One of my best friend is a senior software developer and she was asked by her boss to ask easier technical interview questions (e.g. avoid recursion based problems) when interviewing women, black or LGBT people and other minorities in order to increase the chances of getting the job and promote diversity in workplace.

Is this a common approach and, more important, is it legal to ask something like that? Have you ever seen this kind of behaviour in your workplace?

EDIT: My friend lives in Santa Monica, USA

  • 15
    Seems illegal to me.
    – sh5164
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 9:13
  • 27
    That sounds very offensive. And also: how would they know they're interviewing LGBT people?
    – Julius
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 9:15
  • 24
    As a gay man, I think it is a bit insulting to think that gay people require a technical test to be less challenging
    – Ed Heal
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 10:59
  • 19
    Well, at least from the employer's rather chauvinist request to the dev it's pretty clear why they have a problem with diversity there ;-) Commented May 31, 2017 at 11:04
  • 4
    Everyone knows that Grace Hopper would never have gotten where she did without changing the tests and such.<sarcasm /> And for those who don't know, that's DOCTOR and ADMIRAL Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer science. Look her up.
    – Chris E
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 12:57

9 Answers 9


Diversity in the workplace is always a good thing. But this approach is not the best way to go about it.

Your friend is making an assumption that the candidates definitely won't be able to answer the questions based purely on their ehnicity/sexuality. This is clearly bogus.

Ask the same questions to all candidates. The candidate has to be good enough technically to do the job first of all. After that, personality/diversity/wage demands etc can all be considered in picking the candidate best suited for the company.

In practice, it's clear that there is a lack of diversity in certain industries. Women in software development for example. My answer states that all candidates should be technically good enough and then it's up to the employer to choose the best.

It's important that any candidate has a minimum level of technical ability for the job. Hiring someone who clearly isn't good enough for diversity reasons will have a negative effect amongst the workforce.

Gender and racial inequality still exist sadly(Look at Uber's recent issues). If a company has identified that in the past it has not necessarily adhered to the above and wants to make changes to provide equality, then that is a good thing. I agree "positive discrimination" is not good in itself. I have said that every candidate goes through the same process then a decision should be made.

Everyone should take the same test, as that's fair to all candidates. If the employer is willing to accept a lower score for other reasons, that's up to them. The test is there to serve a valuable purpose to ensure that all candidates are likely to be able to do the job. Hiring someone who can't do the job won't do the company or the employee any good. If you hire someone who is clearly out of their depth, they may leave, or resentment among colleagues would rise and outweigh the positives of diversity imo.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. I edited in most of your responses, however I'm not 100% sure the flow works as well as it may have been intended so it may be worth clarifying with an edit.
    – enderland
    Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 14:33

There is a real thing that can lead to lower diversity. It goes something like this: people who took CS at a university, and who did unpaid (eg open source) work while doing so, make great developers. Yay! Let's make sure everyone we interview did that.

Sometimes these companies come to realize that there are great developers who didn't take CS at university, and also great developers who did, but had a job while they did so (or small children) and therefore no time for open source. They rethink their interview process, which is excluding these people for no good reason. They decide to stop asking everyone to reverse a string in place in C or how to get the people across the bridge with the flashlights or why manhole covers are round, because they have come to realize that while some great developers get these right, not all do, and asking them is reducing the pool of developers they can hire from.

Changing the questions you ask everyone so that they actually test for what you need is a great idea. Asking "easy" questions of the "under-represented" group suggests such people aren't as good but will be hired anyway. This is so awful for everyone. Don't do it.

If you have reason to believe that women, nonstraight people, noncis people, those with physical disabilities etc bring a little something extra to your workplace, so that you would hire them even if they were technically less excellent (setting aside the issue of whether or not your current interview process measures technical excellence with any accuracy) then the right thing to do is articulate what that something extra is (empathy, multitasking, resilience and personal strength, intuition, whatever) and ask everyone questions designed to reveal that, and take the answers into account in your deciding. You may find that your totally-doesn't-appear-diverse on the resume and by physical appearance candidate was raised by two mums or has a brother in a wheelchair or grew up very poor or is an immigrant or in some other way is in this pool of different-strengthed people (or just plain is empathetic, strong, multitasking and intuitive despite a background that wouldn't imply it) and be able to point out that even though this candidate doesn't tick bureaucratic "we have black/gay/female people here" boxes, this candidate brings those strengths. And of course, if your presumption about what diverse people will bring you is true, all kinds of "diverse" candidates will do great on this section of the interview, telling you stories of leadership, perseverance, emotional heroism or whatever, and you will have a powerful and strong real reason to hire this person beyond the box-ticking.

