When the Equal Employment Opportunity Act was passed by Congress in 1972, I was a Senior Development Engineer in Black & Decker Product Development, a department comprised of about sixty designers, fifty-nine of which were white males. We had one black male designer. If I count engineering support people (secretaries, model shop, records, whiteprint), we had one black designer in a department of about 125 whites. I believe that equates to less than one percent.
We had black workers in our cafeteria and maintenance departments, even our mailman and CEO’s chauffeur, but only one black in Engineering.
Was this a problem? No one gave it much thought. It was business as usual, wasn’t it?
Our VP of Product Development called a meeting for folks who were either hiring managers presently or might soon be. I was invited.
He informed us of the new law, and said that it would do B&D a world of good if we complied with it. To his credit, he appealed to our consciences as much as the legal imperative. He said he was not recommending the hiring of any minority person (black, female, Asian, Hispanic) who was not qualified. I don’t remember his exact words, but the gist of it was “You engineers are smart enough to solve this problem.”
I noticed progress almost immediately, but it was slow. Roughly three years later I attained a position high enough to have final say for new hires in my small group of four people. I should mention that at B&D the interview process in Engineering suggested only two interviews for non-degreed applicants, but typically five for Development Engineer or higher. The title of Development Engineer was the starting position for new college grads.
It was up to each hiring manager to select his interviewing team, which always included himself. After completion of the hour-long interviews, and getting feedback from all, the hiring manager made the final decision to extend an offer or not.
By the time I retired in late 1999, I believe I held the record for most minority hires by any hiring manager in B&D Product Development history: two black male drafters, two white female drafters, one black male Indian engineer, and one white male Korean engineer. I had also hired four white male engineers. Other managers had hired minorities, but I held an inner pride that I was making more of a difference. Is that too egotistical?
My criteria when considering all interviews was this: Was the interviewee qualified for the job? Was it close to a tie between applicants? If so, the tie went to the minority person. I figured that natural bias should direct a couple of extra points to the minority person (I hadn’t heard the term “affirmative action” at that time). If you think you are among the few unbiased people on earth, I’m extremely skeptical of that assertion.
Why is some measure of affirmative action necessary? While it may be true that Dr. King’s arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, couldn’t that bending use a little assistance?
In her dissent to the latest ruling of our conservatively-biased SCOTUS, Justice Jackson wrote:
“It is no small irony that the judgment the majority hands down today will forestall the end of race-based disparities in this country, making the colorblind world the majority wistfully touts much more difficult to accomplish.”
The conservative justices on the present SCOTUS, following their own ideologies, may be conforming to the strict letter of the law. But I found in my early life that traffic court judges, for example, often exercise compassion and common sense in their decisions. Isn’t that what good judgement is about?
Bob Moores retired from Black & Decker/DeWalt in 1999 after 36 years. He was the Director of Cordless Product Development at the time. He holds a mechanical engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University