Boring People and Cowards

This week, New York Times columnist David Brooks has this piece about political discrimination or “partyism.” Brooks cautions job seekers, especially conservatives, about the dangers of including political work on your resume because of partyism in hiring. He sites specific examples and studies.

He writes about one study that compared student resumes for scholarships. –

For example, political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood gave 1,000 people student résumés and asked them which students should get scholarships. The résumés had some racial cues (membership in African-American Students Association) and some political cues (member of Young Republicans).

Race influenced decisions. Blacks favored black students 73 percent to 27 percent, and whites favored black students slightly. But political cues were more powerful. Both Democrats and Republicans favored students who agreed with them 80 percent of the time. They favored students from their party even when other students had better credentials.

Iyengar and Westwood conducted other experiments to measure what Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School calls “partyism.” They gave subjects implicit association tests, which measure whether people associate different qualities with positive or negative emotions. They had people play the trust game, which measures how much people are willing to trust different kinds of people.

In those situations, they found pervasive prejudice. And political biases were stronger than their racial biases.

Read the entire Brooks piece because it goes on to examine how partyism is pervasive across our culture and how it got to be that way.

I was struck by the specific point about hiring bias that Brooks made because it reminded me of this story I read a few months ago about a study examining discrimination in hiring against people with pro-LGBT activism on their resumes. The study concluded that applicants with resumes containing gay activism were 23% less likely to get interviews than less qualified applicants.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, because it hits really close to home for me. Of course, my resume is pretty much radioactive when you look at it the context of the Brooks piece and the LGBT study! Most of my career has been spent in the political arena – working in the trenches of the culture wars on behalf of gay people AND conservatives. I can tell you lots of stories about my personal experience in the job market, but I’ll save you the gory details. Honestly, I don’t want to look bitter by rehashing any of those stories, because I’m not. I have just accepted the reality.

Coward
Coward

After thinking about this reality a lot, my conclusion is that the marketplace rewards boring people and cowards, and penalizes risk-takers and outspoken people who stand up for what they believe in. I know that sounds harsh, but think about it. It’s true. How many times have you heard, “Keep your head down, play by the rules,” or something similar when someone has given you career advice? It’s happened, I’m sure.

Of course there are lots of exceptions, but if your past work experience, or what you believe, can be viewed by anyone as even the least bit controversial, then your opportunities will be limited in today’s risk and controversy-adverse traditional job market. Like many things, it’s not how it should be, but it is a reality. Deal with it.

It reminds me of something that I remember Ann Coulter saying one time. A gay person asked her about non-discrimination laws or something about job discrimination. I don’t remember the exact question. Her response included something like, “Who do you think is going to hire me? As outspoken as I’ve been, I’ve had to make it on my own.” She has.

I think that’s the moral of this whole story. If you want to make an impact in the world and make a difference, then sometimes you have to find a way to survive on your own. If a traditional path isn’t available to you because of something you have said or done, or because of who you are or what you believe, then blaze a path of your own.

Look at some of the famous people who have truly changed the world. They didn’t do it because they took a traditional path. They made one. The biggest names in world history prove that there is a limit to how far the boring people and cowards can actually go.

So don’t do what David Brooks suggests and hide your political work. Own it. Be proud of who you are and what you’ve done, and go make a path for yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do!