Is preferring to hire minorities discriminatory?

No, qualifications only


Yes, favour a little to offset bias


Yes, have quotas for underrepresented


I like turtles


84 votes · Closed

E.g. women or non-white people are underrepresented in tech. Should they be given preferential treatment during the hiring process?

This is a follow-up of (which I didn't post).

When preferential treatment is given, is it necessary counter-discrimination? Or not discrimination at all?

If you prefer underrepresented groups, is it for ethical reasons? Or are you getting an advantage by getting great workers that other companies don't hire for discriminatory reasons?

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Milica Maksimović's photo

Having set quotas won't change a thing if the people in a given organization are backwards thinking. They will hire minorities, but that doesn't mean that they will change their mindset. Working in a place where people silently disapprove of you because of your nationality, gender, sexuality, disability .... is also not healthy for that person.

I'm not sure what the best approach is, but simply being aware that minorities and women are having a much harder time than average people to reach top positions certainly helps. Some of the most hardworking people I've ever met belong to certain minorities. However, I'm not saying that companies should hire people who don't have the necessary skills for the job.

In my previous company, we helped Rails Girls to hold free workshops for women, and some people from the company volunteered as mentors. This type of positive reinforcement makes a lot of sense to me. Also, I think that governments should shield women from getting fired when they get pregnant - which is a trend from all over the world.

Also, here's an excellent post from a woman who has worked for quite a while in tech in which she describes what she has gone through. Basically, speaking up at work when someone belittles minorities can help more than you think. Some people find it hard to find the right words when someone attacks them for no reason. I know I do.

I've been in situations where people talked thrash about LGBTQ people in general, and I've never found it hard to stand up to them. However, it took me years to learn what exactly to say those situations, how to keep my voice down, and how to behave and keep the discussion civil. And that's hard when you feel attacked and offended.

Be an ally and keep in mind that minorities often suffer from impostor syndrome, which makes it difficult for them to express how good they are for a certain position. I've personally gone through that phase and know how hard it is to get out of that mindset.

So, instead of just interviewing people, give them a task and see what they can do and if they're the right fit for that position, don't base all of your judgment just off of an interview or whether you'd like to hang out with that person after work.

j's photo

I pick minorities for another reason ... they usually had to work harder to get where they are now.

I am not really pro quota in commercial fields. I would however, on a superficial-skill level prefer a minority. In the end I test them anyway and if they don't perform we need to find a way to improve their performance or part ways.

So no, I would not pick a person purely on an ethical level, I would not discriminate them either. Same goes for people with disabilities. People in our field already have to be smart and a minority has a whole different system to fight against as well .... they are probably determined and I like devs with focus.

Besides ... I often like their food gg and they know where to get the good stuff ...

Diego Bernal's photo

I pick minorities for another reason ... they usually had to work harder to get where they are now.

There are studies around this topic and it has come up in interviews with important people in the technology and business world.

Here is Scott Belsky on the Tim Ferriss podcast talking about hiring people who have faced adversity:

On the adversity front, super quickly, Tristan Walker, who is an entrepreneur who started Walker Brands and has built a real business, he talks about how he had a tough upbringing. And he feels like one of the things that he really carried from his upbringing was courage. And he feels like he wanted to make that a true value of their company. And I asked him, “Why is that – it sounds nice, but what does that really mean?” And he said, “Only with courage can you practice the same values consistently.”

Diego Bernal's photo

I finally remembered the other great source regarding this topic. The TED Radio Hour episode Hidden Potential talks about this. Specifically, Regina Hartley's bit on Why We Shouldn't Overlook The "Scrapper" With The Atypical Resume. The talk is only about 10 minutes long and definitely worth a listen if you are interested in this topic. The TED Radio Hour episode does run an hour, but is also a good listen.

From the transcript of Hartley's talk:

I'll leave you with one final, valuable insight. Companies that are committed to diversity and inclusive practices tend to support Scrappers and outperform their peers. According to DiversityInc, a study of their top 50 companies for diversity outperformed the S&P 500 by 25 percent.

Todd's photo

Any hiring based upon any non-skill or non-personality traits is clearly absurd. I don't understand why all of this has to be such a big deal... It's a very simple thing:

Hiring should be PRIMARILY based upon 2 things:

  1. Skill
  2. Personality (can this person get along with/work with the others?)


The race, gender, color, favorite cake, orientation, etc stuff should have absolutely no part in the decision. Let's think about this logically for a second:

According to Merriam-Webster, the b definition for "discrimination" is as follows:

the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually

One of the definitions for "discriminate" is as follows:

to make a distinction

Thus, by dictionary definition, ANY CATEGORICAL DISTINCTION based on any group is discriminatory. This means "Women only" is discrimination, this means "men only" is discrimination, this means "Chinese people only" is discrimination, this means "Everyone except Indian people" is discrimination, this means "15-20 year olds only" is discrimination, this means "people who have a master's degree" is discrimination... Discrimination is just categorically defining someone by a trait other than their individuality, by the definitions shown. And that's the case no matter if 5 million people say so or not; the dictionary says so.

It's not subjective; there's an actual factual definition of what discrimination is. The question is "how much discrimination is okay?" or "in what situations is allowing discrimination okay?" And that's a whole other ball game.

