Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

All Other Things Being Equal

This is an actual conversation that I recently had with a hiring manager in information technology (who shall remain nameless) on the subject of discrimination against autistic workers. Although it has been condensed and edited somewhat for clarity, the content is accurately rendered.

When I make a hiring decision, he said, I don't just look at technical skills. I also consider how well the applicant can get along with the other team members. For instance, if we're all talking about the NCAA basketball playoffs while we're waiting for a program to run, the guys aren't going to feel comfortable with someone who asks "What playoffs?"

It seems to me that you're very likely to end up with less qualified workers, I told him, if you're making decisions based on superficial factors such as chatting about sports.

I make sure the applicants have the technical qualifications, but all other things being equal, I'll hire the person who has the best social skills.

You know, this is the same excuse that was often used to avoid hiring women a generation ago, that they didn't know how to chat about sports and play golf and so forth.

No, it's different. Guys don't feel uncomfortable around women who don't understand sports, because we don't expect them to be big sports fans. But we really don't like being around other guys who can't act the way regular guys are supposed to act.

I don't see any difference between hiring only sports fans because you're more comfortable with them and hiring only people of the same race or ethnicity because you're more comfortable with them.

We're not talking about a minority race. We're talking about geeks and nerds.

Geeks and nerds are people too, and much of their behavior is based on genetic factors. This is just as much of a diversity issue as race or gender. Our society needs to learn how to be comfortable with a much broader variety of people.

Maybe so, but society isn't going to change overnight. It takes many years to change people's expectations and their comfort levels.

All the more reason to start making the changes now.



  • You go, Girl!

    I don't know if you ever watch '24', but every time I see the character Chloe, I think "Aspie".

    ...and they can't make a technical move without her. She's got few social skills, but she kicks ass. LOL

    By Blogger Attila the Mom, at 9:32 AM  

  • So, basically, this bloke doing the hiring can only think about talking about a narow defined set of interests, shows no "theory of mind" in understanding that other staff members might either just explain what the "playoffs" are, or say "yeah, I lose track/don't care as well", just because he can't envisage that, shows no empathy in understanding that the "nerdy" person is being sociable by asking the question and is unable to see others points of views.
    Methinks he needs to examine his own social skills before he starts harping on about others.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:43 AM  

  • What is with these people? I just got done writing about some recent encounters with similarly clueless individuals in my own life. One was actually yelling at me in a restaurant last night about wanting "an unfair world" where people receiving accommodations would dare demand the right to be seen as equals!!! And this person is a minority herself! Some days it's all I can do to not just give up.

    By Blogger Bev, at 11:10 AM  

  • I used to work in career advising. It was highly depressing. We had a young lady trying to interview through our office. She was an excellent student, an excellent computer scientist, had won awards for her work. Everyone wanted to interview her.

    She would come, she got special coaching, she had a profesionally-developed resume to offer. She brought presentations about her work, came prepared to answer questions. She never asked for a salary higher than anyone else. We'd taped real interviews and review them with her to try to help.

    The only problem was she had an articulation disorder, that made her sound like she had a heavy foreign accent. In fact, I originally thought she was Russian or something. Apparently this made a difference. Companies would hire far less qualified people instead of her, time and time again. It was horrible. We did finally find her a job- with a company that didn't do live interviews.

    All those other places missed out on an excellent employee, and an excellent deal. And for what? Because sometimes you had to ask her to repeat herself?

    By Blogger Joeymom, at 1:31 PM  

  • I somehow missed the "sports mania" gene. I used to fake it a bit, but don't bother anymore. And I'm NT.

    And not to overgeneralize, but I would think that "sports nuts" would be in the minority in most IT departments.

    By Blogger Club 166, at 7:08 PM  

  • Oh, yeah, we think Chloe rocks in our house, too (though she seems much less Aspie this season).

    By Blogger Club 166, at 7:09 PM  

  • Just checking out some of my fellow ATM artsy-fartsy award recipients. Interesting post this. About a hundred and seventy three years ago, well the late 80's and early 90's anyway, I was an operations manager for a couple of pipeline companies in the same corporation. In 1986 we had an opening for a foreman type job in a male dominated organization. When I promoted a female the operations VP asked why. When I replied because she is the best for the job he said okie dokie. This was a few months after I had promoted a male to a similar job because he was the best candidate (and there were no female applicants). In 1988 I hired a minority female as a junior district engineer in Oklahoma because the district engineer and I agreed she was the best candidate for the job. Why were they the best candidate you may ask. Because they had the best education, training and experience. At ARCO, the corporation I was in, if the ER guys found out an interviewer asked ANY question not directly related to the performance of the job it was their ass. We were interested in "people skills" which are not the same as "social skills", but that was secondary to the job skills. And we had 6 months to sort it out anyway.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:36 AM  

  • Wait, there's playoffs right now?

    I would be in some serious trouble finding a job there!

    I could gross them out with poopy diaper stories though!

    By Blogger LIVSPARENTS, at 1:18 PM  

  • "For instance, if we're all talking about the NCAA basketball playoffs while we're waiting for a program to run, the guys aren't going to feel comfortable with someone who asks "What playoffs?""

    Oh, boo hoo. Poor little people that might have to deal with talking to people who differ from them...

    My heart bleeds for them.

    By Blogger Rachel, at 5:18 AM  

  • I've managed to work as a software engineer for over 20 years with a less-than-zero interest in sports, and it has never been an issue. And I've always taken a sneaky delight in letting people know that I couldn't care less about the subject. OTOH, as an NT it's not that difficult for me to "smile and nod" if/when subject happens to come up and I don't feel like commenting.

    By Blogger Dave Seidel, at 11:28 AM  

  • If society was more open towards aspies and other different people, fewer of them would have to live under their parents for support. Society would actually be able to support 1 in 150 adults with autism. We shouldn't be sending our kids to mental institutions unless there is a serious emergency. We should work more on the strengths rather than just focus on filling in deficiencies. I'm not saying we should not help the child in the areas he's having trouble with, but we should just get him to where it's acceptable and not overdo it. Like, if somebody has math difficulties, we should just teach him to be good enough at math in order to handle money and taxes. The public should learn to accept the neutral differences. As long as the person can do his job right, it really shouldn't matter what kind of group he's from.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:45 PM  

  • Sounds like part of the issue (at least with this specific person) is one of rigid gender role expectations: it's okay for women to be uninterested in sports, but men just don't "belong" unless they're sports enthusiastics.

    There's an organization called GPAC (Gender something something Coalition) that works on stopping prejudice rooted in gender expectations (for example, the expectation that a man ought to be interested in sports in order to get along in the work place, or that a woman ought to wear a skirt and makeup). It's a controversial organization in some circles (one transsexual I know, for example, informs me that, despite the supposed goals of their organization, they have done things that actually discriminate or fuel discrimination against transsexuals, though I'm not aware of all the details of that). But I do find at least their ideas interesting.

    That said: yes, we still have a lot of work to do in getting people to understand and accept REAL diversity, including diversity in personality and social skills -- not just diversity based on labels ("Okay, we have x Caucasin people, y Black people of African/Caribbean heritage, z people of Asian heritage etc -- do we have enough balance yet?").

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:19 AM  

  • Wow, what a maroon. But a very typical 'high-fivin' white guy' manager -- which is to say (in my book), moron. Besides, the coders I know are far more likely to talk about movie trivia or science fiction books. There would be a room full of people blinking, then saying, "playoffs,... basketball?" We're like Chloe, we'll get the job done quickly and correctly, but please don't ask us to jump through your NT hoops. We'll all be happier then.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:50 PM  

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