  • @JoeStrazzere I agree and I think you could even make a case that non-relevant questions are illegally discriminatory in the US: "If an employer requires job applicants to take a test, the test must be necessary and related to the job..."
    – JimmyJames
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 14:15
  • At one level, I agree with this and have upvoted it. From a purely selfish point of view, if I were looking for a job I would want to be asked to demonstrate use of recursion, or how to reverse a string in place etc. I am not a great people person, I went to a good high school and university, with no need for jobs until after I graduated. On the other hand, I've loved puzzles as long as I can remember, and understood recursion, from studying lambda calculus, before becoming a programmer. Which all goes to show the folly of assuming women are a homogeneous group. Commented May 31, 2017 at 14:37
  • 2
    absolutely, and if reversing a string in place is relevant to the job, it should be asked. But if the job is HTML and CSS and interacting with users, should it be asked? But one hundred percent ask everyone the same questions Commented May 31, 2017 at 15:03
  • @JoeStrazzere I am also not a lawyer but I studied this topic as part of an advanced degree. I can assure you that 'tests' that ask irrelevant questions can run you afoul of the EEOC. These are settled law. It's actually the case that even relevant tests can get you into trouble. Here's a reference. This is why many employers do not allow written tests of any kind in hiring processes.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 16:58
  • @JoeStrazzere When you respond with "no" it gives the impression that you are contradicting what I wrote initially. Perhaps you thought I was asking you a question?
    – JimmyJames
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 17:28

Even if it is not technically illegal, it would be unwise to make a technical interview easier for candidates of certain minorities. I have never known the sort of approach you have described.

First of all, it should not be the business of the company what sexual persuasions the candidate has. This is a question that is commonly avoided in interviews. Also, if you have not met the person before the interview, it would probably be considered inappropriate to ask what ethnicity they are. It would be appropriate to ask if the candidate is a local citizen or not for possible visa purposes (as an example), but that is as far as it should go.

Second, if this information got out, how do you think the colleagues would feel, realising they got a more complicated technical test just because (for example) they are white, male and/or straight? The whole point of the technical test is to judge how effective someone's technical skills are, but that can only be done against a consistent benchmark. If all your candidates are being interviewed for the same role, they should usually be given the same test.

TLDR; tell your best friend this is a bad idea.


If I were you're friend, I'd ask the boss why he thinks that black, LGBT, and other minorities are not smart enough to do the job.

Lowering standards for some candidates is a bad idea from just about every angle.

  • Existing staff is not going to appreciate carrying dead weight, and that is EXACTLY what lowering the standards will create.
  • It sets up the new hire for failure. If the standards are lowered for HIRING, but not performance, the person WILL fail.
  • Liability. This practically BEGS for a lawsuit.
  • Tanking morale. There will be conflict, and if this policy is instituted, existing staff will assume that the person hired is less competent even if this person is actually qualified.

Now, if I were one of your friends competitors, I'd advise them to do it, as I'd quickly snap up the market share that will certainly be lost.


I see many answers/comments stating that the employer assumes that LGBT/Black/Insert any other minority needs easier questions to pass the interview, and that this is insulting. This premise is wrong.

What is happening is that the employer wants to hire more diverse people, and since proportionally a lot less 'diverse/minority' folk is soliciting he wants to give them easier questions just to have relatively more people from that category pass the test, in order to get his diversity-barometer up.

What this is, is discrimination. Apparently this company discriminates the common folk. Being 'special/diverse/LGBT/coloured/whatever' scores you bonus points, just because that is what you are. Playing the devils advocate: This could be seen as racism against the common, white, hetero, well-educated man.

  • 1
    I take issue with the assumption this answer seems to make - namely, that developers are normatively straight white males (the "common folk"), and developers that aren't straight white males are somehow "abnormal," rather than simply underrepresented.
    – jbh
    Commented May 31, 2017 at 14:33
  • @jbh: I'm not saying 'abnormal'. I'm saying 'diverse' and 'minorities' just as the original poster is saying. This post and myself included are not aiming to offend, but I am aiming to state that this overcorrection-measure is political correctness gone mad, and is in itself a new form of discrimination. In my native tongue 'common or normal' in this context just means the 'statistically most likely case'. It in no way indicates that other cases are 'lesser'.
    – Jeremy
    Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 7:31

First of all, it may be illegal in your country. But let's assume it's not.

Even if that may help having more diversity, as these minorities will have more chances to be hired, if the other employees get to know how you proceed and that their colleagues are not the best fit for their team but that they were hired because of their differences, they may react very bad. To the managers and to those employees, killing tolerance at work.