Discrimination occurs everywhere. What are the chances of me becoming a server at a Hooters restaurant? How about getting onto a women's dance team? How about becoming a cheerleader? How about being a hairstylist?

How about at the door of a nightclub where the bouncers are letting women in free and men they are charging $20? This kind of stuff happens everywhere all the time, at least here in the USA. I think the problem is much larger than people think. People pick and choose when they think discrimination is a problem but the reality is, nearly everyone discriminates in some form or another every day.

Josh Montgomery's photo

I agree with just about everything you say, this being my favorite statement of yours:

"should have absolutely no part in the decision"

YES, this is common sense! I love it!!!

However, A lot of people do not believe in that statement, and that's where the root of this discussion comes into play. Absolutely, your minority status SHOULD IN NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM impact your decision to hire someone. Realistically, that's not the case....

Sky's photo

Hiring should be always on the skill basis.

Not on minority, majority, women, disability political correctness crap.

Get things done. Business should be about profit, not charity.

Don't play hero of equality and inclusiveness. That is going to destroy more companies and the talent than anything.

Show +9 replies
Josh Montgomery's photo

We'll have to agree to disagree then, as I believe this is a HUMAN issue. Ask anybody what one of the few core values they expect from living within a society, and the majority will say they want the right to be happy and the right to be respected and treated fairly, equally. Unfortunately, humans are too dumb and egocentric to make that a reality.

I didnt mean "shitty company" in the sense it's a bad place to work, I wasn't trying to insult you. I should have said that if you're company hires ONLY on diversity, then that's a shitty practice. Still, be mad at management for that, not the people they hire.

As for your second point, it's not worth even arguing over. You're essentially saying that humans aren't predators because they live with one another....huh what? makes no sense to me, but then again, my "cooked up" theories are only based on facts after all......

Sky's photo

Yes. Let's agree to disagree then.

Mauricio Lazo's photo

To favor minorities in a discriminatory way will just be passing the discrimination to another group, then in the future that group will need again this favor, and then another group will need that favor and so on. In my opinion the most short term thing to do is to put as little personal information as necessary into the eyes of the person with the decision making process to counter discrimination.

Sky's photo

Exactly. It creates a never ending cycle. Skills (talent) should always be up top.

Gergely Polonkai's photo

I really like turtles. Have you played with LOGO before? Also, i tend to prefer people with better on the job abilities and team fitness. If there is a tie, i will most probably prefer the “minorities” be them black, women, queer, or whatever.

As an employer, the most important thing is to keep the business going and going well.


M has a good point that if you test enough, no two candidates will be equal. That’s true, but you can’t test forever. Here’s how i do it:

  1. test on-the-job abilities of candidates, and take the top few of them (i usually add tasks that’s outside of their comfort zone to check if they are eager to learn new things; that’s very important in this job)
  2. get them to know the team they will work with. The team has a lot to say in this, so get their opinion after the meeting. If a candidate doesn’t like the team, they will back off. If the team doesn’t like a candidate, they will tell, or they will be forced to work with them for a while
  3. if, and only if more candidates are still available at this point, then comes my personal preference
Mark's photo

But when are two candidates really equal? There's always a difference if you test enough...

Gergely Polonkai's photo

Good point, i just added an edit addressing this.

Dan W.'s photo

I'm 100% for strict quota enforcement. I'm a pessimist when it comes to our ability to self-govern without bias. People aren't going to change, so someone must force them to do the right thing. Top-down pragmatism is the way to go.

Brandon's photo

Depending on your location it could very well be illegal.

Mark's photo

Or your government could be doing the same :-)

Khaled Gomaa's photo

I like the option "favour a little" even though it doesn't mention how much is too much. IMHO, "a little" should be only a tiebreaker. If you have candidates of the same or very similar qualifications. Then I'd favour minorities. But for the most part, talent and attitude trump all.

The only quotas I'd try to have is at the start of the hiring funnel. So I'd give equal chances for all candidates but never a guarantee of equal representation of the hired.


Mark's photo

It was intended as "minorities with equal qualifications have a lower chance due to subconscious biasses, so give them a little advantage to offset that, making everyone come out equal in the end". But you can interpret it in other ways if you wish :)

Khaled Gomaa's photo

Maybe because I come from a minority I didn't feel that while hiring. But If we use it as a tiebreaker on bases of equal qualification then I do agree with that.

Greg Benner's photo

I think there should be a quota until work places fairly represent the population of any country. In South Africa they have the BEE Black Economic Empowerment, where basically make companies hire a certain amount of non-white people.

Kevin C.'s photo

Overall competence in

  • Understanding the problems at hand
  • The coding skills to solve them with the least amount of code that is also the most effective
  • The ability to work with other team members

are the only set of requirements that should matter in hiring people. I don't believe you can code your way out of your skin colors, gender and sexual preferences.

Hasen's photo

Hiring people based on their "identity" to fill quotas is plain stupid. Have a diverse work force by all means, but let it arise naturally. Don't try to fill quotas.

I'm a visible minority and I would absolutely hate to discover that I'm hired just to fill a minority quota.

Josh Montgomery's photo

That's not what this post is about, I think we all agree hiring a minority "just because" is not a good practice. It's when the minority is equally or even more skilled, and they automatically get passed over BECAUSE of the minority status.

I don't see how that is stupid...