Last night I attended a showing of the Motherhood Manifesto documentary. This documentary highlights the work of, a growing movement with over 50,000 members – and particularly their effort to end employment discrimination against mothers.

I’m all for ending that discrimination – my own mother was denied a job because she was asked a question to determine whether she had daughters or sons (one of the benefits the employer offered would have been considerably more expensive for daughters). Yet I was left with a subtle feeling of increased anomie after the show. 24 hours of thinky thoughts later, I think I know the source of my discomfort, and I also have a new outlook on business and labor law.
To provide some background, the big red hot button on my political activist agenda is dignity in the workplace, including improved support for job transitions. In the current (lack of) system, people spend far too much uncompensated time, effort, anxiety, and humiliation on job transition periods. When that transition goes on for longer than a few months, I think words like “slavery” should start to come into play – especially when there is ongoing free labor (to “prove yourself”) or free work product and/or consulting involved. I appreciate the risk of trivializing the word slavery, but given the physical suffering that can be involved with deprivation of health care and demeaning treatment by others, I think we’re getting closer to a slave system than most Neo-Con economists would care to admit.

I’m a proponent of “blind hiring” – a new hiring process that would take names off resumes, remove pictures and “first impression” personal interviews from the process, and do away with the crony-based recommendation system. I’d like to reduce the focus on networking. Instead, I’d like to see an increased focus on skills: not just more training, but more emphasis on making skills visible through free or cheap credentialing. I also think steps should be taken early to prevent temp agencies from being used as buffers that enable businesses to avoid anti-discrimination laws. I believe businesses that cling to more personal forms of hiring are really casting about for excuses to practice discrimination – unfortunately perceived as a “gut feeling”.

Given my intense interest in the subject of fair employment,  I should probably be the chief bullhorn wielder for Discrimination against mothers is a widespread, egregious, and stupid form of discrimination that has been leaving a trail of family wreckage for decades.

Today I realized the problem is that this is still just one form of discrimination – and when we finally do something to alleviate it, the suffering will just be transferred to some other group in a competitive economy. For instance, studies show overweight white women face  significant pay discrimination. If the overweight white Moms get a boost, will the overweight white single women be in even worse condition? While it’s true that the Mom’s have childcare responsibilities, what about the people with massive eldercare responsibilities?

In short, it seems like there are myriad forms of discrimination, and they all create human suffering and undermine families. And every time our political representatives get it together to finally pass a law against some form of discrimination, they just end up with yet one more layer of regulation – leaving businesses howling about the skyrocketing costs of compliance and fostering a cottage industry in loophole-lawyering.

One of the tenets of socially responsible entrepreneurship is to “leave no one behind and hold no one back.” It seems to me that the best way to follow through on this sentiment would be to eliminate all forms of discrimination from the hiring process in one fell swoop. This would decrease the costs of compliance and take a lot of the song and dance out of the hiring process, therefore greasing the wheels of the economy and pumping up productivity by capturing a lot of labor that’s just going to waste right now. (Really, how does the general economy benefit from 100 rewrites of one’s resume and a thousand personalized thank-you notes? It’s the social equivalent of busywork.)

Here’s my idea. Why don’t we regulate what can be asked during a job interview instead of what can’t be asked? In stead of having 2,376 obscure anti-discrimination laws on the books, why not simply write an interview guide that excludes all personal and family questions? If there were a standardized format for interviews (with a “fill in the appropriate skill set here” section), then it would also be easier for people to prepare for interviews. If “blind hiring” policies were also implemented, then we might make strides toward eliminating discrimination all together. And think of the compliance savings! This alone would be putting billions of dollars back into the actual businesses.

It seems to me that the only obstacle to such a policy is people are scared of the unknown: no matter what people profess their values to be, they secretly want to hold on to opportunities to discriminate because it helps them hold on to power over other people. While the unknown is scary, power feels like safety. I guess the only way to overcome this is to promise that by reducing discrimination, you make everyone safer, which thus reduces the desperation for power.

If there are any lawyers or policymakers in the house, I’d like to know if there’s any reason standardizing job interviews wouldn’t be less expensive than dealing with all the anti-discrimination laws. It seems obvious to me.

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