Quote of the Day: Racism, Diversity & Meritocracy

This is why I personally care about diversity: it’s the canary in the coal mine for meritocracy. When we see extremely skewed demographics, we have very good reason to suspect that something is wrong with our selection process, that it’s not actually as meritocratic as it could be. And I believe that is exactly what is happening in Silicon Valley.

There’s plenty of good research on the subject of team performance that shows that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams on many different kinds of tasks. The problem is that this research doesn’t argue for demographic diversity, but rather for a diversity of perspectives. So, again, racial or gender diversity is not an end in itself. But we have to ask ourselves: if teams are consistently being put together with homogeneous demographics, what are the odds that they also will contain a diversity of perspectives? Shouldn’t we be worried that the same selection process that produces homogenous results in one area might be accidentally doing the same in the area that we care about (but that is harder to measure)?

Say no to racism!Read the whole thing – great arguments laying out how more diversity in tech actually builds a truer meritocracy, told by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries, who tested himself one day by deciding to have all the name/gender/place of origin/age details on resumes blanked out before looking at them:

This simple change shocked me, because I found myself interviewing different-looking candidates – even though I was 100% convinced that I was not being biased in my resume selection process. If you’re screening resumes, or evaluating applicants to a startup school, I challenge you to adopt this procedure immediately, and report on the results…”

Ries summarises and and links to readings on implicit and systemic biases, stereotype threat and the ‘pipeline problem’, and if you don’t know those terms, this is a great article to introduce you to them.

Image credit: Daviniodus

Categories: ethics & philosophy, social justice

Tags: , ,

5 replies

  1. The blanking of irrelevant parts of a resume is a really good suggestion. Recruitment companies get blasted a bit for working mostly off keyword searches, but maybe they’re on to something. Don’t know how you’d do something similar when it comes to the actual interviews though – I’m sure some more bias comes into it at the end when people start thinking about how well potential candidates will fit into the existing teams and there will be a tendency to hire people like are already there.

  2. My teacher used to do that for assignments. Nothing but your student number to identify you. He was the only teacher to do that, and also my favourite for that whole degree.

  3. Fascinating experiment on the self, thanks for sharing.

  4. This is (indirectly) speaking to something I’ve been mulling over for the past week or so, about my own experience. I’m forty, female and fat (not to mention mentally ill), and living in a low-income area of Perth, which meant whenever I was in speaking to my Disability Employment Services people during my last bout of dealing with Centrelink, I basically got pointed toward jobs in fields like retail and service industries (“Have you submitted your resume to Woolworths?” was the regular question… to which my regular answer was “No, because I don’t want a job working checkouts or doing night fill for Woolies.”). Now, I had a copy of my resume on file with them. Said resume is heavily slanted toward my IT skills, and my IT experience is the stuff I’m pushing the hardest (I’ve had to drop at least my first two jobs off the back end of things in order to get the list under 5 pages). I’m studying IT at the moment (BSc in Computer Science, part time). But because I’m female, fat, and forty, and living in a low-income suburb of Perth, the “Central Casting” types at the DES office immediately started reaching for jobs in the retail and service industries rather than making any effort to help me find work I was actually qualified to do. Because I don’t look like a technical type.
    Never mind that I have a mind which is so geeky I can pass as having Asberger’s Syndrome should I put my mind to it. Never mind that I’ve worked in IT for at least ten years, and been good at it. Never mind that I’m a damn good IT support worker, and I don’t have any problems with doing helpdesk work (I actually enjoy helldesk – I did mention I was mentally ill…).
    It’s this “Central Casting” mindset which is a limitation, quite frankly. I don’t look the part, so I don’t even get a chance to try for the job. And this, combined with the overwhelming emphasis which is placed on the notion that Unemployment Is All Your Own Fault (as though being unemployed is 100% within the voluntary control of the unemployed person, with no other persons being involved in the process of moving them from “unemployed” to “employed” whatsoever) within conventional systems of welfare and jobseeking, tends to act as a massive negative pressure on persons like myself. I’m apparently unreasonable for wanting to get a job where I won’t be either treated like a total fool incapable of counting to five simply because I’ve applied for it, or a job where I won’t be bored silly and wanting to quit within the first three days.
    I’m female, forty, fat, mentally ill, and highly intelligent. The first four don’t cancel out the last one. I’d just love to run across an employer who was willing to take a chance on believing me when I say this.

  5. It’s this “Central Casting” mindset which is a limitation, quite frankly. I don’t look the part, so I don’t even get a chance to try for the job.

    Oh yes, this times a thousand. I have no good answers at all.
    Back on the specific topic of race: Jay Smooth (remember his video How To Tell People They Sound Racist?) also put out something new recently on having the racism conversation: My TEDx Talk, “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Discussing Race.”

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