Strong opinions, weakly held

More on disparate impact

Today I was thinking of disparate impact not in terms of employment law, but rather as something we’d be wise to look out for and avoid in a more general sense. In terms of employment law, disparate impact is any hiring condition that has the effect of discriminating against a protected minority without serving any essential business need, even if that discrimination is not intentional. (Disparate treatment describes intentional discrimination.)

Legal definitions aside, I’m fascinated with the idea of disparate impact. It has me wondering about it in a larger sense. For example, let’s say I manage a development team and we make most of our decisions during meetings where everyone argues their side and the person who makes the most compelling argument usually wins. Such a system privileges people who argue well in a group setting over people who may be more quiet. If decisions were discussed in email rather than in meetings, perhaps the best writer in the group would see things go their way more often.

In the future, I’m going to look out more for these types of disparate impact in organizations. What skills and personality types get an advantage even if they don’t provide any additional value to the business? Nobody is going to be busted by the EEOC for letting these kinds of situations arise, but they can make your company a bad place to work, and lower the quality of your decisions.

1 Comment

  1. good one. of course, it can be hard to be all meta about process and its effects when you’re also under task and deadline pressure to just Get Some Decisions Made. still, worth trying some of each kind of “conferencing” to see whether different leaders emerge or you get to see facets of folks you otherwise miss…

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