August 9th, 2017

On job discrimination, gender and otherwise

Commenter Richard Aubrey makes a point that isn’t unusual, and seems quite logical:

To say men and women differ in their capability is gender essentialism, which I am told is a Very Bad Thing.

But you need to say it in order to justify exerting effort to get more women.

However—originally, at least—the push to accept more women in any given field rested on the idea of equal opportunity, not sheer equality of outcome. Equality of opportunity is an American ideal, and it justifies trying to get more of a certain group into a certain profession if in fact there is not equal opportunity for those people in that group who are qualified.

I realize that, under the leftist drive for equality of outcome, we may have lost the important distinction between the two, or at least it’s become blurred. In other words, for a lot of people today, particularly the Social Justice Warriors among us, equality of outcome is the only important metric. Their “logic” is that, since all groups are exactly equal in capability and talents, equality of outcome is prima facie evidence of inequality of opportunity. So we must have equality of outcome in order to guarantee equality of opportunity.

But they’re not the same, of course, if in fact groups differ on average in capability and talents in a particular field. And in that little phrase “on average” lies the heart of the matter. And even if groups differ on average in one capability or another, there could still be an inequality of opportunity that would be desirable to address. The question is how to measure it and how to address it.

One problem with this whole topic is that it’s extremely difficult to tease out the influence of nature and nurture, and so it’s very hard to know whether any observed or measured average differences between groups are due to nature or to nurture. That’s a biggee right there, and I’m not going to get into all the evidence either way except to say that I’ve read tons about it and don’t see an answer. But another large and important point is that we are only talking about average differences. There is a tremendous amount of overlap.

There are a few arenas in which there is no overlap. For example, if there was a job where, for some strange reason, the qualification included having given birth physically (I can’t think of such a job offhand, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility), it would of course be limited to women. For a job in which incredible upper-body strength was needed, it would be limited to strong men and the infinitesimal number of Amazonesque women who could meet that standard. But most jobs don’t have that kind of either/or set of qualifications. Most jobs have qualifications that some people of each sex can fill.

As a hypothetical, however, let’s say there’s a job for which the qualifications are more likely to be met, on average, by men. Let’s say, however, that there is a fair amount of overlap and that quite a few women are up to the task as well (the sexes could be reversed, depending on the job and its qualifications). Let’s also say that there are almost no women employed in that field. One could still say that the number of women in the field should be increased in the interests of fairness and non-discrimination.

The problem is that if we don’t use absolute parity of numbers as the way to measure non-discrimination, we’re in a gray area where we don’t know what the right numbers would be. Whether we’re talking about women or any other group against which there is a history of discrimination in jobs, how can we judge when enough redress is enough?

I think part of the ill will going around these days is that, particularly where hiring women is concerned, a lot of people feel that enough is enough, and that for many years now there’s been a preference for women, a preference that is not only unfair to men but has also resulted in the loosening and lessening of standards. This tends to be true of all preferences designed to combat previous discrimination.

I’m old-fashioned, and I believe that the way to end discrimination against a group is to end discrimination against that group, rather than to institute reverse preferences or to lower standards. The problem with that idea, though, is how to make it happen without instituting such preferences, and how to measure whether a disparity of outcome for groups in any given field is the result of actual discrimination or of natural differences on average in interests and aptitudes.

24 Responses to “On job discrimination, gender and otherwise”

  1. Griffin Says:

    Part of the reason for the backlash is that for many it is has become obvious that the pendulum has swung way too far to one side. Far more women are going to college than men and our elementary and high schools have become so hostile to many boys that it is not surprising that a reaction is going to come. And it isn’t just a male thing because those boys have mothers who care about their sons too.

    So this Google story is actually the end game of a long march that people are tired of. This is such a huge topic on many, many levels.

  2. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Neo; point is if women are equal to men in relevant capability, then they bring nothing new, different, or even complementary to the job. Hence, the touted benefit to the corporation–an excuse for the extra effort in hiring– yields nothing. When you mix Coke with Coke you get Coke.
    That’s a different argument than women deserve an equal shot.

  3. MollyNH Says:

    Neo. right there in Massachusetts you have blonde blue eyed
    Senator Elizabeth Warren checking the box claiming Native
    American Heritage so she could get a minority hire position at Harvard. Did Harvard ask for proof even? She refuses to take a DNA test, guess we will have to say she identifies with that group. Dems are cool with that, of course.

