Posts Tagged ‘discrimination’

Can restaurants discriminate when hiring staff?

Thursday, July 28th, 2016 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts


Whenever I dine at one of the many fine Thai restaurants in Leeds I am always struck by the fact that the staff are all Thai people. Why is this? How does a restaurant get away with this? Surely it is discrimination to exclude all other races?

My assumption was that they got round the legislation by insisting on language skills. If you run a Thai restaurant, all you need to do is specify applicants must speak Thai, and without saying anything about race you have filtered almost everyone else out. I’ll come back to this point later.

Economist Steven Levitt suggests that it probably isn’t that much of a problem. There are lots of different restaurants from lots of different cultures, and so the fact that you are less likely to get a job at one restaurant is fine because you are more likely to get a job at another. If anyone loses out it is the majority population (British people in the UK) which you could argue is also less of a problem because many restaurants are not themed and minorities generally need more protection than majorities.

He also suggests that restaurants may not be directly discriminating at all. In the fictional Swedish-themed restaurant he and Stephen Dubner discuss, he says you could advertise for staff in Swedish magazines, and write the job advert in Swedish. In the restaurant Dubner visits to do some interviews, they say they also hire extensively from friends and family of existing staff. Thus the restaurants are not refusing to hire white people, they just don’t apply.

Levitt also notes that customers prefer authentic staff. Which is probably true right. It’s nice to go to a Chinese restaurant and have Chinese people working there. The experience loses something when someone clearly British is serving you. This is silly when you think about it though. This is just your waiter; they’re not the chef. They’re almost like dressing for the restaurant. And even if the chef was Chinese too, that doesn’t mean they are automatically a better Chinese food cook.

Dubner also gives the example of airline hostesses. Back in the day, airlines would specifically hire attractive, unmarried stewardesses, and after they married they were expected to give it up. This proved popular with their business clientele (middle-aged businessmen) but the court ruled against it saying part of fighting discrimination was challenging these ideas of preference. Just because we’re all a little bit wired to prefer authentic staff, doesn’t mean we should promote that as an acceptable social value.

Not to mention these groups are often lumped together: Mexican restaurants are often staffed with Spanish and Portuguese waiters, Indian restaurants are often staffed by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and Thai restaurants are often staffed by Vietnamese people.

Language could be a genuine reason. In a Latin restaurant that Dubner interviews, they say the orders are called out in Spanish in the kitchen, so you can make a case for requiring that. However, when speaking to an equality lawyer, they talked about a restaurant chain that was successfully sued because the plaintiff argued language requirements were just being used as a proxy for discrimination.

In summary, the answer is no. Restaurants cannot, and should not, discriminate to get authentic staff. However a combination of indirect discrimination and language requirements may allow restaurants to primarily hire such staff without any direct discrimination.

Is privilege profitable?

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Why do people maintain their bigoted beliefs even when it works against their own immediate interests? Bakers and hotel owners not selling to gay people or atheists for example.

In a recent blog post entitled “Why Are People Bigoted, Even When It Costs Them Money?” Greta Christina proposes that people act this way because it is of overall benefit to maintain their white/straight/male privilege than it is to reap the immediate benefit.

According to the theory, maintaining privilege is profitable, even when factoring in the short-term loses.

Unfortunately, I believe the blog post is short on both evidence or further explanation.

Presumably, a secret cabal designed to maintain each privilege is not being suggested. Especially as she herself would presumably be included in the while cabal, but not the male cabal, and therefore be able to see both sides of the situation. If that is not the case though, it is difficult to explain why such a system does not fall foul of the tragedy of the commons.

More importantly, though, there is a lack of evidence for the hypothesis while far simpler explanations can easily fill the gap. Occam’s razor must come slicing in.

Firstly, there is an assumption that people do things for rational reasons. We know that people don’t. Arguably, people never do.

Why won’t a baker sell a wedding cake to a gay people? Because he irrationally believes that there is a giant man in the sky who hates gay people.

When it comes to perpetuating male privilege, perhaps it is because we subconsciously favour people similar to ourselves, as Steven Pinker and Noreena Hurtz both point out. In the hunter-gather tribe environment that our brains evolved in, it probably did pay to be a racist. Even if things have changed, and I think they have, evolution has not had time to catch up.

That is not to say that these things are good things of course. That would be the naturalistic fallacy. But if we want to address issues such as gender discrimination in academia, we need to be able to tackle the root cause of the issue and for that we need evidence-based solutions.

Digging to the roots

Thursday, August 30th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

I think sometimes, we forget what the problem with a diversity imbalance is.

Take the example of students studying psychology. As of 2005, men made up 28% of students starting or continuing a degree; women made up the remaining 72%. On the face of it, this is an inequality issue. Why is it that men aren’t studying psychology? Are we being discriminated against, victims of stereotype threat, perhaps?

But it might simply be naive to assume that it is because of discrimination. Maybe it is an entirely benign reason behind the gender gap. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, maybe it’s just that men are less interested in psychology than women.

In that case, there would actually be no inequality issue – after all, inequality is about providing everyone with equal opportunities, not about forcing everyone to be the same. Suggesting that there is a problem, merely because the diversity of a particular field doesn’t exactly match the diversity of society, needs a dose of our old friend “correlation doesn’t apply causation” – and how many times have we each had to stress that to a religious person?

