Is Color-Blind Hiring Enough?

I have written previously about blind auditions and interviews.  These are ideas that are now gaining a bit more traction as companies look to reduce potential racial discrimination in their hiring practices.  Others look at these measures as misguided and that taking race into account is the only way to diversify hiring.  I understand that the author is an arts critic trying to make a point about the industry he covers, so being a provocateur is an important part of the article.  However, he proposes ideas that I think should be evaluated.

First is that, basically, all applicants for playing positions at top tier orchestras are all pretty much the same.  I am sure that all of those people in the suburbs who pay top dollar to go into the city to listen to an orchestra would be thrilled to know that they can really stay closer to home and hear essentially the same thing for a lot less money.  But, the author then goes on to say that there are (potentially, as he does not manage an orchestra) other aspects of being an orchestra member that should be considered (e.g., being a good educator and openness to new musical experiences).  The implication here is that these are job duties where there are meaningful differences and can be used to screen applicants.  His point is a good one—we can do a better job of hiring when we consider how job duties have changed when creating selection systems.  And, some of these changes may lead to more diverse selections.

He brings up a good point when he says that the problem with diverse hires occurs well before the audition stage in that few Black or Latino kids get interested in symphonic music.  In the case of those who enjoy the music, they don’t have the same access to training as white kids who also want to make a career out of it.  Whether it is for jobs that have traditionally discriminated based on sex or race, developing interest via training or mentoring programs is one of the long-term solutions to hiring a more diverse workforce. 

The last point addressed is representation—the idea that the racial diversity of an orchestra should reflect…well, what should it reflect?  The people who listen to the music?  The orchestra’s ticket buyers? The city/town where the orchestra is located?  The pool of applicants?  This is where people get queasy about hiring diversity.  We start wading into the murky waters of quotas, tokenism, and how finely we define representation.  The goals may be noble, but it is the process that counts.

I would argue that representation should reflect the diversity of the qualified applicants rather than some pipe dream about how popular a white European art form is to modern day American youth (see this article for a somewhat divergent opinion).  In the near term, that means creating and maintaining unbiased selection systems that reflect what the job truly requires.  In the longer term, it means developing pipelines to all students who are interested in careers where there is and/or has been systematic discrimination. 

Some companies may feel that in the current climate they have to do something now to improve their diversity and they should.  Additionally, they should address systemic hiring discrimination, which requires more foundational changes.  These can include programs that make their industry welcoming to all (e.g., providing classroom experiences) and training/mentoring programs for those who are interested in careers who have come from groups that traditionally were excluded from jobs with them.

Is College Recruiting Ageist?

When we hear about age discrimination employment lawsuits, they are typically centered on older workers being let go when a company reorganizes so that less expensive (e.g., younger) employees are retained. Of course more subtle examples of ageism are present in workplaces and we need to be as aware of them as we are of bias against women, the LGBTQ+ community, and racial minorities.

Recently, the US District Court in California allowed an age discrimination case to proceed as a class action. As summarized here, the plaintiffs claim that the company used only college recruiting to bring on entry level hires, hence discriminating against potential hires who were not in college (re: people of 40). As evidence, they present that web postings of the positions only appeared through college recruiting sites and not on their regular career site and that resumes from older workers were regularly rejected. They also argue that the company has a general culture which values younger workers over older ones. The company counters these arguments by saying their process is merit-based and that given the number of candidates who apply, using the current process makes business sense.

There are several aspects of this case which are interesting and instructive:

1) There is nothing inherently wrong with college recruiting, especially for entry level jobs. However, if this is the ONLY way a person can get into the pipeline, by definition you are primarily looking at candidates in their 20s.

2) It shows a presumption that older workers will not take entry level positions. That may be true in some situations, but it is really up to the job candidate to make that determination. If an entry level job pays well relative to the experience necessary, why wouldn’t an older worker take it?

3) Like many class action suits, the statistical data will be a key point in determining if there was adverse impact against those age 40 and older. If, as the company claims, only 3% of college candidates get hired (I can see a huge legal argument about who was an applicant and how many there were), the plaintiffs will have to show that fewer than 2.4% of older candidates (again, a fight over who were actually applicants) were hired for the positions. That seems like a pretty low bar to get over.

4) The company’s second argument that college recruiting is efficient, therefore is OK even if it does discriminate (which they argue it does not), will be a tough one to make. Civil rights laws allow neutral selection techniques to have adverse impact if they are job related, but make no exclusions based on expense. I honestly do not see how this is relevant to the complaint.

This case will take years to wind its way through the courts. However, it does provide a timely reminder to review recruiting processes and valid selection tools for adverse impact based on age and not only race and gender. College recruiting is not in and of itself ageist, but you will want to be sure that it is not the only point of entry into your company.

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