When It Comes to Discrimination, Timing Is Everything

Illustration for article titled When It Comes to Discrimination, Timing Is Everything

We usually think that discrimination against women and minorities occurs because of some fundamental ignorance on the part of whoever is thwarting us. But a new study has found that it turns out discrimination might occur partially be because we had bad timing when asking for something from an ignorant person. As ever, it's our fault we haven't succeeded in life because we weren't smart enough to figure out how to game the system.


A study published in Psychological Science examined how the timing of requests by women and minorities affected their ability to get what they wanted. The researchers sent email from fake doctoral students to 6,500 professors at 258 different academic institutions. Some of the emails asked to set up a meeting with the professor for that day and some asked for a meeting the following week. Because they'd given the made-up students all kinds of different names, they were able to gauge the response rates by sex and race.

What they found was that the students with white male names were 26 percent more likely to get an appointment with a professor for the next week than those who had names that suggested they were female or a minority. But when they asked for a same-day appointment, all of the students were equally likely to get one. Very eeenteresting.

On the surface, it seems bizarre that a professor would discriminate for one kind of appointment but not the other. Yet the researchers explained that people make decisions differently depending on when it will affect them. If someone is thinking about doing something immediately, they think "Can/where/when will I do it?" If they're contemplating doing something in the future, it becomes more abstract. So they'd be thinking more along the lines of "Is doing it worthwhile/valuable/desirable?" Thus, if the professors were thinking more long-term and considering whether the meeting was desirable rather than simply doable, they'd be more likely to indulge in stereotypes or discriminate by saying no to women and minorities because they think it won't be worth their time.

It seems the lesson to be learned here is don't give anyone a chance to discriminate against you. When asking for things, demand them immediately so nobody has the opportunity to think about it and say no. Sure, you won't ever be able to plan anything in advance because you'll always have to set up appointments on the same day you ask for them, but you'll get what you want, and the rest of the world will feel justified in calling you pushy and demanding. That's what's known as a classic win-win.

Timing can affect whether women and minorities face discrimination [EurekAlert]

Image via Raywoo/Shutterstock.



I guess I don't understand how you can have a "white male name." I guess it means, "name a white guy is more likely to have." I mean. say a guy's named "John Smith." I guess it's a name that sounds "white," but couldn't he be Black? Because most of the Black kids I went to school with had names that weren't any different from some "random" white name. But, with a first name like "Kareem," it's highly unlikely the writer's white.

ETA: it makes sense that there was no discrimination among those who asked for a meeting the next day. I don't think it's about giving them time to change their mind. I think it's pure flattery - if someone wants to meet the next day, it indicates they're really interested in your research. It's likely you'd agree because you like people liking you.