Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hiring Practices

Sometimes I really have to disabuse myself of this notion that I'm a "reasonably intelligent person." I say this because I usually have something cogent and illuminating to add to any philosophical/political discussion . . . about an hour after it's finished.

Yesterday during our monthly "research ethics" course, we were talking about hiring practices. It was commonly accepted around the table that a physics department was more than justified in passing over the most qualified applicants for a position in order to hire a woman. After all, she brings benefits that you don't find on the resume, and it helps to have women there to help other women keep from getting lost in the milieu.

First things first, I don't find that diversity, in and of itself, has any inherent value. At least, not from a scientific perspective. If they're trying to hire someone, they should hire the person who brings the most to the department, and this should be regardless of what the applicants have dangling (or not) between their legs.

Ah, but the counter-argument is that "diverse " people bring other benefits to the table. Benefits you can't put on a resume. Benefits that only they can provide, with their gender/skin color. Benefits that students of the same gender/skin color require to succeed in this field.

I've never heard these benefits explained or defined. I think it's important to answer this question: To what extent to these "benefits of diversity" match or exceed the gap between the standard credentials on a resume? Normal resume differences can be quantified in a situation such as this: Length of experience, number of publications, number of high profile publications, research grant money, etc. How does a department quantify that? How many research grants are two X chromosomes worth? How many Nature or Science papers is being black worth?

Finally, it's always gets back, for me, to the "What would happen if this went the other direction?" argument. By hiring a "diverse" candidate simply for their "diversity," that physics department is saying, "We only hired you because you're a woman, and we need more women around here." The corollary to this is that they're telling the most qualified applicant, "We're not hiring you because you're a man. Sorry, we don't need any more men around here."

Now imagine how this might work in the opposite direction. "Sorry, we've decided to hire someone else. Yes, you're the most qualified, but you're black, and we don't need any more black people around here." Good lord, can you imagine the lawsuits? I find it worth pointing out that people have sued for similar situations (that is, white male applicants passed over for "diverse" candidates) and won.

If you disagree, do try to articulate your opposition in a meaningful sense; the problem I have with these arguments is that I've never heard them explained in a cogent sense. Now if only I could do the same in a timely manner. I really hate that, by sitting at the discussion and not objecting, people think that I'm okay with such discrimination.


Anonymous said...

"Benefits of diversity" = grant money. My theater company struggles mightily with this. We'd love to have a more diverse ensemble (for a variety of reasons), but actors of color are in such demand these days that our broke little niche troupe can't compete for them.


Hal said...

Okay, but this is an artificially constructed situation. That is, the benefit is that someone wants to pay you to hire more "diverse" cast members.

Really, I can't think of a more ironic situation; "Diverse" actors are discriminated against and need such grants to help build them up, but people can't get them because the "diverse" actors are in too high demand.

Yes, those folks really have it bad, don't they?

Anonymous said...

I should clarify that, to my knowledge, there aren't grants given out specifically to hire minority actors. However, diversity always helps on a grant application or in a PR blitz, and I'd be willing to bet that it's the same in your field.

"How many research grants are two X chromosomes worth? How many Nature or Science papers is being black worth?"

I'd be interested to see data on this.


Hal said...

Oh, it's absolutely the same. While there are plenty of independent grants a grad student can sign up for to fund their way through a PhD, 90% of them are geared towards one type of person, and I'll give you three guesses as to who that person is.

Jen said...

Yeah, I spent a lot of quality time in high school looking through scholarship listings and wishing I wanted to go into science or engineering. :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow you're a pussy. If you had the balls to speak up in your ethics class maybe I would take your "cogent" comments a little more seriously. The only thing I take away from this little rant of yours is that you're worried that you wont be the most "qualified" candidate for something in your future and you're thinking up ridiculous excuses early on. It's pretty deplorable that you use the diversity or affirmative action arguement as a tool to justify your "plight" as a white man? Clearly you've suffered so much. Tool.

Hal said...

Wow you're a pussy.Said the anonymous "internet tough guy." Clearly you have convinced me with your blistering attack on my character that all of my arguments are faulty. I bow before you, o wise one.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, Hal, from you're profile you're pretty anonymous yourself. So, just cause you have a blog and a cause that doesn't exactly make you a ringing endorsement for bravery. Is your name really Hal and are you really from Illinois? Every douche with a forum thinks he (OR SHE) is so damn righteous cause they have, what they deem the courage, to write what they think, with no repercussions. Tool.

Hal said...

Okay Nonny, I get it, you think I'm a tool. It's hard for me to take you seriously because your strategy here seems to be mainly ad hominem. "Hur hur, your stoopid" is not a counterargument.

