A few of you have raised objections to my recent statistical discrimination hypothesis on the grounds that, if it were true, minority group members who “made it to the top” should be the super-achievers, since they had to pass through so many screens and implicit taxes. I wrote back the following (edited) in an email:
Maybe, but I think you are assuming fixed quality of talent within each sector.
Let’s say there are two sectors. In the first, the CEO sector, women face statistical discrimination and there are multiple levels. In the second there is no statistical discrimination, let us call it women’s tennis but of course there are other examples too.
It could be that most of the talented women, those who can judge where they really will succeed best and most easily, flock to the latter sectors. In which case the winners in the CEO sector need not be so special, including in the presence of discrimination.
That also means that employers and intermediaries have no special incentives to hunt for that talent: it has run away to other, less discriminatory sectors (and lowered wages in those sectors, I might add).
By the way, here was one good comment by Willitts on that post:
…if the signal of skill is “years of experience,” then the person filtered at the lower level will always look objectively worse at the higher level filters.
You’re assuming that the higher level decision makers have the opportunity (and desire) to consider walk-on candidates. You’re also assuming that those walk-ons will have adequate means to signal their superiority to those who passed through the filters.
I might be able to be the best CEO who ever lived, but my lack of management experience would never get me in the door for an interview. If (mild) discrimination at several rungs of the ladder kept me from rising to the penultimate rung, I’d have ZERO chance of attaining the top rung, not merely a small chance
Most elite performers are impressive throughout their lives. But they can stay constantly motivated, by rising through the ranks quickly. A stat-discriminated person might not have that advantage either.
Well, with the first gatekeeper there’s really no motivation to gamble on the marginalized, because a) there’s not yet a big gap and b) doing so would give up the profit of stereotyping (see the Bayesian analysis referenced in #3 of Dan’s post).
And as you get to the subsequent gatekeepers, a larger actual ability gap starts to form because the discrimination of prior gatekeepers prevented the marginalized group from gaining valuable experience.
I will continue to ponder this problem.