4

I once had a boss who promoted anyone, minority or not, whom he thought was "qualified." So far so good.

But there was one period in the company's history, where there was a massive exodus of people. This often led to their replacements through speculative promotions, of people who weren't clearly qualified, and in some cases were manifestly unqualified, for their new roles.

When this happened, the boss declined to "gamble" on minority candidates, and all of the (few) "unqualified" candidates he promoted during this period were white. (Minority candidates, including yours truly, still got their "merit" promotions.)

When I asked him about this, his answer was something like, "white people fail all the time, but when a minority fails, people remember longer. Because none of my minority promotions of this period failed, and some of my white promotions did, my higher ups nowadays scrutinize my minority promotions much less, meaning that the chances of those promotion proposals holding up are actually better."

This happened about 30 years ago. How would this behavior be viewed today? Is is racist, protective of minorities, or something else, such as "pragmatic?"

closed as primarily opinion-based by scaaahu, Twyxz, Michael Grubey, sf02, J. Chris Compton Jan 16 at 14:56

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Not an American. This (admittedly weird, illegal, and discriminatory) thinking reminds me the concept of Glass cliff: "The glass cliff is the phenomenon of women in leadership roles, such as executives in the corporate world and female political election candidates, being likelier than men to achieve leadership roles during periods of crisis or downturn, when the chance of failure is highest". – Kobi Jan 6 at 5:39
  • 3
    @Kobi: "Glass cliff" was what the boss was trying to protect minorities against. He declined to promote minorities at a greater rate during the downturn, but maintained an "even" pace. – Tom Au Jan 6 at 7:14
  • @TomAu - Understood, I pointed out that's probably their line of thinking. – Kobi Jan 6 at 9:49
  • To riff on Joe a bit, it's also extremely stupid on part of your boss. He could have stone-walled you, saying something like you're wrong, I think they'll be good for it but he decided to do the arch-villain thing and spill the beans. Ridiculous. – rath Jan 6 at 12:18
  • 4
    The greatest difference between thirty years ago and today is that today if the boss gave you such a frank description of his strategy he would expose himself and his company to heavy civil liabilities and possible criminal charges. – A. I. Breveleri Jan 7 at 2:17
7

Niccolò Would Have Been So Proud

"How would this behavior be viewed?"

Machiavellian.

Boss was protecting not only minority workers as individuals, but also his own ability to promote qualified minority workers, as appropriate, once the staffing crisis was over.

It may seem like a good idea to take advantage of a worker shortage to give a minority employee a great promotion, but Boss knew he would not be doing anybody a favor by setting him up to fail. During the staffing crisis described, almost all promotions fell into the category of setting someone up to fail.

Verus Meminissat Nemo, Falsus Obliviscat Nemo

In the USA, when a balding potbellied middle-aged white man named "Norman" is thrust into management and fails to master it, everybody says, "That Norman, what an idiot, he's just no good at that sort of thing." But when a balding potbellied middle-aged black man named "Norman" is thrust into management and fails to master it, everybody says, "Them blacks, what idiots, they're just no good at that sort of thing."

It's unfair and stupid, but that's the way the real world tends to go. Boss's explanation of his strategy shows that he is dealing with the world as it is, not as it rightly should be.

  • 7
    "Verus Meminissat Nemo, Falsus Obliviscat Nemo" = "Nobody Remembers When You're Correct, Nobody Forgets When You're Wrong". It is an aphorism for confirmation bias. – A. I. Breveleri Jan 7 at 2:03
5

The boss declined to "gamble" on minority candidates, and all of the (few) "unqualified" candidates he promoted during this period were white. [...] When I asked him about this, his answer was something like, "white people fail all the time, but when a minority fails, people remember longer."

I'm assuming minority here means racial minority. Promoting (or not promoting) people based on their race is illegal in the United States. Employees and candidates are protected against racial discrimination at the federal level by EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

Regarding OP's follow-up comment:

"Glass cliff" was what the boss was trying to protect minorities against. He declined to promote minorities at a greater rate during the downturn.

Not promoting qualified minorities doesn't protect them from failure. It robs them the opportunity to advance in their careers, inspire other minorities, make more money and better the company. This is a poor excuse for the boss' and the company's racist culture.

3

This is Spin

Your boss had to justify his decision, especially to you, in a way that you might possibly swallow. That's how I would read this.

  • 1
    Yep, justification after the fact is all that is – Kilisi Jan 6 at 14:30
  • But it is certainly "justification" which (seemed to) fit the facts – Mawg Jan 7 at 10:08
  • @Mawg pretty poor justification that doesn't. – bruglesco Jan 7 at 15:58
2

[...] none of my minority promotions of this period failed, and some of my white promotions did [...]

This has absolutely no causal relationship.

It could be mere coincidence and it could be that you picked (sub)conciously better candidates (potentially even biased to pick more capable "minorities").

Also, the two datasets are skewed and can't be compared. (assumedly you have less "whites" than your colleague and he has no "minorities")

The behaviour of your superiors to scruitinize your minority promotions much less now is discrimination if they continue to scruitinize majority candidates the same as before (assuming both were scruitinized similarly back then).

[...]the boss declined to "gamble" on minority candidates[...]

How do you KNOW this was his motivation?

His answer doesn't quite reflect this (though it hints at a potential bias)

Another thing:
Minority is NOT equal non-white.
A distinction between whites and minorities is incorrect and should be instead between race if you need to make these kinds of distinctions.

Also keep in mind that "minority" depends on the country, therefore varies greatly.

  • 2
    The boss told me that he would promote "anyone" he thought had an 80% chance or better of succeeding. But during this "crazy" period, he promoted people that he thought had less than 50-50 chances to succeed. More than half of these (white) promotions failed. His preference later was to promote "no one" and remain "understaffed." – Tom Au Jan 6 at 2:08
  • 1
    @Tom Au well, in times of crisis you do adapt and since he needed to promote people he decided to go 50/50. Quite obviously his opinion of the success rate seems fairly accurate (a testament to his judgement).I don't see a reason though to emphasize that it was a white group as his assessment would presumable be equally true for non-whites.It is a sound decision btw. to prefer being understaffed to having low quality staff in lead positions, which will hurt the company in the long run. – DigitalBlade969 Jan 6 at 2:23
  • 1
    The issue was that he promoted only "white" <50% candidates, or "gambles," that later failed, which indirectly protected non-whites. "I got mine" so I'm not complaining. – Tom Au Jan 6 at 3:33
  • @Tom Au I inderstand that was your issue but how do you KNOW that he did that on purpose / bias? How many people did he promote? A small amount for instance doesn't reflect racial bias.It very well could be that at the time the only candidates with at least a 50% chance of succeeding (remember, THAT was one of his criteria) happened to be white. It is very dangerous to right away assume racism by just looking at numbers and proportionalities.The world is much more organic than that and hiring or promotion is a multivariable process. – DigitalBlade969 Jan 6 at 8:34
  • 2
    @DigitalBlade969 This statement from the boss "white people fail all the time, but when a minority fails, people remember longer." is a clear indication of racial bias. – jcmack Jan 6 at 12:11

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.