The End of Workplace Bias

As we transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, those who find themselves out of work are disproportionately men.  The historical male advantage of physical strength has become almost irrelevant in today’s job market.  Where manufacturing jobs still exist, they often are heavily automated, requiring technical skills rather than brawn.  Many of the fastest-growing career fields, such as nursing, are occupied chiefly by women.  As a consequence of the recession, a significant number of men who once earned good wages must now rely on their wives to be the breadwinners for their families.

All of these economic and cultural changes have led to speculation in the media as to whether we are inevitably moving toward a female-dominated society where men will always find themselves at a disadvantage with regard to employment.  At present, a young woman in the United States is significantly more likely to earn a university degree and to begin a professional career than if she were a man.

Hanna Rosin, in her provocatively titled article The End of Men, suggests that the modern workplace just might not have much use for male characteristics.  She writes:

The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength.  The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male.

Whatever one may think of the gender determinism in that statement, it’s clear that we live in an era of greater diversity in the workforce.  However, I wouldn’t cite this fact to support an argument that only workers with a narrow set of attributes are valuable to employers.  To the contrary, as technological advances cause job requirements to become more specialized every year while finding qualified applicants becomes more difficult, employers are losing the luxury of discriminating against workers who aren’t part of the in-group.  Increasingly, they’re being forced by circumstances to hire people on the basis of actual ability to do the work, rather than because an interviewer gets warm fuzzy feelings about an applicant’s behavior and appearance.

Tattoos in the workplace, for example, are much more widely accepted than they once were.  With so much diversity among job candidates, many hiring managers are coming to the realization that if they don’t set their prejudices aside, they may not be able to hire an employee who is well qualified for the position.  Even in our current economic slowdown, it’s not always easy to find enough applicants who have sufficient credentials for the jobs of the twenty-first century.

Of course we still have a long way to go, especially in overcoming disability prejudice, which remains widespread.  But the long-term social trends make it clear that employers won’t have the option of discriminating on that basis for much longer, either.  New technological developments will continue to push the economy toward greater career specialization.  Falling birthrates and worldwide industrialization will eventually lead to chronic labor shortages in many fields.  I expect that a few decades from now, it will be seen as totally absurd that any company ever rejected a qualified job applicant based on such factors as gender, tattoos, disability, or differences in communication and social behavior.

on 07/28/10 in featured, Society | No Comments | Read More

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