I’m about to be very honest about a topic that could get me in trouble with over half of the people who read my words here. This makes me nervous, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I hate affirmative action.

I’m speaking from the perspective of a middle-aged white male, and that automatically (and correctly) should make you raise an eyebrow at my position on the matter. But everyone speaks from one bias or another, so I’m going to ask you to try and ignore that point.

I’m not kidding about the “make over half of my readers angry” thing. Here are the current demographics for visitors to Answer Guy Central:

AnswerGuy.Com Reader Demographics

As you can see, readership here skews strongly “older”, and a bit toward females. And now, I’m going to say something because I believe it, and hope all those women don’t run away in droves:

Gina Trapani is way too smart to be banging a drum like this one.

Ms. Trapani, one of the most accomplished women people in technology, has taken up the cause of unequal pay for women. Unequal pay for any defined group is wrong, both morally and—in the USA—legally. But at the end of the day, fairness and justice, while admirable causes to champion, can only be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Morality, in short, can’t be legislated.

More to the point: sometimes numbers just lie where they lie. And the changes you can make take place not by attacking a system as a whole, but by incrementally righting wrongs. This applies to affirmative action for any group, it applies to business change you’re looking to implement and it applies to business processes that need change.

I understand the inclination to indignantly protest there ought to be a law. But there already is, and the laws on the matter of the kind of discrimination Gina Trapani is railing against have been in place for longer than Gina’s been alive. And: as bad as women only making as a group 81% of what men make sounds, considerable research shows that over time the gap has been narrowing and is continuing to do so. There is no travesty being forced upon women.

If I haven’t already done so, here’s where I make people angry:

The reason women still make measurably less money than men even a couple of generations after it became illegal to discriminate against women is because they’re bad negotiators.

I don’t mean that, believe it or not, in a judgmental way, and it’s absolutely not reflective of anything I think about—ever—when doing business. I never consider race, age, gender, or anything else so concrete; every deal you negotiate requires that you approach it with an open mind and with a clean slate to write upon. Very few of us can negotiate like Barack Obama, but that isn’t about his male-ness, black-ness, educated-as-a-lawyer-ness, or any other “ness”.

It’s about that favorite old topic of mine; perception is reality. And that Barack Obama is both incredibly smart and negotiates from the position of unrivaled power that The President of The United States holds.

The “they” that I called bad negotiators a couple of paragraphs back aren’t actually women. The bad negotiators are any people who don’t know where they’re coming from in the negotiations they undertake. For reasons that don’t really have anything to do with their female-ness, women as a group would seem to be negotiating using flawed information. There’s really no other explanation for the problem Gina Trapani is trying to attack.

Cast this on another issue that I’ll bet Gina Trapani has opinions on: statistically, girls are hugely underrepresented in technical and engineering educational programs when compared to boys. This isn’t because of discrimination; it’s because young girls as a group seem not to gravitate to the things that boys gravitate toward. Nobody is barring those doors.

And unless you believe that men have rigged the system to pay women less just because they’re women, the gap in pay between genders isn’t about discrimination; it’s about circumstance. I was at the meeting of all of the men in business; we tried to pass mass gender discrimination, but it was defeated*.

*Presumably, anyone reading this is smart enough to know I’m kidding; the topic of gender discrimination never came up at all at the meeting of all the male business people.

Unless you have something very powerful to use as a weapon, you make business change by making business change, not by protesting and complaining. Those young people in Egypt had something, and change is happening. The Occupy Wall Street, (et. al.), groups didn’t. And Gina, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing you can do to fix “the women’s pay problem”.

I admire Gina Trapani’s attempt to right a wrong she believes she sees. But if she was honest, she’d focus her attentions elsewhere. Because there is no women’s pay problem. There’s a “haven’t figured out how to negotiate and why are we pretending that’s about gender, anyway?” problem. You might as well complain on behalf of Google users who don’t like the new privacy policies at the search and advertising giant.

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