September 28, 2008

Diamond Walls

Filed under: Philosophy, Random, School — Robert John Ed @ 3:48 pm

They speak about glass ceilings in corporate America in order to describe the propensity of companies to hold back females in the work place after a certain amount of promotion.  Well, as I was growing up, the term seemed to be mostly used in regard to females, though apparently it’s used for any detainment of qualified candidates.  I believe that this has been getting better and better as I’ve grown older.  I haven’t been in corporations to see it first hand, but my hopes are that all persons qualified can attain higher levels within an organization based on their ability and diligence.

 The other day, I had a small discussion with a classmate about a similar situation.  It began with CEO compensation and how it is so high.  My classmate argued that most people don’t understand the complexity or difficulty of a position such as chief executive officer, why it’s so important and how much should be paid.  These things are all true.  There is a reason CEO’s are paid so well, it is the most important job and the prerequisite knowledge needed to actually run a company that has assets reaching the trillion dollar range is immense.  Still, I argued that the class war that has been going on in the United States since inception is only perpetuated by the incredible disparity in salaries of the wealthy and poor.  I do believe in fair compensation, but the gap is incredibly wide when someone gets an annual bonus that is larger than the commonwealth’s life time earnings.  Additionally, I understand the value of what managers do, of what the creators and leaders of businesses must do.  It truly is the most difficult part of work, creating the value chain and building a system that can systematically provide value.  Often times, I’m not sure the working class fully realizes the associated risk and reward that are needed for this kind of undertaking.

The discussion quickly turned to describe who is actually capable of achieving such success.  My classmate seems to think that anyone in the world can come to America and be successful.  She argued that with hard work and diligence, anyone can get educated, attend a business school (or whatever’s clever) and live the American dream.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is false. 

We are privileged.

There are social norms today that allow you the privilege of accessing education systems, they allow you access to the funds needed in order to get educated and eventually earn a better living than 95% of the world.   I read a book in undergrad that denoted very well what white privilege is.  It was a bitter pill to swallow at the time, but being a white male in the United States entails certain things, said and unsaid, that give you an advantage.  That is completely unfair and I’m well aware of it.  It’s also not quantifiable; I can’t tell you the likelihood of one ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or belief system being more or less likely to succeed.  I can’t tell you the reasons that this system perpetuates and is likely a detriment to our overall progression as a country.  I can’t tell you that those privileged people revel in this situation either.  I think the vast majority of educated people would rather have an unbiased and level playing ground where anyone can succeed.

I can tell you that there are many people born in the United States without food on their tables.  I can tell you that there are kids born here (and many, many more around the world) that know very well they have no chance to become educated or live the lives the red, white and blue promise.  The privileged in society are often quite blind to the advantages that they’ve been given.  You simply can’t realize the difficulty of others.  Many American children are brought up to believe they can achieve anything if they work hard and do the right things.  A lot of children aren’t told that they can do anything.  Can you imagine that?  Of course not.  You weren’t there.  You can’t know, because you are otherwise privileged.  None of us can.

There are diamond walls that keep a great many people outside.  You certainly can see through if you look close enough, they sparkle and allure from great distance.  Yet they are impenetrable, unbreakable material.  You can’t get through the diamond walls today.  Some day I hope the situation changes.



  1. Hey brother, thanks for sharing your opinion. I utterly agree with you on this but it’s sad how ignorant many others can be to acknowledge that this exists and the ‘better reality’ or ‘privilege’ they have been basically ‘born into’. You’re a great agent of change.

    Comment by Taj Bolton — September 29, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  2. The playing field is certainly not level for all ethnicities, genders, ages, etc. in this day and age. We’ve come a long way in America in just the last 50 years which makes me hold more hope for the next 50!

    Comment by Kristin Vassallo — September 29, 2008 @ 7:35 pm

  3. “It’s also not quantifiable; I can’t tell you the likelihood of one ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or belief system being more or less likely to succeed.”

    It’s a tough nut to crack I’ll give you that, but it is measurable and has been measured by sociologists, social psychologists, I/O psychologists, HR professionals, political scientists, and organizational behavior gurus.

    Their findings (especially their meta-analytic data) are taken relatively seriously in academia but not so much in the world of public policy (or in the everyday operation of most businesses).

    Nonacademic debates are usually framed in the following vague way:

    ‘Things aren’t fair etc…’ or ‘We’ll work to correct past wrongs but in a way that does not reverse-discriminate…’

    Whereas academics work with specificities and probabilities:

    ‘The correlation between gender and promotion to the vice-presidential level or higher in an organization is -.67…’ or ‘Blacks score 1 standard deviation below the mean on standardized tests…’

    The problem?

    Nearly all of these things are quantifiable, and have been researched, but are, in nonacademic conversation, made blurry and imprecise. Going back to what we’ve discussed before, when a researcher presents the data, it’s hard to say what the hell the person is ACTUALLY talking about without using scientific jargon. As a researcher, I don’t know which of these problems is worse.

    In short, facts are treated as mere perceptions in the first case, and in the second case facts are made difficult to understand (and causation––instead of mere correlation––is difficult to grapple with).

    When I say, “short men are less likely to come out of an interview with a job than taller men” it’s striking, but it sounds anecdotal.

    When I say, “men under 5’5″ are 80% less likely to become CEOs than men over 5’8,” it’s striking, and solutions are much more probable but we can’t say that one thing causes the other.

    This kind of word game happens in the social sciences all the time and it’s really pretty frustrating.

    Comment by Jesse Kluver — September 30, 2008 @ 12:58 am

  4. Taj, K–thanks for reading as always and commenting too! I love hearing back from you guys, even though we never actually hang out any more. :-)

    Jess, that’s really good feedback. You’re right, these kinds of things ARE quantifiable, and I should have been more specific that I don’t know any actual statistics on the situation. We should create a regression analysis based on some of the demographics attributes and really get down to business…or a lack thereof I suppose. Your scientific input is always eagerly anticipated and appreciated.

    Comment by Robert John Ed — September 30, 2008 @ 1:22 am

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