  4. parker Says:

    I come from the womb of a strong willed woman. Mom ruled the house and dad knew better than to comment on her decisions about how to run the house. She also helped in the fields when needed. My aunts and grandmothers were the same. They were not ‘feminists’. They knew females had their attributes and that they were equal partners with their husbands who had different and important attributes.

    But they were from the salt of the earth class, and strongly schooled in reality. My wife is the same. She an equal partner with strengths and weaknesses that differ from mine. I think of us as the dynamic duo. 😉

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    Richard Aubrey:

    Equal capabilities to do a job doesn’t mean the people involved are exactly the same in all respects, and it doesn’t mean that each person brings exactly the same thing to a job. This would be true even if every single hire was a man.

    But the argument about hiring women or minorities or any other previously discriminated- against group does not rest solely (or perhaps even primarily) on the advantages diversity would bring to the company. It rests also, and maybe even primarily, on anti-discrimination and equal opportunity.

  6. miklos000rosza Says:

    My sister was good at math, and applied herself (after screwing around in a band for a few years after high school). She was hired out of community college by Tektronix in the late 1970s and because she was a female the company sought to show her off at every opportunity. The idea that she was in any way discriminated against was ludicrous.

  7. Ray Says:

    My daughter works in cybersecurity at a major US corporation and she is always being sent to meetings and symposiums. I joke with her that they have to demonstrate they have a few token females in that line of work. If she were a male they would put her in a cubicle and ignore her.

  8. physicsguy Says:

    Physics is under extreme pressure to bring the number of women to 50% like biology, chem and math have done. As a mentioned yesterday, my small department has averaged close to 50% women majors, many of whom worked in my lab.

    I’ve asked them many times about the situation in physics. their take is that girls start dropping out of that path in high school or even earlier; it just doesn’t appeal to them. They said there’s no discriminating, and in fact there is a lot of encouragement. They also said while they liked physics as an undergrad major, it generally doesn’t appeal to them as a career. They saw it as a stepping stone to engineering, medicine, IT, finance, etc. In fact, out of close to 80 or so women majors I’ve taught over the years, only 2 went on for physics PhDs. The rest certainly could have done so in terms of talent, but chose not to. It just does not seem to appeal to them. It’s not the math, but seems to be the combination of the math with delving into the innards of nature that maybe appeals more to males; I just don’t know.

  9. Big Maq Says:

    One of the problems with Google’s approach seems to be favoring one kind of diversity while minimizing or even suppressing another.

    Still, it is a private company, and we like to argue that private companies ought to be able to operate to their conscience.

    Any dissenting view from their corporate policy can be tolerated, but if it disrupts, that is their tripwire for action.

    It is not “fair”. True. But, we’d like to allow Christian bakeries to be allowed to refuse service based on their conscience.

    Is refusing employment on similar grounds of conscience much different?

    BTW, I’m not agreeing with Google’s decision and actions, but would like to hear arguments that differentiate these types of cases.

  10. expat Says:

    I describe my husband as being like a spotlight, while I am a floodlight. I just can’t stop noticing things on the side enough to focus on one big project. We had to completely redo our house after we bought it. My husband was laid up for much of the time, so I had to coordinate 22 different companies. I made on spot decisions when there was an obstacle to our original plan. I had to choose bathroom fixtures, tile, flooring, and kitchen cabinets and then make sure things were ordered and arrived on time so there were no delays. Somehow I got it all done because I wasn’t too focused on any one thing. I also learned to trust the contractors and get their suggestions about solving problems. I actually enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed being one of the electricians or plumbers. I doubt that they would have wanted to hire me even if I had the training. Interests count a lot.

  11. Mr. Frank Says:

    White males have been sucking hind teat in academia for many years. About thirty years ago our academic department was recruiting to fill a faculty position. A colleague joked to me that we should hire a white male so that we could fire him if it did not work out.

    White males are on their own.

  12. J.J. Says:

    Has anyone ever wondered why women are so underrepresented in the building trades? Is it because they aren’t suited to the jobs? Or is it beneath their dignity to get into such work?