And even for these minorities that fight to be seen as normal people, being given special "easier" interviews seems like they can't pass a regular interview or that they are considered less effective than the others in this company.

So even if that's legal, your employees, minorities or not, won't appreciate it.


No, it is an absurd. Someone has completely misunderstood the concept of diversity.

Diversity means that you have in worspace people with various background, way of thinking, way of solving problems etc. Such diversity is a value added, because it promotes creativity and solving old problems in new ways.

Lowering the requirements will also increase diversity in that way, that you will have people that are qualified and that are unqualified to do the job in the same workspace. This will bring you nothing good.

Imagine you have a spedition company and your boss decide that one of 10 truck drivers should have no driving licence because it reflects the diversity in the society, where about 10% population has ho driving licence (numbers just exemplary). How would you find such an idea?


Many above have already answered with fine workarounds to this problem but I did want to make sure that everyone in this thread are clear on one thing: the policy as described above is absolutely, unequivocally illegal in the United States.

Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws as managed by the EEOC very clearly forbids employment policies from using gender, race, age and religion to determine candidate suitability (no matter how those hiring practices may be implemented). Employers can certainly dance around the legal guidelines to encourage the kind of diversity layout that they desire but any policy which explicitly treats a group of individuals differently than others would be in violation of these laws (and would most certainly open the employer to serious risk of litigation).

There have been a few high profile cases around this topic over the years. Most notably, the University of Texas's recruitment practices came under fire in 2013 and 2016 for similar practices as above. Ultimately the United States Supreme Court sided with the University by the narrowest of margins (4-3) but the briefs essentially factor this "win" by a technicality and not solely based on the merits of the policy. Your friend's recruitment policy by comparison is much more ham-handed and would not hold under the same scrutiny.

TL;DR: This policy is in violation of US Federal law and enforcing it puts your friend and the company at serious risk.


The topic is very upsetting. No one shall lower barriers when interviewing.

Diversity is a good thing for two reasons: first, it helps company's marketing image, and second it allows people with different mind setup to cooperate and do better work together. I would be happy myself to hire a foreigner as coworker, or just a person of the gender opposite to the company's majority to get a different view of things. For an LGBT example, I would be really happy to hire a male homosexual as director's assistant (most are commonly women).

In software devleopment, I don't personally think that differences in race and sexual orientation helps productivity. But that's my opinion. And maybe I am spending too much time on this topic.

Definitely, your friend's boss is looking for a "diverse" candidate to improve the company's public image. That's normally a good thing, except when...

  1. The boss thinks, without evidence, that diverse people are underqualified. This is the most outrageous possibility.
  2. The boss found, after interviewing plenties of diverse candidates (law of huge numbers), that those people were less qualified on an average. Being more "non-diverse" people than "diverse" in the market of candidates, and maybe also due to geo-societary factors, that could be true. It is a fact, dictated by numbers, that people of "different" race have minor probability of having achieved university or post-university grade. So that means that if you want to hire a hispanic, for example, he/she has more difficulties to compete with a white. It's a matter of numbers.

But IMO your friend's boss is simply trying to achieve a goal that is noble in its broader sense, but pursued the wrong way. I.e. the boss is actually trying to lower the mean qualification of his employees.

Or there could be worse. Is the boss looking to lower salaries with the excuse of a "diverse-friendly" work environment? It is a (sad) fact that women earn 79 cents on every dollar earned by men, the same could be applied to race differences or, worse, to sexual orientation differences.

A "diverse-friendly" workplace is a workplace that treats everyone equal, not one that highlights differences. If you have the same opportunity to be promoted or fired than your black deskmate, you are in a "race-friendly" environment

  • The 79 cent myth has been debunked repeatedly. It does not factor in hours worked, overtime, years in the position, the TYPE of position, career choice, or even if the person is working or not. The stay-at-home mom, who is not working outside of the house, is factored in when making those calculations. This is THE classic case of lying through statistics. Commented May 31, 2017 at 15:26
  • I feel relieved but I'd better remark that in some societies where gender equality is already on paper, women are still weaker than men in equivalent position Commented May 31, 2017 at 15:35
  • It's an interesting study. There actually seems to be an inverse ratio between equality of opportunity, and distribution of the genders in the workforce. In other words, in societies where the standard of living is high enough to maintain a living income throughout a wide range of occupations, men and women tend to choose different fields more often, where there is less freedom, the distribution is more even. Commented May 31, 2017 at 17:24

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