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Eureka: What is discrimination?
by Jay Gutman
2017-01-12 08:44:40
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We are all familiar with racial discrimination. But what other types of discrimination exist, and how do you fight them?

dis01_400_01Racial discrimination

I was denied hundreds of jobs simply because of my assumed background. Racial discrimination can be overt, as in advertisements explicitly stating that they won’t hire people from certain ethnic backgrounds, or covert, as in employers putting aside applicants who come from minorities. I remember an international conference, a very prestigious one at that where about 100 people were invited to give a talk, all white, all North American, and there was not a single North American from a minority or from any other background. What happened after that was several people, mostly from ethnic minority backgrounds, leaving messages on the conference facebook page that they were surprised they were not invited to give a talk. I’ve seen racism and racial discrimination in action, and have seen it at surprisingly high levels, including some governments who have overtly stated that they prefer certain races. As for the conference organizer, he was appalled when I asked him to justify how come all the presenters he invited, which totaled 130 were white.  

Age discrimination

Under 35 need not apply. Over 60 need not apply. We only hire people between ages 25 and 35. What this advertisement is saying is that they’re not hiring people who are married, or people with families, or people they assume should be retired. Any government should make sure that people of all ages have a fair shot at employment and other social benefits. People can’t be too young or too old to work, or to do any other activity.

Gender discrimination

We only hire women. We only hire men. Gender discrimination is something I’ve seen quite a lot, and I still don’t understand how it is that a woman would do a better job at teaching when a man should be the gym teacher, driver or computer programmer. If women are good enough for combat units in the ground forces, they’re good enough to do any job. If single fathers can do a good job at raising their children, they sure can teach those kids. Assuming that men have a tendency to be deviant in any sort of way or that women can’t focus on tasks of any sort is a dangerous assumption.

Education/academic discrimination

We only hire Ivy league graduates. We only hire people with university degrees. We only hire people with a university degree from an English-speaking country. So you’re telling me that to teach beginner level English as a foreign language you need a university degree of any sort, or in some cases, a Masters degree and two years’ experience as a professor. Or that you must have that Ph.D. to carry out research when at this very moment some researchers who don’t have doctoral degrees are doing research that can be life-saving in some cases. Would you steal their research and still forbid them from working, or would you completely discard their research because they don’t have the “Doctor” title?

Former employer discrimination

So your company has a policy stating that people who worked for competitors can not work for your company. Or that people who worked for certain companies can’t fit into your company. I’ve seen this, as in larger universities who won’t recognize the experiences gained by some researchers at smaller universities.

Linguistic discrimination

So Jose speaks English with an accent, but he sure is good at sales. Marina has that strong Russian accent, but other than that she can be a great doctor or engineer. Yet some companies won’t hire people who speak some languages, or speak languages with an accent.  

Intellectual discrimination

I’ve worked with companies who tell me they don’t hire people with advanced degrees because such people tend not to stay in the job for long. That’s a pretty big assumption. That means either something’s wrong with your company, or that perhaps you hire people who are prone to being jealous.

Experience discrimination

We don’t hire anyone with less than 5 years’ experience. We don’t hire anyone with more than 5 years’ experience. The problem with experience is, look: I’ve met people who confessed to me that they worked for 10, 15 or 20 years at a company and that except for that odd project they mostly slacked around. To put it more bluntly and more specifically, I remember a buddy of mine who told me: “I’ve been working for the company for 7 years. I spent 6 months getting work done, and I’ve been playing video games at work ever since. Can’t complain, the paycheck is always on time, and they wouldn’t notice if I didn’t show up.” So we need to be clear what we mean by “experience.”

To sum up

If your company practices any form of discrimination, it probably means that your company works with assumptions and speculation rather than actual logic and clear thinking. Assuming that someone won’t fit in because of their ethnicity, age, intellect or experience means you also assume things about clients, business or getting work done. Employees are not hard science, and is narrowed down to chemistry, that is, that warm cozy feeling you get during the job interview that says: “I can work with this guy” or “I don’t think I can work with this guy.”

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Emanuel Paparella2017-01-12 14:55:55
The necessary other side of the coin:

Here too there is another side of the coin. On one side there is the positivist approach wherein one categorizes and enumerates all the different kinds of discriminations with the emphasis on the what and the how: what is discrimination, how does one oppose discrimination. On the other side there is the philosophical poetic approach which asks why: why is there hatred and discrimination? and then offers examples from real life or literature of the phenomenon. Those who think that the former approach is superior because it is scientific and the last to appear on the scene are misguided at best. Both approaches are needed, in fact, the latter is more needed than the former nowadays.

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