, if it has the means e.g. through an elected ruling class and enforcement agencies decides to outlaw your rational (and statistically correct) micro descisions for the enefit of the whole.

Do you want to create a sciety where active participation is punished by having no ofspring? Do you want to bifurcate the society along immutable tag boundaries (e.g. skin color)? Do you want to let the self-reenforcing nature of tag selection behavior go unchecked (e.g. the old boys networks)?
In all of the above the natural and correct discimination on the micro level leads to possible disasters on the macro level if they are let to run their course.

This being said, we should constantly question the appropriateness of the mechanisms we put in place to control our policies. Statistics can never prove that illegal discrimination has occured. It is not because a company has less than 50% female employees that it discriminated against them. Unfortunately this is exactly what we see happening. I have been in situations where a woman was hired "because we need more woman", irrespective of the qualifications of the candidate for the job.
Large scale deviation of statistical averages can be an indication, but never proof. E.g. the rapid increase of minority representation in business and politics is an indication of discrimination in favor of previously underrepresented minorities, but not a proof. The proof is in the explicite active hiring policies, that should be as unlawfull as the biases they pretend to rally against.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Charlotte C., I agree. In fact, this thread derives from a previous one. I do not really know what was wrong with the previous thread that people decided to create a new one, the old thread is at:

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=29844&ixReplies=17

"I do not know how it is in the USA, but in Europe parental leaves can be granted to men too. In fact, it's becoming increasingly common. Most parental leaves here are heavily subsidised by the government and pose very little load on the employer (if any)."

...

"People often forgets that having a child oftenly involves two people, one of which is likely to be a male, which is as responsible for the well-being of the toddler as the female. It is true that women are the ones that have to bear a life in their tummies, are exposed to hormonal "overdrives" and have to go through the excrucianting pain of giving birth. I think that's enough suffering without adding "the impossibility of finding a job" to it."

Beka Pantone
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

"Why? Because it's all based on statistics and is quite correct"

Well... I have hired many Jews in the past.  The majority of them were quite worthless.  Therefore if I hire a Jew, he/she will most likely be worthless.

Do you see a problem with this "logic"?

debka
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Important note:  The word "discrimination" has several related but different meanings.

Among definitions, "discrimination" can mean simple selection, or it can mean baseless, prejudiced preference.

Brent P. Newhall
Wednesday, February 19, 2003

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