Sunday, September 23, 2007


When does discrimination become morally wrong?

Shades of Gray
In the world of business, discrimination is a necessary skillset. We need to discriminate between a potentially successful product, versus one that may not have as much chance to succeed. In choosing between a number of candidates for a job, we need to be able to discriminate between a better and lesser candidate. Isn't having "discriminating taste" something that that we strive for?

I do know when discrimination becomes illegal. Nationally, in the U.S., that would be when an employment or housing decision is based on discrimination between someone based on their gender, age, race, disability or religion. Some states have expanded that to include other "protected classes," but in general, it is completely legal to make hiring/firing decisions based on education level, body odor, number of visible moles, left/right-handednes, weight, foot width or the kind of car someone drives (despite the question of whether it's right or not from a moral perspective).

But is it okay to say that a beautiful looking person is a better candidate than a less beautiful candidate? Or how about a well-spoken candidate? Should she be better positioned for an actuarial position over someone that doesn't express himself as well? How about a person that dresses in expensive clothes and accessories over someone equally as well dressed, but in less costly clothes?

Having gotten jobs in the past largely because I interview well has alway seemed odd to me. Most of the jobs I have interviewed successfully for, the interviewer really seemed to have no sense about how good I would be at the job for which I was interviewing. They always seemed more impressed by how I present myself. This doesn't seem so much immoral to me, as ineffective.

So when does discrimination pass from an acceptable means of distinguishing between choices, to one of an immoral choice?

Personally, I'm not quite sure, but like the bigoted Southern U.S. senator said once about pornorgraphy, "I know it when I see it."

Current Knitting/Crocheting
I split my time between two projects, and made very little progress on either. First, I added only two stars to the crochet tablecloth.

You'll note I didn't even do the filler stars yet, but on a more positive note, I have only 100 more stars to make.

I also worked some on the new sock.

I'm combining my standard toe-up sock, with a heel I read about on the Socknitters List (which I'll write about in the next blog entry), and a stitch pattern from The Knitting Man(ual). Take a look at a closeup of the stitch pattern.

It is perfect for a sock leg. The pattern in The Knitting Man(ual) is done as a cuff-down sock, but that doesn't matter as far as the stitch pattern goes, as long as the number of stitches in the leg of the sock is a multiple of 9 stitches (or you can figure out how to fudge it some).

This is going to turn out to be a very classic looking man's sock.

Dutch Jan notes that he (or is it she?) got The Knitting Man(ual)...based on Kathy's comments about Martin Storey's new book, Knitting For Him, I'd be interested in your thoughts on it...or anyone else that has either book. I honestly didn't think I'd ever find a book so useful as Kristin Spurkland's, but it has already provided inspiration for two projects.


Anonymous said...

Joe, that sock is stunning, both the yarn and the stitch pattern! The color doesn't look the same as your last post, or is it just my monitor? Whichever it is, I'd love to get some of that lovely heather in today's post. What is that yarn? And what dreadfully small size needles are you using? Thanks...
Nancy Neverswept

JoVE said...

I think discrimination becomes immoral when it is based on criteria irrelevant to the task.

so if you are hiring a fashion model, beauty is important. If you are hiring a secretary, it should be irrelevant.

And I agree that it seems weird that we get hired more on how we present ourselves than on how capable we are of doing the job. I think this is a failure of imagination in hiring processes, most of the time. A lot of people think they need a standard form (which could include a CV) of written information beforehand and then an interview. Not many sit down and think through what would be the best method of determining who has the skills I need to get this job done well. People are even lazy when it comes to composing interview questions.

But then I have sat on some horrific interview panels. There was one where it became obvious that I was the only person on the panel who had read the job spec. Including the guy chairing the panel. It would be nice to think that this was a freak occurrance but I am skeptical. I've seen too many people treat writing a job spec as some useless bureaucratic exercise to have much confidence in them even knowing what they are looking for in a candidate.

Becky in Iowa :O) said...

The sock is quite handsome. The colors and pattern go great together.

Carol said...

Great sock.

I think I'd save the term "discrimination" for times when the decision is made based on an immutable characteristic of the person, AND where the characteristic has no bearing on the job. So refusing to hire an ugly person to be your accountant would be discrimination since beauty is irrelevant to your bookkeeping. On the other hand, if you are hiring a model, beauty is a requirement of the job, so it would not be "discrimination" but rather selecting someone with the necessary requirement for the job.

