Go with your first gut reaction to this scenario. Four applications for employment are sitting on your desk. Without knowing anything but their names, what is your reaction to these names of the applicants: Chandra Singh, Abdul Mohammed, Sandra Allan and Cheung Wong Lo. Do you have any bias/preference towards any of the applicants? Would it matter to you at all if you knew the job they were applying for?
Here’s why I ask the question. A gentleman I knew a short time ago had a distinctly ethic name. He appeared well qualified to work in the field of his choice, having both the educational and demonstrated work experience called for in the posting. He spoke fluent English and was perplexed as to why he was not being interviewed for positions he was applying to. He even showed me a position that was still being advertised two weeks after he had applied for the job and after the deadline for submissions had passed the first time around. So what was the issue?
As an experiment, he shortened both his last name and his first name to a more, “North American” version, and submitted the exact same resume. One day after submitting his resume he got an email asking him to call and arrange an interview.
In a similar vein, there is a residential area a client I am working with lives in that is known to have a large number of residents who are in receipt of social assistance. This person asked me if putting the street address was absolutely a requirement on the resume. As it’s not written in stone, it was removed from the resume, and submitted with only the name of the City resided in. Within a period of two weeks time, the person was called and asked to come in to two interviews with different employers, after having gone for several months without any interest at all. The change to the resume in other respects was negligible.
The above two situations would suggest that with at least some employers, there is a blatant preference or bias for or against some applicants based on where they live or the stereotypes held for or against a population of people. So if an IT position comes up, involving an intimate knowledge of cutting-edge technology, do you favour people from certain ethnic backgrounds over others? Is that fair if you do? If the job is picking fruits and vegetables on a farm for relatively low wages, who do you picture in your head working in those fields?
Sometimes of course blatant discrimination is stated up front and most of the population understands the rationale behind it. This might be the case in hiring staff to work in an abused women’s shelter where even the presence of a man would cause anxiety, fear and emotional stress. And in the news constantly, there are discussions about how women are not overly represented in the most senior of positions in the corporate world.
There are however many organizations that have recognized inequalities and go out of their way to hire future staff in order to better reflect the communities they serve. So you may have a workforce for a Municipality come out and state that they have a short-term preference for disabled applicants or people from visible minorities. That sounds great of course unless you are an out-of-work applicant from the majority in which case it feels like reverse discrimination. Tough call that one.
Another situation that comes up from time-to-time is for example in a unionized setting, where an employee is not performing well in one environment due to a physical impediment, and the job they are assigned to do is no longer possible given their limitation. In these cases, you may find that this person has to be accommodated in some way, and is therefore interviewed and hired for some other position that they did not train for and must be re-trained. Good for them personally of course, but what of the other applicants who are very qualified and set out to make a career in that position and have to be passed over based on accommodating an existing employee with fewer qualifications? That seems entirely fair or not based on who you might be in that situation.
In a perfect world, there would be no discrimination whatsoever based on colour of skin, language, body size, sex, religion, age, etc. – or maybe not. Is discrimination sometimes justified and a desired thing in a perfect world? I make no assumptions on this.
Walk up to three or four people and you’re considering one to ask out on a date with a longer-term relationship a possibility; no doubt based solely on appearance, you’ve already got a preference or bias based on skin or hair colour, height, body language; is that discrimination? Like a certain vintage of wines, clothing brands, furniture or artwork and you may be said to have a discriminating taste. That is usually a good thing.
In the world of employment, is discrimination ever justified? Ever been discriminated for or against yourself? Weigh in on a conversation.