Oh, to be a white man…

When you’re trying to break into a new industry, getting past the resume-screeners is vital. Without relevant education or experience, your best bet is to impress the pants off your interviewer – but you can’t charm an employer if you can’t even get to the meeting stage.

Someone I know I was recently job hunting in a new field, and true enough, the key to getting in was getting the in-person meeting. Phone calls led to a face-to-face; I don’t think a resume was ever involved. They clicked, the company culture turned out to be one where he felt right at home, and a contract was signed.

The culture, from what I hear, is pretty textbook ‘old boys’ club’. So when he relayed an anecdote recently about accidentally overhearing one manager being dismissive of an interviewee based on ethnicity, I wasn’t surprised. Even if that was meant jokingly (let it be noted that there are a lot of minorities employed there) I think it’s still quite telling.

Last summer I churned out a ton of content for a client, an HR blog that was about to launch. There were posts about recruiting, posts about job hunting, posts about interviewing, posts about negotiation, posts about career progression … SO many posts. And I would say at least a third referenced Zappos at some point – Zappos of the mythical corporate culture, held up as a shining example of the need for culture fit. Zappos, which offers new hires a cash payout to quit if they don’t feel it’s working out.

While I absolutely think cultural fit is vital to a harmonious workplace, diversity on staff is also crucial to any progressive and innovative company. There has got to be some kind of balance struck there.

Coming back to the situation at hand: I am glad my acquaintance got that job, though he’s now moved on.  I don’t doubt that he deserved it. (He’s not the only staffer who was hired with no experience; several others also got their start there the same way.)

I don’t blame him – at least in this instance – for the privilege he enjoys as a white male (particularly as he hails from the lower class and hasn’t had much else come easily to him in life).

But I’d hate to think that someone might be dismissed out of hand for no good reason – whether for this role, or other identical roles to be filled, in the past, in the future.

The system is what it is. As Don Cheadle’s character on House of Lies, Marty Kaan, advises a young black consultant: “We’re here to open wallets, not minds.”  But as to whether staying and playing along makes you complicit …

Have you been privy to prejudice of any sort in the workplace? Ever leveraged your own privilege, or benefited from it somehow?

19 thoughts on “Oh, to be a white man…

  • Reply Tonya@Budget and the Beach February 19, 2014 at 09:49

    Yes, when I worked at major automotive company (the world headquarters) it was an old boys club too. Stuff that was said back then would not be tolerated in this day and age without a major lawsuit.

  • Reply Fig @ Figuring Money Out February 19, 2014 at 10:28

    I’ve seen things like that happen too frequently even today. There are so many companies around here that are all white and refuse to hire other races (though they keep it going in a way that they never get sued) and sometimes not even women.

  • Reply save. spend. splurge. February 19, 2014 at 11:28

    Sometimes being a woman helps because you stand out or you get the job over a guy because women are so rare in the industry (investment banking comes to mind).

    Other times, it doesn’t really do you any good (STEM professions) especially if you work with people who think that women just aren’t as smart as men (women themselves, think this as well).

    Bias appears everywhere in HR hiring practices even if they try their best not to be biased. Not much you can do except work as hard as you can and to prove them wrong once you get the job.

  • Reply krantcents February 19, 2014 at 13:09

    Many years ago, I was consulting for a nonprofit which was mainly consisted of women. I experienced prejudice because I was one of two males in an organization of 50-75 women. Whenever there is a majority vs. a minority , there will always be a problem. As a former employer and executive, I always wanted a diverse workplace because it brought a variety of ideas. I think it is true in the workplace and education.

  • Reply Dear Debt February 19, 2014 at 16:52

    I’ve definitely experienced some privileges because I’m white. I’m sure of it, even though I’m positive people wouldn’t call it that. I’ve also overheard blanket statements about some ethnicities, or jokes that aren’t funny of a racial nature. I hate it, and some people are still so ignorant.

  • Reply Kim@Eyesonthedollar February 20, 2014 at 07:11

    I don’t think that I’ve ever gotten or not gotten employment because of my race or gender, but I think it makes a huge difference in many instances. The clinic I work at once a week is a part of the Indian Health Services. With any IHS establishment, all positions are Indian preference (not very PC, but that’s literally what is advertised in job postings). If any Native American applies and has the proper qualifications, they are hired first over any other race.

    The interesting thing is that most of the top positions; doctors, pharmacists, clinic director, are all white. There are a couple of Native American doctors and few nurses but that’s it. There just aren’t that many people from that race who pursue higher level degrees. There is even a huge disparity between different tribes. Navajos have a much better work reputation and hold most of the office type jobs. Utes are usually viewed as unreliable, and they hold positions like janitorial staff. I don’t necessarily think this system is correct. I would not want to be given a job because of my race, but maybe I’d feel differently if I came from an oppressed culture? The thing that makes me the most sad is that there are good job opportunities and free tuition available to Native Americans, but so few take advantage. That whole poverty cycle is terribly hard to break.

