Race and IT hiring

Any outplacement firm will tell you: people tend to hire people like themselves. Job seekers are advised to be as much like the hiring manager as possible.

: In reality ...

Translation: In my uninformed opinion ...

-- This week's anonymous survivalist explains reality.

Recently I filled out our application for a marriage certificate. I began with the section titled "Groom". Last name, first name, middle initial, ... . Fine. Sex: M or F. Huh?

As Minnesota doesn't recognise same-sex marriages, the number of female grooms is low enough to ignore. Still, there was no point in arguing, so I circled "M" and moved on.

Next on the form was Race. There wasn't enough room to write "disproved hypothesis", so I left that box blank.

As a concept, race belongs in the scientific dustbin, right next to the inheritance of acquired characteristics and the luminiferous aether. Because while racism is alive and well, race -- which always should have been irrelevant, other than in situations guided by affirmative action -- turns out to be a useless way to categorise humanity.

Race would mean something if a variety of different traits were genetically linked -- if, that is, they assorted non-randomly in the population. It turns out, though, that (for example) skin colour, height, eye colour and heritable cognitive characteristics have no discoverable genetic linkage. They don't follow each other around.

People being what they are, the scientific evidence hasn't settled any social issues. Citizens of African ancestry whose forebears arrived in this country as slaves continue to experience social hindrances, and we're as far from finding effective remedies as we've ever been.

Nor is this an abstract issue in IT. Look around you -- I'm willing to bet most of the faces you see are relatively pale when compared to the population as a whole. Listen, too: how many out-of-work programmers simultaneously proselytise libertarianism and demand government protection from "Indian and Pakistani H-1B [work visas]"?

Any outplacement firm will tell you: people tend to hire people like themselves. Job seekers are advised to be as much like the hiring manager as possible. When you're on the other side of the desk, interviewing job applicants, do you notice skin colour first when the applicant isn't pale (assuming that, like most IT managers, you are)? That doesn't make you a racist -- classifying others as my-group/not-my-group is probably an inherited predisposition. Still, it puts not-my-group at an automatic disadvantage.

As a hiring manager, you have an obligation to suppress this natural tendency. You're supposed to hire the best applicant, not the one whose appearance is most comfortable.

That's business. There's social fallout, too. Because no matter how often the tiresome phrase "playing the race card" is used to wave away these issues, disparities between races in this country are growing ... no matter how little "racial" actually means.

Send your minority opinion to Lewis, who is president of IT Catalysts, an independent consultancy specialising in IT effectiveness and strategic alignment. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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