50 percent more callbacks

Ezra Resnick writes a Letter to a successful white male.

Congratulations! You’re a successful white male. Or, as you might prefer to put it, you’re a successful person who just happens to be a white male — why would anyone think your gender and race have anything to do with your success? That’s textbook sexism and racism. You worked hard to get where you are. You never asked for special treatment, nor do you recall ever receiving any.

There was discrimination in the past, sure, but that’s all over now. It ended one afternoon in…let’s see…1977 was it? That sounds right.

Now there is perfect total universal equality of opportunity, and all you have to do to know that is look around. Or sit in your armchair and think about looking around – it’s the same thing. People have the jobs they want. There are no signs on doors saying “Go away black people.” Everything’s worked itself out, like rocks rolling down a hillside.

You naturally assume, then, that if women or minorities are underrepresented in certain fields, they must generally be less suited for them, or less interested in them, or less inclined to do the work necessary to succeed in them.

Well obviously. There are women doctors and lawyers on tv; there are black doctors and lawyers on tv. Everything is fixed now. If you didn’t get that job it’s because you didn’t really try.

Nevertheless, you keep hearing talk about “privilege” and “unconscious bias” from people who seem unimpressed by your logical reasoning. In order to silence the agitators, perhaps there is some scientific way to demonstrate the absence of discrimination in our society?

We could perform a controlled experiment. For example, we could send emails to university professors from fictional prospective students seeking to discuss research opportunities prior to applying to a doctoral program, varying only the name of the fictional student to signal gender and race — and discover that faculty ignored requests from women and minorities at a higher rate than requests from white males (particularly in higher-paying disciplines and private institutions). Or, we could send fictitious resumes in reply to help-wanted ads, varying only the name on the resume to sound either white or African American — and discover that white names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. Or, we could ask university science faculty to rate a fictional student application for a laboratory manager position, varying only the student’s name to be male or female — and discover that the male applicant was rated as significantly more competent and hireable, and was offered a higher starting salary and more career mentoring, than the (identical) female applicant. And so on.



  1. says

    Is there an informal “lottery fallacy” out there? “Just because one person can win the lottery, that doesn’t mean everyone can win… so the lottery system isn’t the solution to problems that affect more than one person” sort of thing? Or does that just fall under just world fallacies?

  2. smrnda says

    These studies are some of the best evidence that discrimination is real, and can be measured.

  3. iknklast says

    I’ve actually been advised to use my initials when sending in plays to theatres – because initials sound “more male”. Or to use my first initial, middle name (which is NOT a female middle name, because I took my maiden name as my middle name when I married, and it is definitely a male-sounding name). The studies on gender gap in playwriting show the same thing – the same play written by a “female” vs. a “male” gets many more theatres reading it when it’s a male name. And that’s in a field where your odds of getting read at all are miniscule, no matter what sex you are.

    At a theatre conference a couple of years ago, the last performance was a play written by a woman. At breakfast, a man who had accompanied his wife, a playwright, asked me what the play was about. I started off “it’s about four women…” He stopped me. He’d heard enough. He wasn’t about to go. Can you imagine someone, if I started off saying “It’s about four men…” If I stopped there, they’d say. yes, go on, what are the men doing? He didn’t need to hear more. It’s about women, it’s not worth his time. His loss. He missed the best play of the week (except mine ;-), which he didn’t attend, either). He didn’t let me continue that the four women were Medea, Penelope, Clytemnestra, and Cassandra, in modern (well, 1950s) reincarnation. Clever, touching, and brilliant – but written by a woman, about women, and therefore totally missable.

  4. militantagnostic says

    Symphony Orchestras figured out how to gender blind auditions years ago. How hard is it to make everything in any application process short of face to face interviews gender and race blind? And why hasn’t this happened.

  5. says

    Symphony Orchestras figured out how to gender blind auditions years ago

    But we all know what terrible things can happen then
    After that catastrophe the Munich Philarmonic Orchestra stopped blind auditions.

    Yeah, I think the key-point is that people don’t understand that getting privilege actually doesn’t mean “getting everything without working”. Of course they’re working, and are working hard. That’s not the point. It’s the fact that the same hard work doesn’t get somebody else quite as far. And it can also fire back.
    My husband works in a chemical company. In the yunger generation of trainees there’s an increasing number of women and he says that they are by far the best and brightest of the pick while they often have problems with the male trainees.
    I said that it doesn’t surprise me: Every young woman who starts training there has fought an uphill battle already for many years. She will have been gently to overtly discouraged from pursuing STEM, she will have been told that she needs to work harder because we all know that boys are naturally gifted for science and girls for languages and therefore girls doing science need to compensate for their lack of talent.
    The young men, OTOH, will have been told that they are smart and talented for this, that they can, of course, do it. And then they start training at this high profile company at a demanding position and suddenly their self-image and reality collide which must, of course, be the fault of the instructors.
    So yeah, no wonder the young women tend to be better trainees. And of course there are already talks behind closed doors that they need to stop hireing so many women. Can’t let them achieve parity or even become a majority…

