by Jo Freeman
text is based on a lecture given frequently in the 1970s.
can occur both individually and institutionally. Acts of individual
discrimination are often both conscious and obvious. They can be dealt
with by either removing the person who discriminates from any position
where such actions are meaningful or by inducing the person to halt
the behavior in question. Institutional discrimination is built into
the structure itself. Thus it is more covert and more tenacious. It
can occur regardless of the desires or intentions of the people perpetuating
one must not ask what are the motives of the individuals involved
but what are the results of their actions. Institutional discrimination
is may easily seen statistically. If a particular group is disproportionately
absent in comparison to the pool of those possessing the relevant
skills, discrimination is occurring even if it is impossible to document
specific individual instances. (Such discrimination may also be affecting
the pool of available talent, but that requires action on a different
institutional discrimination is built into the normal working relationships
of institutions, its perpetuation requires only that people continue
"business as usual." Its eradication requires much more
than good will; it requires active review of the assumptions and practices
by which the institution operates, and revision of those found to
have discriminatory results. Such an operation cannot be approached
casually; inevitably, extra effort is necessary.
discrimination begins with the recruitment process. Most jobs, especially
the better ones, are not openly advertised. Knowledge of their existence
is usually limited to friends and colleagues of those in power In
the institutions, and in turn their friends and associates. Since
such patterns of association tend to be homogenous, knowledge of job
opportunities rarely gets to members of other groups. Even open advertisement
may be limited in results if it is put in places of limited readership.
Concomitantly, many jobs depend on recommendations; people are often
reluctant to take the chance of recommending someone who might be
thought "unacceptable" for whatever reason. To break these
patterns, it is necessary not only to "open up" the recruitment
process, but to actively seek members of previously excluded groups
and work with their organizations to find competent applicants.
applicants have been found, other elements of institutional discrimination
usually come into play. First of all, the qualifications actually
necessary to perform a particular job are usually only a part of those
necessary to get a job. One's compatibility, affinity, correspondence
to an "institutional image," and general ability to "fit
in" to the already existing social structure are often the actual
criteria upon which selections are made. Test scores and degrees are
other selectors that are not always valid measures of ability. As
real qualifications are often hard to determine, these and other artificial
criteria of selection are usually used in order to provide some logical
basis for elimination. Those criteria in turn are rationalized as
being reasonable ones and a certain investment is made in their continuation.
Serious analysis must be made of what skills are actually necessary
to perform a particular job and what are valid ways of determining
jobs or promotions requiring interviews, problems of "style"
often interfere with accurate perception of ability. Unless they have
special training or sensitivity, it is difficult for most interviewers
to escape their own social conditioning that members of many social
groups are assumed to be inferior. The fact that members of such groups
may have a style of life, speech, dress, action and even thought which
differs from that of white middle-class men often creates "noise"
which obscures real ability. Too often merit is confused with conformity
to the personal standards of those already in positions of power.
institutional discrimination results from judgments made on secondary
rather than primary characteristics. Race and sex may be consciously
eliminated as concerns, but criteria such as educational background,
employment history, supervisory experience, age, income, etc, which
have been effected by group membership, can be effective substitutes.
One must realize that people who have not had the same life-chances
will not have the same life results.
often happens that there are deficiencies between the qualifications
of some applicants and those that the institution would like such
applicants to possess. Sometimes these deficiencies are spurious;
i.e. more stringent qualifications are in fact imposed on some applicants
because there is a gut-level distrust of backgrounds different than
the interviewer is familiar with. Or, when judgments are subjective,
the interviewer will fail to see some abilities because they are not
expected to be there. Often the unfortunate fact is that members of
many groups have not had the opportunities to gain the experience
or training felt to be desirable to perform a particular job. Here,
more flexible standards are necessary, coupled with training programs
to make up for any real deficiencies. Otherwise, institutional discrimination
operates as a multiplier effect: opportunities denied on one level
become resources lacking on another which in turn prevent one from
gaining new opportunities, etc.
the job itself, what one actually does may bear minimal resemblance
to the official position description, yet it is the latter, not the
former, on which pay and promotional opportunities are usually based.
Secretaries may be doing the work of administrators, assistants the
work of their bosses, helpers the foreman's job, or two workers substantially
the same work for substantially different pays Although these "support"
jobs may provide excellent training for assuming the occupations they
support, they are usually dead end jobs. A secretary rarely replaces
a departing boss, yet often is the only one capable of training a
now one. It is frequently the case that there are duel employment
structures in any institution with members of one always blocked from
joining the other. Occupational hierarchies need to be examined both
to determine the actual content of jobs and to remove barriers to
mobility built into such hierarchies which serve to discriminate.
must also take into account the effects of past discrimination. If
some people historically only had access to one type of job, they
may have acquired the skills but have not acquired the credentials
to move to another in the future. Too, their skill development may
have been retarded due to the limitations of the job they were in.
Most institutions already contain a significant body of available personnel for whom opportunities have not been provided for advancement or whose value has not been adequately assessed.
major effect of past discrimination is that supervisors may have effectively
discouraged some employees from thinking of themselves as having potential.
Thus such employees do not apply for promotions or new lines because
their self-confidence has been undermined or they are convinced that
they have no chance. The patterns of encouragement and reinforcement
operate so subtlety that they are difficult to discern. Their effects
may be readily seen, however, in any hierarchy that gets more homogenous
on the way up, with supervisors honestly claiming that some people
are just more interested in advancement than others.
have great power to reward and penalize. They provide material goods,
opportunities, resources, services, and psychological satisfactions.
While these benefits are never distributed perfectly equitably, it
has been declared contrary to public policy for them to be allocated
on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin. Since most
institutions have been structured to discriminate in the past, the
change in policy will not lead to a change in results unless there
is also a change in the institutions, It is very easy to discriminate
without really trying. It is very necessary to put in the required
effort to stop.