Unequal Opportunities.

’twas in 1992 I went for this job interview. I know because that’s the year my (fixed-term) research job at Sheffield ended, and I was some months “between jobs”. It was a tough time in academia: a report in the torygraph the following year said that the number of academic research jobs in UK universities declined by 11% that year. So for a geek who liked academia, a sysop job at another UK university looked like an attractive prospect.

It was a long journey, so I traveled up the day before my interview and stayed overnight in university accommodation. There I met another candidate. Only for a couple of minutes, but it was enough to tell me I couldn’t be offered the job.

No, of course I couldn’t possibly say in that time who was the better candidate for the job. But the other candidate was female and black. So the only way they could offer it to a white male was if she was a total no-hoper. Which she wasn’t: a couple of minutes was ample to tell me that. Our respective technical merits – our abilities to do the job – was going to be moot.

Sixteen years on from that clear memory, they’re now apparently going to make it law. It’s just fine to discriminate, provided victims are white and male. Maybe that’s no bad thing: it just formalises the de-facto insidious pressure that’s always[1] been there, in the form of practices like “ethnic monitoring”, and being deemed evil if you fail to meet unofficial quotas of bums-on-seats. At least we officially know where we stand (and more to the point, so do those ‘disadvantaged’ people at the core of Old Labour or the BNP).

I’m glad my current employer was so genuinely non-discriminatory they didn’t even ask my ethnicity until after offering me the job.

[1] for values of ‘always’ in my working life, at least.

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Posted on June 26, 2008, in jobs, politics, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Firstly, the flaw in your story is that you have no way of knowing whether sex/colour played a part or not (do you acutally know if she actually got the job?). You assume that it did, but its equally possible that you were not the best candidate, but if you had been perhaps you would.

    Secondly, even if you are a poor white male victim of discrimination the overwhealming evidence is that generally its not the case and that its still women and ethinic minorities where the real problem lies.

    Having said all that, I agree with you positive discrimination is wrong and stupid laws like this don’t help. I much prefer the part of the proposal where companies are forced to publish statistics on pay/sex/race/colour since that shines a light on companies that are discriminatory and makes it more likely that they will address the issues they have.

  2. Discrimination is not homogenous. A firm employing unskilled casual labour may embody one tradition, politically-correct academia a completely different one.

    I don’t agree about forcing companies to publish statistics. The effort collecting such statistics could be a serious overhead for many companies, and I expect some employees would consider it an invasion of privacy just to be asked that kind of question.

  3. One would hope that the enlightened world of academia had a better record than some more rabidly sexist and racist occupational areas. However its still an assumption on your part that you were a victim of positive discrimination, unless of course you believe that no black woman could ever be better than you.

    I also doubt whether it would be much burden for companies to publish such information as I expect most have that already on file – perhaps not smaller companies, but then it wouldn’t be much burden with few employees.

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