Zodiacal Discrimination

I’m not sure what’s more disconcerting, here: the discrimination aspect, or the superstition aspect. Discrimination, in the pejorative sense, always (by definition) involves treating people differently on some irrelevant ground. But when the grounds for discrimination are superstitious ones… oh, boy.

From the UK Daily Mail: We only employ workers born under specific star signs, says insurance company

A row has broken out in Austria after a company tried to recruit workers born under certain star signs.

The Salzburg insurance company posted an advert in major newspapers seeking employees for sales and management that were born under certain constellations, claiming statistics indicated that they were the best workers.

‘We are looking for people over 20 for part-time jobs in sales and management with the following star signs: Capricorn, Taurus, Aquarius, Aries and Leo,’ read the ad that appeared over the weekend.

It was followed by a wave of protests from equality groups and led to an investigation by the country’s anti-discrimination authorities.

OK, sure. The company says they’ve got good reason, based on a study of their own workforce:

A statistical study indicated that almost all of our best employees across Austria have one of the five star signs. [i.e., one of the five sought in their ad]

But seriously, how many employees can their company have? That likely makes for a very weak statistical result. Now, in fairness to the managers of this company, it should be noted that management is at least as much art as science. Managers very often have to make judgment calls based on less than robust statistical evidence. There’s an old saying that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” but that saying is entirely false. Management consists to a very large degree in managing things that can’t (easily) be measured. But weak statistics probably just give management decisions like this a misleading patina of scientific respectability.

Besides, we should be especially skeptical — they should be especially skeptical of their own data — given that there is good prior reason to think there’s no correlation: namely the fact that there is precisely zero evidence that astrological sign is correlated with any meaningful personality trait out in the rest of the world. They should be looking carefully for a more plausible, non-superstitious explanation of the pattern they think they see in their workforce. And unless they’ve done that, discriminating based on the signs of the zodiac should be relegated not just to the dust-bin of science (where it’s been for decades) but to the dust-bin of business ethics.

Thanks to KM for the story.

12 comments so far

  1. Jordan Layman on

    I’ll try and keep this short and withhold my own superstitious beliefs.My perspective is that they should do what works.If they have found or believe that Gemini’s are better at assessing insurance claims than they should go forth and hire Gemini’s. I don’t think it’s any different than hiring attractive female hostesses at upscale restaurants.

  2. Fibocycle on

    Although there is little or no ‘scinetific evidence’ to suggest the viability of astrology as a effective management tool, the eminentpsychologist Dr Karl Jung utilized archetypal astrology in his practice. In a letter written to Hindu astrologer, B.V. Raman, September 6th 1947 – Dr. Jung wrote:“Since you want to know my opinion about astrology I can tell you that I’ve been interested in this particular activity of the human mind since more than 30 years. As I am a psychologist, I am chiefly interested in the particular light the horoscope sheds on certain complications in the character. In cases of difficult psychological diagnosis I usually get a horoscope in order to have a further point of view from an entirely different angle. I must say that I very often found that the astrological data elucidated certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand. From such experiences I formed the opinion that astrology is of particular interest to the psychologist, since it contains a sort of psychological experience which we call ‘projected’ – this means that we find the psychological facts as it were in the constellations.” Perhaps the lesson to be learned from modernity and the endless attempt to quantify the antecedent effects on the human spirit is that science and the limits of human reason do not sufficiently explain all causal relationships that effect mankind.

  3. Chris MacDonald on

    Fibocycle:The key word in Jung’s letter is “projected.” He didn’t say the zodiac had any effect on us. He basically said it’s psychologically illuminating to look at what it is that we SEE in ourselves, when we project our own psychologies onto star-maps… presumably the way some people find ink-blot tests enlightening.Chris.

  4. colleen lyons on

    as a pisces, i am mortified.