The reason that we often consider these issues a problem is that a lack of diversity in a particular field is usually indicative of a problem – such as discrimination- that needs to be dealt with it. But it’s important to remember that a lack of diversity isn’t inherently an inequality issue.

Car insurance for young drivers

Saturday, May 26th, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Recently, there has been news coverage regarding the cost of car insurance for young drivers.

Everyone is asking how we can bring down the price for young drivers. Nobody seems to be asking whether the price is legitimately high because that is just how much it costs, but lets ignore that obvious question and assume that the prohibitive costs for young drivers are an issue that needs to be addressed.

If so, one easy way to bring down the cost for young drivers would be to ban insurance companies from discriminating based on age.

What way, everyone would pay the same regardless of how old they were. Of course, insurance companies would still be free to charge people higher premiums based on their driving history – if you’ve had an accident you pay more, if you have no claims you pay less. But it stops the companies charging people more just because of their age alone.

You can argue that it makes sense to make young drivers pay more because they are more likely to have an accident, but this is not a fair system. Why? Because it is entirely unfair to the young drivers who do drive safely. Why should they pay more for other people’s reckless behaviour?

This is almost the same situation as it was with insurance companies discriminating based on gender, and this has now been recognised by the EU and will be illegal from the end of this year. You can’t charge someone more for car insurance because of an arbitrary characteristic, such as gender or race.

People get angry when they think about young drivers costing them more money on their insurance premiums. But this isn’t the case! Young drivers don’t cost you any more money. Only reckless drivers do. A young driver who never crashes and doesn’t claim on their insurance doesn’t cause your premiums to go up. Whereas a 50-year-old who does crash, does cause your premium to go up. To blanket blame an entire demographic because of the actions of a minority is both ludicrous and morally wrong.

The one argument I think might carry some weight is the argument that it is fair to charge young drivers more because we’re all young at one point and then we all get old, so everyone gets the same fair deal in the end. However, I’m not sold on this being a better solution than banning age discrimination altogether, in which everyone gets the same fair deal, all the time.

Car insurance discrimination

Sunday, October 9th, 2011 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Currently, car insurance providers offer cheaper premiums to women than they do to men. Purely because of your gender.

That’s discrimination, it’s immoral and thanks to a ruling by the European Court of Justice, it will be illegal from the end of next year. Yet most, if not all, still seem to carry on with the practice.

Having discussed the problem at work today, we decided to put it to the test on a price compassion site. Here were the results. The bottom quote I used the name Mr Chris Worfolk, whereas in the one above, I used the name Miss Chris Worfolk.

As you can see, there is a £60 difference. For Jason, the difference was far bigger – over one hundred pounds, just because of his gender.

Interestingly, just after I had generated the second quote, I received a call from Hastings Direct asking me if they could fill in some further details to complete my quote. I politely explained to the woman that I only generated the quote to prove they immorally, and soon to be illegally discriminate based on gender.

Now, you can argue that males should pay more for their car insurance because they cause more expensive accidents and so it is statically justified.

But, you would be wrong. This is exactly what discrimination law is designed to deal with. After all, just because a small minority of males do drive like boy racers have have some pretty big accidents, doesn’t mean that one individual, such as myself, is any more of a high risk than a female driver – so why should I be punished?

It’s easier to see how wrong it is, when you look at other factors you could discriminate on. Lets use the classic example – you wouldn’t charge someone more for their car insurance because of the colour of their skin, even though we have the same as to what skin colour we are born with as we do over what gender we are born into – none.

You could argue that there won’t be a statistical difference between sin colour, but again this doesn’t hold up because you could look at an area where there is a statistical difference – crime for example.

Non-white minorities are more likely to be convicted of a crime. There are a number of reasons for this, most notably that these minorities tend to be in lower social brackets and lower social brackets produce more crime, so even though for those social brackets minorities have a similar conviction rate to majorities, overall they have a higher conviction rate – but the one thing I think we can all agree on, it isn’t because they are black.

But if you go purely on statistics for an entire group alone, as car insurance companies do, we should be more suspicious of black people in the UK and police should stop and search them more.

We don’t do this, because it would be utterly wrong.

We treat people like individuals and don’t hold them accountable for what people who share arbitrary characteristics with them such as skin colour, ethnic origin, sexual preference or (usually) gender. Because to do so would be wrong. Including if you’re selling car insurance.

Atheist Society at large

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008 | Humanism

Liz isn’t drunk!

She wanted to stress this quite a lot last night.

Nicola however was far more open about her level of intoxication.

But let’s rewind for a second. The evening started with the usual commitee meeting to which Kate didn’t turn up to (because apparently she had bailed on London but was too scared to tell me or Norm face to face) nor die Rosie who apparently is putting her degree ahead of A-Soc (but not ahead of the pub, /judge),

The meeting went well given that Norm forgot his talk and indeed all of the A-Soc stuff, it was rather well attended which was good to see which both together was a bit of a shame as the topic really has a lot of potential especially given recent events. Still there was some good discussions, especially at the pub afterwards so all is good.

The talk was on discrimination against atheists which as we found out when we got into discussions is very wide spread in society which is already fairly evidence despite the fact that we actually make up the majority.

Becky bailed on the pub which was disappointing but both Brett and Nicola arrived, killing any rumour that they had eloped to Mexico together but we can’t rule out the plan being put in place for a later date. I left shortly before midnight with a few hard core A-Soc’ers still hanging on. As ever these days, a rather good night.