I do think there are some things that one can surmise about a person based on how they act in an interview. Dressing in appropriate and clean clothes indicates respect for the interviewer and an interest in the position, as well as common sense and knowledge of what is expected of someone who will represent the hirer to third parties. So you can learn subtle things (or at least make inferences about those things) from things that may not seem to have an obvious bearing on the job.

Fredda said...

When I saw the word "discrimination", what immediately came to mind was the situation in Jena, La. Racism by any other name...

Now, about the actual topic. Having worked for the Labor Department, I found it interesting that discrimination, especially in hiring practices, was a popular topic whenever staff met with employers. Our prejudices are sometimes so subtle, that we don't even know that we have them. The obvious bigot is sometimes less of a threat than the pc-bigot.

Love the socks! I was surprised to see how well the pattern shows up.

anne marie in philly said...

more socks...that means we get more leg, n'est ce pas?

oooh la la!

Sherrill in Portland OR said...

Hiring is incredibly difficult at times. I am a relatively new manager and have tried multiple methods-with varying results. As much as I try to be impartial, I am unsure if I accomplish it. For the most part I review all the applicants on paper, then do a screening call, then a formal interview. But when it is all said and done I find it impossible to hire someone I do not like. Of course, intellectually I know that for the most part we like others that look, act, speak, and a socio-economically like ourselves. So I may fail. Of course, I work in healthcare where a good deal of bias has been done before me---the application routine to schools, etc.
Thank you for making me think of the issue, or my little portion of the issue. I, too, have been hired for my ability to speak well (never for appearance-although presentable I am no beauty). But then I have to do the job. The saving grace for many is that the positions are do-able by a wide range of people with variable skills. We "grow" into them.
Nice sock though. What method to you for the toe-up portion. I'm struggling with something that will look ok.

Meribeth said...

A well educated woman applied for a chemistry job at the nuclear power station where I was working. She was black and seriously over weight. She didn't get the job because of health concerns since the job can be quite physical. Descrimination, yes, but necessary.
Same place. One department was made of two sections. One section was totally white, the other (and much more laborous) was totally black, and there was very little chance of moving into the first section. Descrimination, yes. Morally wrong.
There is a thin line and the interviewer must check their own personal preferences when hiring. A person that is better looking, or in your example, a person who wears more expensive clothing, will make a better first impression. But that first impression does not indicate what that person will do on the job. So if Pretty Woman gets the job and Average Woman does not, even though she is more qualified, then it is descrimination.
But aren't we all guilty of that to a certain extent? Bubba's rodding around in Silverados or Hummers, is my personal "thang" btw.

Waht is that yarn? Stunning sock!

Andy's Crafts said...

Where is the pair of socks you promise me lol! The socks look very nice, I have socks schedule in my future, after Christmas.

Discrimination, that's a hard subject. but people should be hired on their abilities and the company's need. Eventually that's why I ended up working for myself. I find that 90% of businesses do not have any loyalty to employees. As my Own boss I was able to have what I wanted. Thanks for sharing, it answer a question about me posting about my old places of work now that I don't work there anymore lol!

DutchJan said...

Dutch Jan is 100% MALE!!!!!!!!

Lulu said...

I never really thought about discrimination through interviews that way. I have trouble with interviews because I have trouble explaining why I don't have a college degree and that type of thing... It never occurred to me that that I might have been discriminated against for other factors. That's not to say I've never felt judged (for how young I look, or being overweight, or other things), but I always assumed that an interviewer would have the maturity to look past those things and focus on my experience and ability to do my job.

Gives me something extra to be paranoid about when I interview, which I will be doing a lot of in the next few weeks...

Erica said...

I love The Knitting Man(ual). It provides patterns that my boyfriend would actually WEAR! I bought my copy of the book in Portland - which is where the author lives - and they were very enthusiastic about the book. The author will be at Knit/Purl sometime this week, I think.

My 2 cents: I really liked this book. :)

Betsy said...

I am a Realtor so I get lots of training on fair housing and such. My all time favorite line came from a very prim and proper teacher who said "Assholes are not a protected class." After the laughing died down, it actually was a very powerful message.