  6. Bernard Bumner says


    I also work in STEM, managing research for one of the global academic leaders in the field, and as part of that I manage EUROPEAN research projects. I therefore get a very good overview of diversity across sectors and disciplines, and I recognise exactly what you are describing. What is depressing is that the best and brightest are still often not those gaining Fellowships in academe, or those promoted to lead teams in industry – women and minorities can perform at the top of their peer group and still not be rewarded, time and again.

    I can count my senior female contacts very quickly, and that is across academia and from the smallest to the largest company. In particular, I am not sure I have ever dealt with a female employee of the world’s largest Chemical company who wasn’t a PA or serving staff. From technicians to senior researcher to administrator, they have all been male.

  7. Guess Who? says

    I am in the IT field, and a woman. I’ve been in the field since the 1980s. I’ve recognized the male privilege that exists (how could I not?), but it wasn’t until I supervised someone of another race that I saw the white privilege. I had to fight so much harder to get my non-white employee recognized by our company for her achievements than for the white males I supervised.

  8. iknklast says

    Giliell – it isn’t just limited to the academic professions, either. In my school, we have a lot of technical programs. The man who teaches auto mechanics told me one day that he had to sit down all the female students and warn them that it was going to be difficult for them, they were going to face sexism and male students who didn’t want them there and would be brutally honest about it. I was not as quick on the draw as I should have been. He got away before I had a chance to ask why he didn’t sit the male students down and tell them that wasn’t acceptable behavior, and they should learn that right now. The answer, of course, is obvious. In that field (as in many) there are actually rewards for being sexist…because you’re one of the guys. They aren’t likely to suffer in their career for insulting female colleagues – or even clients – because that’s the “good old boys” game.

  9. Kevin Kehres says

    When I was in the newspaper biz, the paper hired a black reporter just out of college. The only job they would even consider him for was as a sports reporter; even though he insisted (as he told me later) that he was not interested in sports at all.

    But apparently black = sports.

    Took him more than a year of being passed over to finally get a job on the news desk, where he thrived.

    The rest of the staff was divided by gender. “Hard” news reporting = male. Features = female. Copy editing was a mix, the bosses were male. Political reporting = male. Food editor = female. Business = male. Editorial page = male. Op-ed = female. Photography = male (with 1 exception). You pretty much knew which part of the news room you were in by whether or not you smelled perfume or stale cigarettes.

  10. says

    Finally in my mid-30s I’ve realized that building and architecture is the right field for me but wow. It took a long circuitous route before I could even get around to realizing that was a possibility. And now when I mention to my exclusively white, mostly male co-workers that getting some non-white non-males on staff might open some new doors to us, they just roll their eyes. At best.

  11. thetalkingstove says

    A well argued piece. The evidence is given, and yet there are slymers already in the comments dismissing the article without even commenting on the substance.

    I guess they just stalk this FtB blogs they’ve been banned from and follow links?

    Do they get a little frisson of excitement from finding stuff to hate on?

    Just weird how they get absolutely everywhere.

  12. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Yabbut, those are all pointy headed liberal elite perfessors. They don’t represent REAL Murkins.

    How’d I do? Needs more random capitalization and misspelling?

  13. Amy Clare says

    #5 Giliell: wow, that article about the trombonist.

    ‘“It’s just sort of something that happens when you’re trying to live your life,” she said in an interview. “I just wanted to be a trombone player in an orchestra.”’

    When you’re trying to live your life.

    Says it all.

  14. iknklast says

    Kevin Kehres – I encountered something similar when I worked for a headhunter. We place physical and occupational therapists. 70-75% of PTs and OTs are women; most of the supervisors are men. Where I work, 7 of the 9 professors in our building are women; the two “building captains” who bear the responsibility for getting everyone out in case of a disaster, are the – you guessed it – two men. Because women aren’t capable? If that’s so, why do they allow me to take my students in the field, where their life is certainly in my hands? And my guess is they didn’t even realize what they did when they chose the building captains. It just seemed natural.

  15. hm says

    My name has worked to my advantage when job hunting as its gender neutral (Punjabi names for the most part are) and I work in IT as a programmer. The only reason I know this is because my current coworkers told me that when I showed up for my first day they were expecting a tall burly, bearded guy in turban. I’m a petite and it makes me curious to know how many interviews I got because I wasn’t identifiable female.

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