Thursday, January 04, 2007

State of Iowa airs dirty laundry

The state of Iowa has made available demographic statistics regarding their hiring practices and it's raised some eyebrows. The data shows that while 20% of whites referred for interviews received one, only 12% of minorities did--a clear violation of the 4/5ths rule.

There's a number of reasons why this event is significant.

First, it shows that none of us are immune to investigation. This data was gathered by request of the governor, which resulted in a task force to investigate claims of discrimination.

Second, it reinforces how important applicant flow statistics are. A lot of folks think disparate treatment when they hear about employment discrimination and forget a little thing called adverse impact.

Third, it's a great source of information for other jurisdictions to use as benchmarks (e.g., 22-23% of individuals interviewed were hired).

Fourth, it reminds us how expensive employment litigation can be, even for the public sector. The state has paid out $850K for discrimination lawsuits since 2000--and I'm betting that doesn't include all the time and money spent defending themselves against the suits.

Fifth, it illustrates how statistics can be interpreted different ways. The data shows that once minorities got to the interview stage they were hired in similar proportions, which seems to indicate something going on at the previous stage. It may be systematic discrimination, it may also be that there is some systematic lack of qualification(s). We won't know until they look at it more carefully.

Last but not least, it brings to light the somewhat, how shall I say, unconventional remedies often sought by plaintiffs. In this case the NAACP wants the state to "test supervisors and managers for subconscious bias."

I almost want this to proceed just so I can see what that test looks like!

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