The Dark Side of Barbie

White Barbie: $5.93

Black Barbie: $3.00

A Walmart in Louisiana is coming under fire for selling the black Theresa Barbie for about half the price as her white counter part.  The offended-by-default crowd has accused Walmart of perpetuating “ugly inequities,” but perhaps there is a non-discriminatory explanation.

A spokeswoman for Walmart said that the dolls were originally priced the same, but the black doll was placed on clearance because it wasn’t selling well, just as any other product would have been.

What’s that?  Walmart judged Theresa based not on the color of her plastic, but on the content of her market penetration?  Good for Walmart.

The legal industry has seen some similar trends.  Recession layoffs have caused law firm diversity scores to plummet.  But, just with Theresa’s discount pricing, there may be a non-discriminatory reason for minorities getting the bigger end of the recession ax.

Diversity initiatives in law school result in a number of minority students being admitted who would not have been admitted on their academic credentials alone.  If you come in to a school on the bottom of the LSAT/GPA curve, odds are you’re not as smart as the other students.  But, law firms presume that even the bottom quarter of schools like Harvard and Stanford and still exceptionally intelligent.  They recruit largely based on law school prestige, and end up with some people who don’t live up to their expectations.  When the ax drops, it’s more likely to hit someone who got into a top ranked school affirmative action than someone who got in based purely on their merits.

But wait, there’s more.  It’s called math and history.

Integration and equity are not created over night.  Giving access to legal education and big firm jobs to minorities doesn’t instantly create minority partners.  They still have to spend 3 years in school, and another 8-10 years climbing the associate ladder.  The civil rights movement didn’t go back in time 30 years and drop black students into law school. Affirmative action doesn’t find a middle aged black man who would have been a lawyer in an equal society, take him from his job as a social worker and drop him in a law firm as an equity partner.  BALSA does not have a hot tub time machine.

It takes decades to reach racial parity, even when a society is completely just, and so it stands to reason that minority lawyers are generally still in the lower seniority levels.  And, that’s where the layoff ax falls.  The vast majority of laid off attorneys are, quite naturally, associates.  Partner firings are extremely rare.

So, imagine you have a firm with 10 partners (all white) and 20 associates (10 black and 10 white).  The firm is 33% black.  Now, the recession hits and half the associates are laid off at random, leaving us with 5 black and 5 white associates.  The firm is now 25% black.  There is nothing at all discriminatory about what the firm did, but it’s diversity score card just took a major hit, and anyone who constantly wears their discrimination-tinted glasses will immediately cry foul.

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11 Responses to “The Dark Side of Barbie”

  1. TristanH Says:

    You make a compelling argument, but your numbers are off. In reality, the numbers are closer to 10 partners, 20 associates (17 white, 3 black). The recession hits and 2 black associates and 3 white associates are laid off.

  2. Bill Says:

    Hey, fire the worst associates, Black or White. If this means the firm gets whiter, so be it. If the whites are dumb, then the firm gets blacker.

    No one should keep a white guy on if he’s dumber. Nor should they keep a black guy on if he’s dumber.

    Nuff said, man.

  3. bl1y Says:

    Tristan: You missed the point. I wasn’t saying that those were the actual numbers, how things actually go down. I was merely trying to illustrate that non-discriminatory layoffs can still decrease a firm’s percentage of black attorneys because minority attorneys are more heavily concentrated in the junior ranks, which is where layoffs happen.

  4. TristanH Says:

    I understood your point bl1y. While I note that your argument is compelling on its face, it is based on an underlying premise that is divorced from reality, i.e. a big firm exists where 1/3 of the associates are black. We may just be discussing the issue on two different levels, the theoretical explanation vs. the real world.

  5. bl1y Says:

    I picked those numbers because they made for easy math. I can a more realistic example if you really want.

    Firm has 10 partners (all white), 21 associates (18 white, 3 black). The firm is 9.7% black. The firm lays off 7 associates, 6 white, 1 black. Now the firm is 8.3% black. It still takes a hit on its diversity score card despite not acting in a discriminatory manner.

  6. Snowman Says:

    I especially agree with your point when considering that because of affirmative action, minority students at tier 1 schools got accepted despite having the same GPA and LSAT scores of white TTT students.

  7. big vic Says:

    hold on, hold on – even if it is true that significant numbers of minority applicants were accepted onto JD programs by virtue of being a minority (which has not been proved, just argued)…that’s not relevant to law firms’ hiring practices at the other end of law school.

    In other words, if minority students are getting hired into law firms, it’s not just because of affirmative action – that stage is done – it’s because they’re in the same pool as everyone else who had their GPA/skills/experience/whatever. and if they’re being recruited on the same terms as their GPA peers, one would expect them to be laid off on much the same terms…if everything was in order.

  8. bl1y Says:

    That would be true if schools gave really precise grades, but they don’t. Law school curve have an extremely fat curve, with very little on the low end. Here’s NYU’s curve

    A+: 0-2% (target = 1%)
    A: 7-13% (target = 10%)
    A-: 16-24% (target = 20%)
    Maximum for A tier = 31%
    B+: 22-30% (target = 26%)
    Maximum grades above B = 57%
    B: remainder
    B-: 4-8% (target = 6%)
    C/D/F: 0-5%

    Looking at a student’s grades, there are basically three different groups; smarty pants (31%), average students (63%), and dumb asses (6%). The guy at the 40th percentile has very similar grades to the guy at the 80th percentile, but they are definitely at two different levels of intelligence.

    It gets even worse at schools where grades have been done away with. You can’t distinguish a transcript that reads Pass-Pass-Pass-Pass from another that reads Pass-Pass-Pass-Pass, even though the two students are wildly different.

    Your argument would work, if only firms really could recruit based on student grades.

  9. Guano Dubango Says:

    As a man of color, I have been able to hold my own, and have been ok so far. However, there are not many men from Africa in the law, let alone at my firm. I believe that as long as I can continue to do the work, I will be retained. However, no one is retaining me because I am Black, nor do I have any special connections here, as I do in Accra.

  10. Barbie Juegos Says:

    Hola chic@s! soy fanatica de Barbi, paso horas jugando juegos online aunque no encuentro muchos sitios con juegos exclusivos de Barbie… y los que juego no estan muy buenos. Alguien me aconseja alguna pagina de juegos de barbie?? Gracias!

  11. ezrecordclean Says:

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