    In the last 24 years (since my retirement) I’ve built five houses. Of all the building tradesmen I’ve hired only two have been women. – one a carpenter and the other an electrician. Both did quality work and seemed happy at their jobs. If they can do the work, why not many others? I admit that that last was a bit tongue in cheek. I think everyone knows why women aren’t heavily into the building trades. It is physically demanding work that requires a lot of stamina and ability to work outdoors in all kinds of crappy weather. Kinda like being a power company lineman, or an infantryman or a SEAL. Right?

    Equal opportunity? I think it exists in the building trades. Not many women taking advantage of it. That’s alright, it’s a free country.

  13. Frog Says:

    Discriminating used to be a positive attribute, not a negative one. Look it up. But that was before the 1960s, which changed the Western world. Forever.

    Now women, whose per-person productivity is lower than that of males, simply by virtue of their uteruses and ovaries, are in charge. Good luck!

  14. parker Says:

    When people pretend/believe women and men are the same they are ignoring the in your face forever differences between the genders. XX is not XY, XY is not XX. Yes, there are XX plumbers and XY interior designers.That should surprise no one and proves not the PC agenda.

  15. parker Says:


    I have discriminated everyday of my life; I choose who I wish to and wish not to associate with. Color me a bigot.

  16. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Neo, I get that there is more than one argument. My point is that to claim there is some benefit to the corp due to the differences is gender essentialism and is a bad thing.
    The argument is not often used by the corp in question, or the statement is suggested by HR when discrimination in favor of women is obvious.
    Instead, the argument is made by those promoting such discrimination in order to justify it.

  17. Paul in Boston Says:

    Physicsguy. It’s weird isn’t it, that so few women go into physics, especially since Madam Curie should be a role model who succeeded 100 years ago when there was genuine discrimination against women. Despite the severe discrimination against her at the time, she won two(!) Nobel prizes, an extremely rare accomplishment.

  18. Sean Says:

    “Women at Google defy stereotype by getting super-emotional and calling in sick over a man saying something they don’t like. “

  19. Matt_SE Says:

    There’s no discrimination against women in science. NONE.
    If anything, there’s a bias in their favor.

    Are we to believe that previous discrimination against them, which must’ve been society-wide, was somehow eliminated in a plethora of high-pay, high-status jobs like lawyer and doctor, along with many of the other sciences like biology, but the discrimination was retained in a few specialties like computer science? By what mechanism could that have occurred?

    Progressives have theories of social interaction and development as deranged as Nazi theories on race, and will not let them go.

  20. Ray Says:

    If I recall correctly, when Larry Summers made his remarks at Harvard, some of the women said they became nauseated and thought they were going to faint.

  21. Sean Says:


    It’s a shame there were no gentlemen there ready to catch them and offer them smelling salts.

  22. Big Maq Says:

    It is always interesting to find those who are considered part of the left recognize problems with other parts of the left (and many claim the left are all the same!)

    “Whatever else this is (Google’s response), it isn’t rational. There is no ethical or empirical difference, it seems to me, between Jones’s or Google’s statements about gender and any statement that simply asserts that all climate science is a hoax. None. And yet the left forgives itself for the exact same know-nothingism it rightly excoriates on the right.

    When all else fails, the diversity promoters argue that science is not salient because it is also merely a function of sexism, racism, ableism, etc. There is no objective truth — just systems of power and oppression.

    This atmosphere in the American workplace — now backed by some of the most powerful companies on Earth — is thereby increasingly totalitarian. It monitors people’s minds and thoughts — and will fire them for incorrect ones, without any explanation. And it aims to suppress the truth about the world

    You want to see another form of “resistance” to authoritarianism in the era of Trump? Go read Damore’s memo.”
    – Andrew Sullivan

  23. Chris Says:

    and talents, equality of outcome is prima facie evidence of inequality of opportunity. So we must have equality of outcome in order to guarantee equality of opportunity

    Shouldn’t that be

    and talents, inequality of outcome is prima facie evidence of inequality of opportunity. So we must have equality of outcome in order to guarantee equality of opportunity

  24. Satuday Review of the Labyrinth - American Digest Says:

    […] On job discrimination, gender and otherwise I believe that the way to end discrimination against a group is to end discrimination against that group, rather than to institute reverse preferences or to lower standards. […]

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