Flat White

Blind to gender – and the facts

14 July 2017

7:40 AM

14 July 2017

7:40 AM

What more evidence do we need that ‘the patriarchy’ is a myth, than the recent findings of the government’s very own ‘nudge unit’? In direct contrast to the expected findings of the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian Government, or BETA for short, having a male name on your job application form means you are 3.2 per cent less likely to get an interview.

The purpose of the government-funded study was to assess whether women and minorities are discriminated against in the early stages of applying for top-level executive positions with the Australian Public Service. The method was to hide the names and any other information that would reveal their sex and ethnicity from the initial applications, so-called ‘blind recruitment’. The underlying assumption is that this would increase the numbers of women and minorities getting to the interview stage.

Unhappily for the BETA nudgers, early results indicated that the opposite was true. Applications from female applicants resulted in a 2.9 per cent increased chance of receiving an interview. Furthermore, it was found that applicants were shortlisted more overall when their names suggested they were indigenous or from a minority group. From the report: “APS staff working in human resources roles apply strong affirmative action in favour of both females and minorities: they were nine per cent more likely to shortlist females and 41.4 per cent more likely to shortlist female minorities.”

Not only that, males and APS staff over 40 were more likely to be the ones shortlisting females and minorities at a higher rate. Talking about undermining progressive talking points; older men displaying a tendency to favour women and minorities for top jobs in the APS!  This result was so shocking that the study was immediately ‘paused’ along with the warning that ‘blind recruitment’ methods will ‘frustrate’ efforts aimed at promoting diversity.

BETA dubbed their study ‘Going to blind to see more clearly’, and luckily we can now see very clearly indeed. When it comes to workplace discrimination, in the APS at least, women and minorities have the advantage. In their efforts to correct a non-existent bias, a real bias has been revealed: one that favours women, the indigenous and ethnic minorities for executive roles in the public service, in the form of a ‘subtle affirmative action.’

But what will BETA do with this new information? Perhaps they will examine their own unconscious bias that has led to them hold the erroneous belief that women and minorities are discriminated against in the interview process, now that the facts reveal the opposite is true? Maybe they will turn their attention to correcting the bias towards female applicants for the top job, and nudge interviewers away from their pro-female and pro-minority biases?


This is unlikely given the purpose of the study wasn’t to remove bias per se, but to ‘promote diversity’. It’s not equality of opportunity the behavioural economists are seeking to attain, but equality of outcome: gender and ethnicity quotas are more important to them than getting the best, most qualified people for the job. By trying to overtly manipulate behaviour and expose anti-women and anti-minority bias in the workplace, they have revealed that there is no longer any need to give women and other minorities a special hand up. Unconscious ‘affirmative action’ is already in play.

The idea that women are still hampered by systemic oppression and glass ceilings has lately had another airing when it was revealed that 13 companies listed on the ASX 200 don’t have any women directors. Never mind that 187 of them do, or that women now make up for 25.4 per cent of ASX directorships, up from 8.3 per cent in 2009.

The ‘target’ is for 30 per cent board representation by 2018, and to achieve this target 70 male directors must be replaced with 70 female directors. How arbitrary. Is there any evidence that this measure will improve anybody’s life? Are the 70 male directors who must somehow be given the boot, less worthy than their female counterparts?

It’s likely that these 70 male directors, set to lose their jobs by 2018, are supporting households that most probably include women. Apparently, it’s not enough that women can access directorships, or be voted in as members of parliament, or serve as Prime Ministers and Governors General. In the utopia of the progressive nudgers, strict quotas must be met no matter the consequences.

John Howard was recently in hot water for stating the obvious when he said that one of the reasons women are outnumbered in politics isn’t due to system oppression, but rather their natural inclinations. He believes that a 50/50 quota in politics doesn’t make sense if you factor in the truth, which is that women carry out the bulk of caring roles and the bringing up of children. The result is that fewer women are inclined to pursue political careers, not that women are systematically prevented from doing so.

It’s easy to focus on disparities in the boardroom or in parliament as evidence of patriarchal oppression, but what about other traditionally male-dominated workplaces?  Garbage collection is a male dominated field but you never hear women campaigning for equal representation on the rubbish bin collection route. If we are to accept gender quotas for the choicest positions, then consistency dictates that they apply across the board.

It surprises me that women are happy to accept gender quotas for top jobs. Surely it takes something away from the sense of satisfaction in attaining a directorship or seat in parliament if you know that your appointment is based on your gender. Instead of being the best person for the job, you’re the best woman. Not quite the same thing.

What is truly wrong about the failed machinations of the BETA nudgers is that their study was paused, despite the fact that it removed interviewer bias and promoted the best person for the job. Government departments ought to be working for us the taxpayer, and not putting contentious progressive ideology ahead of efficiency. As taxpayers, that is what we are owed.

Nicola Wright is a writer for LibertyWorks.   

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