Former Labor leader Mark Latham has said that a recent study on hiring practices proves that “white male privilege is a leftie lie”, but the report actually says that diversity training is having the desired effect.

The one-time contender for the Lodge, now host of a weekly show on his Facebook page, pointed to a report put out by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet late last month and said it was proof that “the left’s rhetoric about ‘unconscious bias’ and ‘white male privilege’ has been a hoax”.

The report, Going Blind to See More Clearly by the Behavioural Economics Team of the Australian government (BETA), did a test study for early-stage recruitment for senior positions in the Australian Public Service (those elitists Latham and his ilk would normally rail against). The survey interviewed 2100 people from 14 agencies, including the Office of National Assessments, the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and others.

They were asked to shortlist applicants for a hypothetical senior role in their agency, with some groups getting information including name and gender, while others received CVs without these details.

Where Latham was right is that the study found that participants were 2.9% more likely to shortlist female candidates and 3.2% less likely to shortlist male applicants when they were identifiable versus unidentifiable. Anglo-Celtic males were 6.5% less likely to be shortlisted when their names were included.

This is how Latham sees the results: 

“The average Australian man deserves our respect, not demonisation. He cares enough about the people around him to help those who are willing to help themselves. There is nothing deplorable about the Australian character. We are not a nation of bigots.”

What he left out was that one of the study’s authors, BETA director Professor Michael J. Hiscox, said in the foreword that the result of the survey didn’t imply that APS had solved the problem of gender inequality or lack of diversity in the APS but that attention would be better focused on later stages of recruitment, rather than through the de-identifying of applications.

The APS has also engaged in gender equality strategies and training to promote diversity in the APS, and these factors could have had an impact on the result of the study. It was also a voluntary study, so it is possible that participants were more likely to support gender equality and diversity. The study’s authors attempted to counter this by surveying a range of APS officers weeks after the trial about their views on issues and found it was similar to those participants.

Above all else, the report said that more work needed to be done to address gender inequality, but it said de-identified CVs might not be the best way to go about it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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