Examining Casteism 2

A look at the causes and potential solutions to India’s new form of discrimination

Tier 1 insititute ki jai (Original tweet)

Systemic problems

  1. Illegibility of skill
  • Environment: Someone coasting in a performant team at Google can claim credit for a lot while someone busting their chops at a smaller company will have much lesser to show.
  • Culture: Company & team culture define the power equations, nature of information sharing, etc. which are material inputs that determine how you work, and thus make the nature of work differ. Amazon is run by business people while engineers dominate Google, the same job role at the two companies can feel entirely different.

Individual failings

Everyone involved in the hiring process — from the Hiring manager requesting headcount to the Executive approving it & the Recruiter sourcing candidates; is a human. Mind-blowing insight, I know. But this means individually and collectively, they have very predictable biases.

  • “Those exams are so tough! These IIT/IIM guys capable of anything!” Hello Halo effect.
  • A not-insignificant number of founders are from these top institutes. Guess who they will perceive as a culture fit, subtly indulging in in-group favouritism.
  • “Hey! We hired from IIM Bangalore this year!” is a nice way of saying that your company is successful. Hello economic signalling.
  • The tech industry had a phrase that went “No one gets fired for buying IBM” which meant translated to the fact you can cover your ass because you suggested the safest/industry standard option, even if if was overtly expensive or inappropriate. You can reframe that to “No one gets fired for hiring from IIT/IIM”.

Behold the hierarchy

A status hierarchy is a frequent emergent property of any collection of creatures. Whether it is the dominance hierarchy of the biological world or class in the socio-economic sphere. It doesn’t have to happen, it just frequently does. Where classes/labels don’t exist, competition for scarce resources ensures that they get invented and propagated.

Getting out of this

So now you’re thinking; Thanks man, that explains some of it. What should I do now?! Give up on my hopes and dreams?

Equal pay for equal work, would be nice? This is not an ad from ancient India, this is from 2014!
  • You can use AIs executing pre-programmed flows (like chat bots) as interviewers during video interviews and and phone screens. By eliminating the human, you can eliminate some of the bias.(See “Worlds first AI presenter”).
  • When scientists want to measure gender bias, they experiment by sending the exact same resume to multiple people but with names changed from a male ones to a female ones. Can’t we have similar systems that do that in regular life? Auto-hide colleges in resumes? Or at least don’t reveal by them by default?
  • Common interview processes, outside the firm, where interviewers can be trained professionals with bias training are another way (E.g. TripleByte)

In summation

Casteism 2 isn’t merely motivated gate-keeping, there are many factors that can lead to it’s emergence. At the systemic level, they are illegibility of skill, oversupply of bad talent & high risk of failure. At the individual level, it is a slew of cognitive biases. Alongside, there is a fundamental issue that scarcity triggers competition, which in turn leads to differentiation and signalling. There is no silver bullet. We’ll need to do everything from raising awareness, to putting in legislation and using less discriminatory processes. You might not be able to fully cure people of their preferences for certain labels, but you can make those labels less relevant and more mutable (see comic below).

How programmers change their “caste” | Source

Product Manager by day, Writer by night · Recovering Nihilist · ❤️ Books, Running, Humour, Philosophy, Elegance · dalanmendonca.com