Photograph by Dan Dalton — Getty Images/Caiaimage
By Quora
June 17, 2015

Answer by Michael O. Church on Quora.

There are so many stupid cultural biases that it’s hard to name just one, but the one that is most flagrant, because it is socially acceptable, is placism. See, ageism, racism, and classism aren’t socially acceptable, but geographic bigotry is. You see it in several forms.

As a hiring filter, it’s often presented as financial prudence, of not wanting to pay relocation. This makes sense if you’re on a shoestring budget and fighting for your life, but a $10,000 relocation package is nothing compared to the value of a good hire. If you can’t afford to pay for full relocation — and that means a full-service move, not just a one-way plane ticket — then you can’t afford to hire full-time employees.

In reality, placism is just classism in another form. I’ve seen people get turned down by New York firms (or passed over for promotions) because they lived in Brooklyn, or White Plains. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of the suburban lifestyle, but I’m mature enough to know that people live where they do for all kinds of reasons, and that living outside of a major city doesn’t make someone a loser. The hipster’s reflexive hatred of “the suburbs” is deeply suburban — actual urbanites understand the appeal of a greener setting. In addition to the obvious classism, placism also betrays a certain ageism, since it tends to favor places where average people can’t raise a family. It’s often presented as an argument that the person in the less fashionable location “isn’t hungry” because, if he were, he’d be living in a place that he can just barely afford.

Even more insidious (and less thoroughly documented) is the “you didn’t do it here” attitude and the downgrading of professional experience. This seems to be a West Coast illness, this idea that a senior engineer in New York or Chicago equates only to a mid-level Bay Area developer. It’s patently ridiculous, but it’s a price that many people pay if they change jobs while moving to the West Coast. (If you want to move West, you should transfer while keeping the same job, preferably with relocation covered.)

Many of these companies have the attitude that they’re doing such a favor by extending a job offer to an “outsider” that they have no problem writing an offer with a one- or two-level professional hit: from Staff Engineer to Senior or SWE 3 on a Google scale. This means, surprisingly to many, that compensation is likely to improve just barely (if at all) in nominal terms with a move to the Bay Area, and to drop considerably when adjusted for cost-of-living. As many of these companies see it, the professional hit is part of the “passage” fee.

You also see placism internally in some companies, such as Google where being in the Mountain View office is pretty much required if you want the best projects and an appropriate pace of promotion. That said, company-internal placism is more surmountable for people interested in relocating because, if you’re good or successful enough that the company will relocate you, you usually will get a cost-of-living increase, and you won’t take a title drop.

Placism is bad for almost everyone. It’s bad for the “outsiders” because it reduces their ability to move to where the jobs are, but it’s also bad for renters in the stylish areas who have to deal with congestion and high prices caused by artificial demand. Some of what’s driving up San Francisco and Manhattan rents is that there are people whose professional futures demand that they have a stylish ZIP code. Combine this with the extreme price inelasticity of residential real estate, and you get a measurable effect, and the people who are actually trying to get work done get screwed. Finally, and relevant to this question, placism restricts the talent pool in hiring, and placism within companies breeds resentment.

Placism probably isn’t the worst of the cultural biases influencing technology hiring and promotion, but it’s one of the least understood ones. On paper, it might be justified insofar as a good proportion (maybe 20 to 30% in the U.S., which is still impressive for a region with about 2% of the population) of technical innovation does happen in Silicon Valley. What’s missed is that, even still, so much of what’s in the Valley (as everywhere) is not innovative, and that the VC-funded stylish companies that get the most attention (and that tend to be the most placist) are often the least innovative and technically interesting. I won’t argue against the claim that the Bay Area (as much as I personally dislike the place) has a density of technical innovation that is unmatched anywhere else in the world; but its attitude of having a monopoly on innovation, and the equally illogical attitude that everything it produces is valuable, is pretty obnoxious.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are some outdated hiring practices that may be limiting companies’ talent searches?


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