Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Affirmative Action Follies and truths

Wherein I don't take the usual approach in such a discussion.

My daughter was four years, varsity, on the rifle team in high school.  In her junior year, a number of guys in the high school ROTC program started complaining about how a girl had stolen a spot from a deserving guy by means of affirmative action.

One of them made the mistake of saying so in front of the colonel, who was pretty laid back, all in all.  The colonel marched him 25' in one direction and my daughter 25' in the other and then, standing in the middle, rather loudly explained to the young man that my daughter was on the team because at that distance she could reliably shoot the pupil out of his eye prone, kneeling or standing.  The young man could not even see a pupil at 50' and ... Well, the grousing stopped.

But you will discover similar follies, and many companies encourage them.  Recently I know an about to graduate engineer who interviewed with a company.  They had announced they were hiring five people, four open slots and one dedicated to hiring a female engineer.  The two female candidates were rather rudely treated by the male candidates.  One of them took the time to chat up secretaries and others, having arrived early.

She discovered that the company makes that announcement every year, and has for some time.  In fifty years they have never hired a female engineer.  They only hire female secretaries and janitorial staff.  They never hire as many people as they say they are hiring either. 

Why would they say otherwise?  I know from friends in HR and headhunting that there are two reasons for that sort of behavior.

First, if you announce a larger set of openings, you get better quality applicants, people who are very qualified, but who don't want to waste their time applying if the hiring slots are few.

Second, if you announce affirmative action goals, the people you do not hire are not upset with you, they blame the "Black guy" or "the Girl" for stealing their job and just by having stated affirmative action goals you will get a lot less negative trouble from the job applicants you did not hire.

If you've ever wondered about Justice Clarence Thomas and his hostility towards affirmative action, it stems from experiences like that, combined with the fact that when he accomplished anything people would credit it not to his ability, but to affirmative action (consider his admission to Yale law school where he was in the top half of the class -- how often have you heard that he only got into Yale because of affirmative action?  Yet, statistically, Blacks perform below the statistical indicators.  Which means, more likely than not, if he was in the top half at Yale, his LSAT/grades on his application put him in the top 25% or so of those who were admitted).

Reprising, that company, referred to above, they did not hire "a Girl" this time either.  They just outsourced some abuse and hostility to the female applicants.  Last I heard, both of the female engineering students they interviewed are still looking for work.  Still getting a good deal of hostility from male engineers too, since they are sure that the "girls" are not working as hard and having an easy time of the job market compared to the "deserving guys."

Oh, I'll bet that none of the grousers can shoot the pupil out of someone's eye at 50' either.  Bet they would complain about a "girl" being on the rifle team if they tried to get on and failed.

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