You may not have noticed, but my emphasis around here tends to be on logical arguments and productive debate (when relevant). Your approach is what I would call "counter-productive." Feel free to stick around, even come up with a pseudoname so I know when you're about, but don't be surprised if your comments start disappearing if you can't rise above the level of playground arguments.

Anna said...

I am more than willing to post as myself when it comes to this subject. While I may not be as eloquent as the writer of this blog, I'm pretty sure the following expression wraps up what I think about this posting:


Thanks for making females and races other than yours feel like shit for their accomplishments. Oh, and thanks for categorizing your postings under such subjects as "race" to allow extremist groups a direct google search to quotes that they can use as "legitimate" references in their propaganda.


Props to my "nonny" (or is this expression not "white" enough for you? Pretty sure it's worth any X amount of chromosomes)

Nathaniel said...

I think you fail to truly understand the purpose of affirmative action and similar programs. The underlying goal is to promote an equal opportunity to all applicants despite gender/race/religion. Workplace discrimination is institutionalized so, unfortunately, the resolution of this discrimination must be institutionalized also. I understand the frustration at such a bureaucratic and calculated approach but pragmatically it makes the most sense. There are X number of minorities in this field, Y number will be qualified to this positions you are filling so you must have Z number of minorities in your organization. Its not saying fill the spots with unqualified individuals, even though on occasion this will happen. Although, less often than I think you think, if that makes sense. I would like to hear your opinion on A) if you believe institutional discrimination is a problem and B) if yes what your alternate solution to the problem is.

MissySue said...

Firstly, "Hal", the benefits brought on by a diverse workplace can be summed up as "perspective". It is no myth that men and women think differently and in doing so, especially in science, more progress in research can be made by new/different ideas.
Secondly, it is fairly evident that you have never been subjected to any kind of workplace discrimination. How about being passed up for a promotion, even though you were the most qualified, simply because you were a woman or a minority? In my own experience and throughout our country this happens on a continuous basis and there needs to be some sort of mechanism to right the ultra-conservative white men who think they rule the world and that everyone should bow down to their greatness. I'm not saying all white men belong in this group as I might be placed in the same category as you. However, the fact is that prejudice and racism exist in the workplace and a mathematical calculation of a resume isn't enough to fix the problem.

Bald Josh said...

I was at this discussion. Hal, just as I believe people of different experiences -- stem they from genetic/immutable characteristics like race and gender, or from less genetic ones such as different professions, hobbies, or scientific interests -- I would have valued your contribution to this discussion.

I think it must be very difficult to have a conservative view in a world (Science and Academia) that is often dominated, at least in numbers, by "progressive" politics. So I would like to state for the record that if you are willing to share an unpopular, but well-reasoned opinion, I'll go to bat for you. I'll welcome the contribution even if I strongly disagree with the point.

As an aside, I find it amusing that the word required to confirm my post is "protin." Odd, but not entirely surprising.

Bald Josh said...

Sorry, that second sentence should read, "Just as I value people with different experiences as new perspectives to any task, I would have valued your contribution..."

I think of this in terms of Heisenberg. The more independent observations we have, the more the waveform of an object of study collapses.

Annster. said...

I know I am a little late to the game. Just found your article after a tumultuous day at work yesterday.
I am a 28 year old, (yes white female) that works in a male dominated industrial work force. To give you an example, I am the only female out of 82 males.
Does this bother me? My answer is NO!
I worked hard my whole life and career to be seen as someone that belongs there not only because of my education and credentials, but because I am the most QUALIFIED. I went to secondary education for 3 years, had my fair share of undesirable jobs, but after working hard and building a name for myself I was given an opportunity to receive a job at a multinational oil/gas/chemical company. To which I was extremely proud of myself for.
Que 5 years later....... Said company is hiring. I so happen to be on the hiring committee. Our HR rep hands out the resumes and says "Out of the 17 positions we are hiring for I want a MINIMUM of 2 female candidates hired"..... And QUE MY ANGER!
Over the past 5 years I have been deeply involved in the hiring process because I want to see us hire the best candidates for the job. We have hired an approx 30 people in those 5 years and yes none of them were women. Was it because we were discriminating. No.
They just weren't as qualified, or they "bombed" at the interview. So thus they weren't hired.
To be told that we were hiring a minimum of 2 women whether they were qualified or not angers me and insults myself as a women.
Can we not get the jobs on our own merit?
Was I solely hired 5 years ago to be the token female?
Maybe I am delusional, but I would hope I was hired because I was the best qualified and not because I needed to fill a quota.
Anyways... that is my rant... I will forever be in shock in awe at the fact that yes we are hiring because you are a women (which I think is just as bad as NOT hiring based on gender)

And yes my spelling is horrible as I am violently smashing the keyboard to release my anger!

Annster. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.