Positive Discrimination?

cgon621lJust before going to bed (so not the best time) and on Twitter (not the best venue) I got into a discussion with a friend about positive discrimination, specifically in games. I tried to explain why a 50/50 hiring policy wouldn’t be representative of the state of play and wouldn’t be good for business. Twitter made that a bit ham-fisted though and it was apparently received that I was somehow in favour of discrimination.

This, then, is my attempt to expand on the point and as to why positive discrimination is a bad idea and that the problem lies elsewhere. At the end I’ll try to suggest some solutions.

None of the below example is meant to be realistic, just a mental exercise to illustrate the problem.

For the sake of argument, say that business boss, Mr Gamey McGamerson has a fat wad of venture capital and is looking to start up a new computer games company. He wants to hire the best he can and he needs 50 employees for his business. He has an available hiring pool of local talent of 100.

Talent, regardless of gender, for sake of argument, breaks down as:

10% genius, 20% good, 40% average, 20% sub par and 10% shitty. There’s also an unwashed mass of any number of zero talent people of both genders.

We rate these from 5 (genius) to 0 (unwashed mass) which means out of McGamerson’s hiring requirements, he can score a maximum of 250 talent, if he hired all geniuses.

Women in STEM fields runs at about 20% – depending which study you look at, but it’s a nice round number to use. It varies within STEM, since more women take biology for example, but for sake of argument let’s call it 20% (in comp sci it’s specifically less, 17% IIRC but you can look it up).

So, our potential hiring pool contains 80 men and 20 women, from which we can choose.

So, what would be the result of different hiring policies?

Meritocratic Hiring Policy Based on Talent

Workforce: 80% male, 20% female (proportionate to talent pool)
Talent Score: 190/250 (76%)

Gender Discriminatory Hiring Policy (Boys Club)

Workforce: 100% male (skewed in favour of men)
Talent Score: 182/250 (72.8%)

Gender Discriminatory Hiring Policy (Positive Female Discrimination)

Workforce: 50% male, 50% female (over double the actual proportions)
Talent Score: 140/250 (56%)

Obviously, the best option is to hire based on merit, since that garners the highest score, but in this environment, even though women are just as (proportionately) talented as men you’re still better off – as a business – having a sexist hiring policy than you are by engaging in positive discrimination. You lose a little by being a sexist prick, but you lose a lot by engaging in a gender-biased hiring policy.

Quotas are never going to work out and are always going to cause problems. Talent – and interest – in the necessary fields is unevenly distributed by gender, geography and many other factors but all else being equal, if the system was truly meritocratic and non-sexist, we would expect to see an 80/20 male favouring split in game development based purely on talent alone.

In fact, women make up 22%.

If you want a 50/50 split you’re essentially asking businesses to cripple themselves by using worse talent, and there simply aren’t enough women graduates in STEM fields to allow all the businesses to half-fill with women anyway. So this is an impossible proposition at the best of times.

If you want to see equally distributed results you have a lot of problems to tackle and you’re starting from the wrong end.

If you want more women in STEM in general, and computer game development in particular, you need to start from the education end, the meat that gets fed into the grinder. You need to encourage women to take these courses and gain these qualifications.

That has its own set of problems. We need more people in general to take up STEM fields and despite a lot of money and effort being spent to get girls into these fields, there hasn’t been much of a result (nor has a comparable effort been made to get men into female dominated fields, but that’s another issue). Indeed the evidence from places like Norway is that the more equal a society is, the more choice in career and education, the more people tend to gravitate towards their traditional gender roles.

In my opinion the best we can hope for is proportionate success based on equal opportunity. If people make choices we don’t personally like, we’ll have to cope with that.

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4 responses to “Positive Discrimination?

  1. I generally agree, with one exception. I’m in favor of positive discrimination when it is used as a time-limited corrective/punitive measure for organizations proven to have used negative discrimination. Also I would note that it’s not just between women and men. There are individuals who don’t fit that binary. They may be few, but we shouldn’t forget them.

  2. The whole meritocratic “hiring the best” narrative is misleading for the vast majority of cases (and certainly in much of the games industry). Employers want to hire someone who can do the job, who wants to do the job and who will fit in with company culture (i.e. someone they think they can get on with). The majority of people are sort of mediocre at their job and businesses muddle along regardless. Arguing for hiring the best talent doesn’t reflect actual hiring practices.

    Not that I’m arguing for the state legislating positive discrimination here either, I’m not sure how that would be effectively enacted and policed, and it would only affect a narrow range of outcomes rather than the culture that encourages these binary gender roles in the first place.

    Finally, even if we accept your entire argument about talent, most AAA game companies churn out derivative trash that the best talent would be wasted on: there’s no need to encourage anyone, regardless of gender, to get into that.

    • It’s only meant to be an illustration and not necessarily only in games. Rather than talent you could take ‘suitability’ and you’d still get broadly the same result.

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