  • Reply Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter February 20, 2014 at 16:25

    I’ve experienced both gender and race prejudice. I think everybody can relate, even white men. It’s so unfortunate, because there is so much power in having diverse teams.

  • Reply Holly@ClubThrifty February 21, 2014 at 03:19

    I haven’t been the victim of any discrimination myself but it certainly does go on. I’ve worked places where awful things have been said behind closed doors. It’s sad.

  • Reply jefferson February 21, 2014 at 03:39

    I think it’s a bit odd that many job applications even have that “Race” field at all (and they still do).. Are they trying to meet their diversity goals? Does it effect my consideration at all based on how I answer that question? If not, then why is it even there…

  • Reply Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life February 21, 2014 at 04:59

    The way you look in theatre is everything. So many times I actually wish I wasn’t white just because the market is already so oversaturated with 20 something year old white women.

  • Reply Ryan @ Impersonal Finance February 21, 2014 at 07:03

    I understand that I’m privileged based on my gender and race, but I do think progress is being made. Or at least I hope that’s what I’m seeing. However, being in the South, old boys clubs are definitely prevalent here. It’s not always skin color and gender, but what I see plenty of is state allegiance. Southerners love other southerners, and aren’t so trusting of “Yankees.”

  • Reply KK @ Student Debt Survivor February 22, 2014 at 05:13

    I’m not sure that I’ve personally ever been discriminated against (maybe age?). As a social worker I’ve actually seen some reverse discrimination. I remember an associate director telling another hiring manager that she needs to hire someone “with some ethnicity” because “we’re looking too white around here.” The person who was hired was wonderful and did a great job so it didn’t really matter to me. But I remember several other co-workers being annoyed that it was said that way.

  • Reply Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans February 24, 2014 at 05:46

    As a black woman, I’ve been subjected to prejudice, but fortunately, I don’t think it’s happened in the workplace (thankfully). Fortunately, I’ve had the chance to work for some pretty big corporations that seem to truly value diversity in that the employees are diverse, but there’s also diversity throughout the ranks of upper management. I think that’s what’s really telling – how many VPs, Directors, etc. are NOT white men? I’ve been able to get my foot in the door largely because of my education and qualifications, but I also think it’s because I have an ethnically ambiguous name – Dana Bell. It’s kind of hard to make assumptions about who I am and weed me out based on my name alone. Great post – good food for thought!

  • Reply Mrs. Jim February 24, 2014 at 16:16

    I am female and I work in a male-dominated environment. I’ll be honest – I’ve gotten freebies and raises over more deserving white males in the interest of diversity. Frankly, I find discrimination, in any form, disgusting and I can tell you from first hand experience (that I have profited from financially) that the last thing you want to be these days is a white male – they are, hands down, the MOST discriminated against group out there.

    • Reply eemusings February 24, 2014 at 16:22

      Oh, I think I’d have to disagree with you on that – I don’t know what industries you’ve worked in, but being a white male definitely still has its advantages – not always, but sometimes 🙂

  • Reply Link Love, Vol. 48 - Break the Sky February 26, 2014 at 00:59

    […] Oh, to be a white man… NZ Muse did a very nice job detailing some of prejudices and complicities in the workplace. […]

  • Reply Lila March 5, 2014 at 10:31

    I’ve experienced it to an extent. My mom’s Caucasian (from Russia) and my Dad’s Hispanic (from Costa Rica), and my step-dad is Caucasian.

    One time an African-American college student during my freshman year of college told me my life would be easier because I was white. I didn’t tell him I was part Hispanic, I guess I should have. But it was weird being told that your life would be better because of your race.

    One time in high school a Hispanic girl told me, “Oh I’m not “half” anything” after I told her of my heritage. I thought that was a very rude comment because she implied she was “better” because she wasn’t mixed.

    Sometimes when I tell people of my background, they don’t know what to think because they’ve never met anyone like me.

    For example: I was once told that I didn’t look Russian because my hair is dark, this person thought Russians were all blonde! However southern Russians tend to have darker hair. My grandmother was not mixed, she was an ethnic Russian, but she had fair skin, dark hair and green eyes.

    Also *some* older Americans tend to be very prejudiced against Russians since they lived through the cold war and they sometimes don’t know how to deal with me because I don’t fit their stereotype of what a Russian “should” or “ought” to be.

    I’ve definitely been asked “What are you?” which is a bit of a weird question, in turn I then ask them what they are! 😛

    • Reply eemusings March 5, 2014 at 10:51

      Weirdly enough I’ve just started watching The Americans, so Cold War and Russian stuff is top of my mind right now! (All the Russians as portrayed on that show are quite pale but with pretty dark hair)

  • Reply Financial Carnival for Young Adults - Feb 23, 2014 | Save and Conquer March 18, 2014 at 12:56

    […] Muse @ NZ Muse writes Oh, to be a white male… – On prejudice in the […]

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