The Dark Side of Barbie

Posted in Uncategorized on March 9th, 2010 by bl1y

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.

Tags: , , , , , ,