Thursday, March 27, 2014

Epiphany #22: Casual Discrimination

If you think that discrimination is pretty much over with or being dealt with when it rears it dramatic, ugly head, think again.  Here's a little story for you:

There was a knocking at the front door of my house, and when I stood from the bed, I couldn't find my glasses.  The knocking continued.  I looked in the bathroom, on the ledge between the bookcases, in the laundry room. Still. No luck.  Still the knocking.  I don't know why I didn't just go upstairs, but I think it was because I didn't recognize the knock.  I went to all the locations again, and then stood at the foot of the bed in exasperation. I took one step and felt a crunch under my foot.

Which was, of course, the glasses.  One lense had popped out, one stem was off and the other bent, and the frame surrounding the missing lense was twisted, too.

In this case, who was at the door doesn't really matter.  It was my father bearing a gift, one that I accepted grudgingly because in my mind, had he not been knocking on the door my glasses wouldn't be broken.

I quickly announced that I had to leave, had to get to LensCrafters, because I couldn't go to New York the next day without glasses.  He agreed.  I thanked him. We parted, and I took the fuzzy drive to the mall.

The young woman in LensCrafters was helpful.  She said my only choice was to put the lenses into the exact same Brooks Brothers frames and she thought they had them.  After a fruitless search, she offered to call around to the other local stores to see if they might have the frames.  So we stood on opposite sides of the phone station as she waited for the person at each successive store to put the phone down and go look.

While we were waiting, a young man came in and said to the other young female associate, "I understand that you are hiring.  May I pick up an application?"

"Sure," she said and left to get one for him from the back.

I was mostly focused on waiting to hear if there were frames for me anywhere in this city, but I also watched her return and hand him an application, which he took, asked her a few questions I couldn't hear, and then said, "Thanks so much," and left.

Once he was gone, the woman waiting on me kept trying to make eye contact with the sales assistant who gave him the application.  She had a big smile on her face.  Then the male sales assistant came over to the register, too, and all three of them began talking about the applicant and laughing quietly.

The young man who had come in to apply was dressed relatively normally but had large piercings in his ears that protruded backwards as if he had golf tees sticking through his ears.

The woman who handed him the application told the others, "I put a squiggly line in ink on his application so we would know that it was him when we looked at them."

Clearly, he would not be getting the job.


troutking said...

All employers discriminate and they should---potential employees that set the tone they want to set and those that don't. If that is based upon factors that a person can help and might affect performance--weird hair, strange tattoos, excessive piercings, I don't have a problem with that. If it's based on things a person can't choose and don't affect performance--race, gender, sexual orientation, etc--then it's an issue. I agree with you that this seems a bit of a snap judgement but this guy might have thought about presenting himself a bit more professionally too. Seems to me, some discrimination is justified and some isn't.

Sorry about your glasses.

Robert Berman said...

I agree, Troutking. Discrimination can be just or unjust, wise or foolish. It took me many years to accept that the way I dressed and groomed myself mattered. When I was a prep student, I never had to grapple with this issue; the choice was made for me by the school's dress code. But then I went to college and turned into a T-shirt/running shorts/sandals slob.

It took marriage to clue me into the important social cues transmitted by wardrobe, hairstyle, etc. Beauty and the Beast, you know. The unfortunate thing about current slob trends is that they tend to be less easily undone than my own terrible sartorial choices were.

Bob said...

I could not disagree with the two of you more.

1. Who is to say what constitutes "excessive piercings"? For example, just comparing our school and our sister school, the difference in what piercings a male employee would be allowed to wear is completely different.

2. Similarly, there is no consistent geographical consistency in terms of what employees should look like or wear. It is very clear to me up here in NYC how different those standards are. So I don't know that someone seeking employment, depending on wear he or she is coming from culturally, let alone geographically, knows the official rules.

3. While I might agree that there may be some expectations for what one should look like at, say, an interview, or even when dropping of an application (in case there is an interview), the fact is that this guy was merely dropping in to get a piece of paper, coming from who knows where. And, even then, he was dressed just fine.

4. Finally, I will say with some pride, that this would not have happened where I am employed. I know because I'm part of the interview team. By your standards, the interviewee who shows up with inappropriate hair, excessive cleavage, or a marital status (living together) that does not fit the school's Christian values would all have been appropriately discriminated against and blackballed. In fact, they weren't. All were hired, with the understanding that they would have to make a change of one sort or another before they started work.

It is probably okay for an organization to enforce a "corporate code" after someone is hired, but certainly not before. Discrimination hurts an employer too, and doing what LensCrafters did means potentially missing out on a great employee. Earrings, by the way, are removable.

troutking said...

We aren't really disagreeing. I agreed with you that this was a snap judgement and perhaps not wise, given that he could have been a good employee. You seem to be agreeing that companies can enforce a corporate code of appearance/conduct etc. The only area of slight disagreement seems to be the culpability of the guy walking in. You have perceived the differences in appropriate dress between here and NYC. Why wouldn't you expect this guy to be able to do the same? You picked up right away that his appearance might have caused questioning. He should have been able to figure that out too.

Bob said...

Maybe for an interview; not to pick up an application. Plus, as you well know, the struggles of those outside the "ruling class" in this country for over one hundred years involve not knowing the "code" of those in power. Again, something that even happens at our school. We have no idea where this guy was coming from. Certainly he can shop the mall without comment. Who's to say he can't work there., too? You need to get past the ears. Ponder my cleavage or "living together" arguments instead. What is the consistent standard? There simply isn't one.

Billy said...

Bob - All due respect, but I'm pretty sure the dude with holes in his ears knows PRECISELY what the "code" of those in power is. In fact, I'm pretty sure those holes are his way of shoving two big middle fingers right into the face of that code. (Only to be fair, perhaps this is only proof that I don't know their code.)

And I regularly get the impression that I don't need to know the code if I can find me a few dozen spare million dollars sitting around. Or, put another way, rich people aren't crazy; they're eccentric. Or, put another way, when Dennis Rodman was rich, it didn't matter that he was a freak. But I still doubt he could've gotten a job at LensCrafters unless it was for a reality TV show.

G. B. Miller said...

Having been on both sides of the issue, so to speak, I think it really doesn't matter how a person looks while picking up an application. The issue becomes how does the person dress for an interview and if the person is hired, how does he/she fit their dress apparel within the company guidelines and yet still have the freedom to express their individuality?

I can tell you from personal experience from working in a child protection agency, that while there may be multiple dress codes involved depending on where you are (main office, regional office where you would have contact with clients, the court or a facility), people are very careful not to cross the line with work apparel that may be suitable for one area but not another.

Robert Berman said...

The definition of "excessive piercings" is just a societal norm, not an edict handed down by angels. There may well be cultures, either today or at some other point in time, where *not* having all those piercings is a sign that one is out of touch with the likely clientele of some particular store.

I agree that how one dresses at the interview is more important than how one dresses in picking up the application. That said, you only get one first impression, and appearance is a form of communication. All other things being equal, the business owner will hire the applicant who demonstrates his ability to deliver what the employer and the customer want.