  5. Anonymous on

    If Austria has a human rights commission, or if a rejected worker wanted to complain for not being hired, all they would have to do is force the company to prove in the H.R. commission or in court that astrology is valid. If they can’t prove that the shared competencies of their Aries, Leos and Capricorns is nothing more than coincidence or managerial perception of alleged compatibilies the company will lose. Their lederhosen might be on too tight. Its unusual too because Austria is heavily Catholic and the church officially condemns astrology. Most Catholics,like many other believers and non-believers, just laugh at astrology. -Kevin McDonald

  6. plasticsyntax on

    Jordan Layman:Discrimination based on physical attractiveness is perfectly acceptable, even expected, if it is part of the product being sold (ethics of the actual product aside). If it is incidental to your product or service then it should be irrelevant.Thus, it’s fine for Hooters to discriminate based on physical attractiveness, but not Red Lobster.This does not even compare to a trait like astrology that cannot be measured or quantified.All that said, there could be a connection, however unlikely, I just doubt there’s anything supernatural about it. < HREF="http://www.goaliestore.com/board/hockey-talk/80588-why-most-pro-hockey-players-born-january.html" REL="nofollow">For example, look at the birthdays of professional hockey players.<>

  7. Anonymous on

    I don’t think discrimination based on physical attraction is just, but it is hard to prove. The major cable news networks have anchorwomen who are model quality beauties. The man in me says hubba hubba, thanks Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner. But the Christian in me knows that it is unfair to qualified broadcast journalists that only babes can read or report on the news. Here’s an experiment some moral theologian or ethicist should do: Show pictures of all the top anchorbabes to foreigners. Mix the photos with average women (chosen so by another sample group) and ugly women (also chosen the same way). Have the foreign viewers rate the relative attractiveness of each photo. I’ll bet the cable news babes average 8.5 or higher on a scale to ten. Permission to borrow my idea – anyone.– Kevin McDonald

  8. Joseph Onesta on

    Discrimination happens all the time for a lot of reasons. The best work in the Inclusion and Diversity fields acknowledges that prejudice is unavoidable. The reduction of prejudice comes from exposure, education and experience, not an imposed morality. To enhance this process we need to cultivate open discussion and avoid tribal spear throwing, no matter what tribe we belong to, –even the tolerant, open-minded tribe.

  9. Anonymous on

    A poster here opined: “The reduction of prejudice comes from exposure, education and experience, not an imposed morality.”~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Very few moralities are imposed. Anyone living under an imposed morality probably has their own they are keeping secret until the tyranny is overthrown and the secret police are gone. But the above quote is fallacious too. Prejudice CAN be reduced or even eliminated by a forced morality as much as it can by a chosen, voluntarily adopted one. The British set out to end the Indian Hindu practice of suttee and they mostly did. British Christian morality helped begin to end Hindu prejudice against widows. It was a morality imposed by British garrison troops. Better firearms and cannons ended a prejudice and bravo.Some people, but I am sure not the poster I quoted, are cultural relativists: they believe that no one culture is better than another. If they want to maintain that delusion then they had better start growing their beards and studying sharia law because history shows us that often the more vigorous, violent culture can usurp more civilized ones. Constantinople requiscat en pace. – Kevin G. McDonald, Halifax

  10. Anonymous on

    Interesting that “Facebook is totally justified in autocratically enforcing its own rules, and even, arguably, refusing to clarify what those rules are” as you said in an earlier post, but this company is being unethical by autocratically deciding its own rules and clarifying them. Seems to be a valid comparison.

  11. Chris MacDonald on

    Dear Anonymous:It’s a tempting comparison, I admit, but not, I think, a valid one.Facebook — and please recall, I gave only a limited defense of their choice in that particular case — was refusing to let its resources be used in a way that it thought inconsistent with what it takes to be the values of a majority of its customers. It has no more obligation to let you post erotica than I have to lend you my pen so that you can <>write<> erotica.The insurance company was discriminating among job candidates based on grounds that were (likely) irrelevant to the job to be done. If they autocratically decided only to hire men, or whites, that would be bad too.Discrimination based on irrelevant grounds is pretty widely acknowledged as unfair, and socially pernicious. The burden of proof, as it were, is on the business, when it comes to discrimination. Discrimination based on Zodiac sign is probably not as evil as other kinds of discrimination, if only because it’s unlikely to catch on and seriously limit the life opportunities of people born under “undesirable” signs. But still, it’s pretty clearly unfair. Especially in a world where jobs are hard to come by, and web-pages aren’t.Chris.

  12. Anonymous on

    I am looking for the study (or studies) this company used to base their assumptions. Does anyone know in which scientific journal the study (or studies) was/were published?

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