Assumptions, Feminism.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on contemporary feminism in technical fields, and how I didn’t believe gender discrimination still exists in a significant enough extent to warrant drastic measures like government policies forcing employers to hire a certain percentage of females – hiring from binders full of women just to fill quotas is not exactly my idea of feminism.

A friend of mine (sorry I don’t know if you want to be named) disagreed, and we had an awesome discussion on the various aspects of this issue – whether discrimination exists, and if affirmative actions are the best way to deal with it.

He pointed me to some research on gender bias in hiring practices (the first research I have seen that is ACTUALLY logical on at least some arguments), and I am now convinced that gender discrimination does still exist.

So I stand corrected on that front.

However, I am undecided whether affirmative action is the best way to go about fixing it. It’s artificial, and if the amount of compensation is determined by the median gender bias, it will over-compensate for the half of employers that have less than median amount of bias, and under-compensate for the half of employers that have higher than median amount of bias. It will be wrong about 100% of the time. And if there are correlations not accounted for by the policy, there will be even more significant error in that area – for example, if an industry or big company is not biased at all (which is good), it will now be heavily discriminatory against men due to the blanket policy. If, supposedly, just as an example, women hiring managers are shown to be non-biased, should the policy only apply to male hiring managers? Isn’t that discrimination in itself?

I do not think it’s the right way to go, but I also cannot think of a better alternative.

However, something I just learned in a psychology class got me thinking about this some more –

Research shows that everyone discriminates – ie. forming opinions about someone solely based on their membership in a certain group, even though the opinion does not logically follow from the fact that they are a member of the group (eg. assuming someone cannot walk because s/he is in a wheel chair is NOT discrimination). Gender, weight, race, attractiveness, possession of dogs, peeing pose, etc.

Evolutionarily and biologically speaking, assumptions are a GOOD thing. It helps keep us alive. For example, if we find that all green snakes bite, when we see another green snake, we will be more careful even if this particular green snake has not shown any hostility.

Similarly, I may decide that since I have been robbed by 2 Japanese people (of 2 Japanese people I ever met), I am going to assume all Japanese people are robbers, and not trust them.

Why do we think that’s “wrong”, but only when applied to humans?

Because we don’t think it’s “fair”. We have some ideas of what we want to believe is “right”, and we want our actions to override natural tendencies, to conform to this morality.

Morality is a very interesting subject, and is surprisingly very hard to define. However, that is not the point of this post, so for now, we will just take for granted that discrimination is wrong.

Being fair is not natural. No one is naturally open-minded and non-discriminating at all.

When we meet someone, we ALWAYS subconsciously or consciously form opinions about them based on the way they dress, their gender, their body shape, their race, whether they wear glasses, etc. NO ONE is immune from assumptions, because it is natural.

The difference between discriminating people and less-discriminating people is what they do with this initial reaction. Open-minded people recognize that they are discriminating, and work to inhibit this tendency, and try to compensate to be as fair as possible, while close-minded people let it take them to make unfair decisions.

Therefore, I believe the correct response to discrimination is to make people aware that they are biased, and have them decide for themselves what level of compensation is suitable for them. For example, hiring managers could be required to take a totally confidential assessment (only they can see the results) that tells them how discriminating they are, so they can compensate accordingly. I believe that is a fair method. The test can easily be extended to test other categories where discrimination is suspected. I believe people will be a lot fairer if they are made aware of exactly how biased they are, and we won’t need a system that’s wrong 100% of the time for all people.

Of course, this assumes that people WANT to not discriminate, and only discriminate subconsciously, which I believe is a lot more prevalent nowadays. If they WANT to discriminate, no government policy can fix that either.

It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me. – Batman