Adjusting the Odds


Just as you may have used statistics to resolve issues for others, you too may benefit from their judicious use. There may be times when hiring, promotion, tenure, or other decisions don’t go your way; you may feel the adverse result is not based on merit, but rather may be the result of discrimination. What recourse might you have?

There are laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion, age, and disability, but benefiting from legal protections can be difficult. Those of us who have been around awhile can remember when admission to graduate programs was specifically denied to women or jobs were listed in separate columns by gender, but overt gender discrimination is rare these days—and hard to prove even when it occurs. Lack of success is more likely to result from a series of microaggressions—sometimes characterized as “a thousand blows” or as implicit bias, although the bias is often not unconscious at all.

Statistics have proven useful in certain circumstances, but the task of proof is not an easy one. Fundamental may be showing that you are not the only victim; here, statistics may increase your chances of success.

Under various statutory provisions, there are two kinds of discrimination. Disparate treatment consists of treating someone differently on the basis of some protected characteristic. The “white only” signs that used to be affixed to restrooms, drinking fountains, housing, and elsewhere made this kind of discrimination pretty clear. “No Irish need apply” used to be endemic in certain cities; real estate covenants in the past prohibited Jews; and, as noted above, education and employment gender restrictions were common. In a more-personal manifestation of discrimination, one might be denied a certain position because of a stereotypical view that it is “not a job for a woman” (maybe especially one with children).

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