More on Hiring Bias

April 7, 2005

In response to my post yesterday, a Torch reader relates the following story:

Last year I was on a selection committee for an academic advisor position at [a state college]. One of the applicants we interviewed was a minister at a small local church. One of the people on the committee asked this gentleman during the interview, “Doesn’t being a preacher interfere with your ability to be an advisor?” Nobody on the committee saw anything wrong with asking this type of question. I can assure you, though, that if an openly gay candidate were ever interviewed for a job here and someone were to ask, “Doesn’t being gay interfere with your ability to work with straight people?” that person would be fired.

Stories like this are hardly unusual, but I would bet if you put the other members of that selection committee under oath and asked them if they have ever imposed a political litmus test on a candidate, they would say no. And they would believe they were telling the truth. Such questions are not even seen as “political” or “discriminatory.” In fact, the members of the committee almost certainly thought that they were trying to prevent discrimination. One problem with overwhelming ideological uniformity is that even good-hearted people can become blind to the manifestations of their own bias. If all “sane, moderate, thoughtful people” (to borrow a phrase from Andrew Sullivan) think one way, it is not seen as discriminatory to make sure that applicants share those thoughts.