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Are Disproportionate Numbers Persuasive?


- 12% of fire fighters in the United States is female.

- 13% of taxi drivers or chauffeurs is female.

- 21% of Lyft drivers is female.

- 27% of Uber drivers is female.

- Of the 9820 FBI special agents, 17% is female.

Some believe that the moment they present a number that is disproportionate, they have proven their assertion that some sort of conduct is discriminatory or unfair.

For those who are wise critical thinkers, when they see disproportionate numbers, they stop. They are alerted. The next step is to do the necessary research to discern how this has come about.

Are these disproportionate numbers facts or perceptions? It is easier to perceive each issue in a dichotomy; that is, either this or that. In actuality, critical thinkers realize that most issues are complex or multi-faceted.

Disproportionate Number Example: Violent Crime and Men

According to Wikipedia:

- Males constituted 98.9% of those arrested for forcible rape

- Males constituted 87.9% of those arrested for robbery

- Males constituted 85.0% of those arrested for burglary

- Males constituted 83.0% of those arrested for arson.

- Males constituted 81.7% of those arrested for vandalism.

- Males constituted 81.5% of those arrested for motor-vehicle theft

- Males constituted 79.7% of those arrested for offenses against family and children

- Males constituted 77.8% of those arrested for aggravated assault

These are amazing criminal statistics and are very disproportionate numbers considering that males equal 49.5% of the population. But, most do not jump to the assumption that the criminal justice system discriminates against males. Instead, the response is that males are committing these crimes so they are arrested and convicted for such.

This type of discerning criminal thinking about disproportionate numbers should be applied to all situations.

Example One: District of Columbia police force

In this example, let’s start with facts first.

DC police department consists of 3,552 people.

- 5% or 160 are Asian or 160

- 51% or 1800 are black or African American

- 10% or 370 are Hispanic

- 35% or 1230 are white

- 77% are males

- 23% are Females

DC’s population has been dynamic over the past several decades. Today,

- 4.5% are Asian

- 46% are Black or African American

- 11.5% are Hispanic

- 46% are white

- 52.4% are female

- 47.6% are male

Analysis: Most Americans are in the pattern of framing all disproportionate numbers in the Black/White frame. Rising above this habit, what stands out in the analysis is the variance of the numbers between females in DC equaling 52.4% and female police equaling 23%. In contrast, females comprise 13% of police forces nationally. So, DC is doing better than the nation.

First, one must wonder why people are attracted to the police profession. The number one reason seems to be power and authority equaling Type A personalities. The second is the prestige of the profession. The third is that friends and relatives are already police.

Second, policing, much like the military and fire fighting, seems to be associated with “family professions." There may even be a subconscious bias towards police family members. For example. DC Chief of Police Robert J. Contee III has a sister who is a police officer. Officer Daryle Cooper was just sworn in as a DC police officer. Her Mother was a police member as is her stepfather, who has a twin brother who is a police officer.

There is no definite research on family and police, but some estimate 20% of police have family connections.

Second, there is a police hiring preference for veterans. The reasons seem to be familiarity with fire arms use and following the chain of command. Only 27.4% of the United States military is female. This percentage is consistent with the 23% of females in the DC police force.

Values: At first blush, many Americans may say that their police force demographics should match the residential demographics. On the surface, this makes sense.

What if one thinks “outside the box” and instead notes that in DC 80% of the arrests involve males. Would this justify the disproportionate number of police males or maybe this stat would be relevant for patrol or beat police not the police decision-makers.

Another value is favoring community policing. CP can be defined as getting the police into the community including police walking and biking the neighborhood. The neighbors and local businesses get to know the beat cop so they can actually prevent crime. Most police at the top buy into CP, but this is not effectuated on a patrol level. Why? Could it be that those who are attracted to policing are not of the peace maker or the "let’s communicate" type of personality?

Example #2: DC-based legal nonprofit association

There is a DC-based legal nonprofit association with about 150 employees. Approximately 40% would be considered “professionals” and the others considered “support staff.” The support staff is 100% female and 95% black. The professional staff is 95% white. This is not atypical of DC nonprofit associations.

Their HR professionals will assert that their support staff demographics reflect the DC area and the hiring potential. The professional staff reflects more of the nation since they advertise nationally and pay some relocation costs.

Does this make sense or is it suspicious?

Example 3: Sports Club

At one branch of this sports club the manager is a Person of Color (POC). There are 28 employees all of whom are POC. The manager contends that they merely hire from the application pool.

Two miles from this branch is another branch. The Manager is white. There are the same number of employees doing the same job. Two-thirds are POC.

This sets up a prima facie case (Prima facie is a Latin expression meaning at first sight or based on first impression. Enough information to establish a fact or assumption.) of prejudicial hiring. It is often said that 95% of the posted jobs are already selected. In this case, there could be other factors. Maybe the first manager would say that they have a preference for employees who live in the neighborhood. This may have some logic, but the disproportionate number may still be considered discrimination.

Example 4: Grocery Store

There is a 15 year-old grocery store that is located in a wonderfully diverse (if you value diversity) neighborhood. They employ about 110 employees. All the so called "good jobs" (cashiers, stocking, etc) are filled by African Americans. All the cleaning jobs are filled by Latinos. Is this suspicious? Yes!

A Story: Jewish, Legal and East Coast.

An Indiana attorney accepted a job at an international legal non-profit located in DC. He was shocked by the difference between the Indiana legal culture and the East Coast (specifically DC) legal culture. The Indiana attorney took note of the cliquey-ness of the East Coast legal culture, especially the disproportionate amount of Jewish folks.

Yes, a sensitive topic.

Yet, statistics paint a picture.

- 2% (2.5%) of US population is Jewish.

- 20% of the population of Harvard Law School

- 30% of Yale Law School.

- 20% of Georgetown Law

- 28% of George Washington University Law School

- 10% of the US Senate

- 10% of the federal judiciary

- 20% of east coast attorneys

- 20-30% of the US Supreme Court

- Career specialists assert that Jewish folks are 3.3 times more likely to be successful than other Americans.

When numbers are this disproportionate, they need examination.

Some believe there is an intrinsic connection between lawyers and the Hebrew religion:

Justice has seemed, throughout the generations, to lie at the beating heart of Jewish faith. Albert Einstein memorably spoke of "the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice, and the desire for personal independence - these are the features of the Jewish tradition which make me thank my lucky stars that I belong to it." In the course of a television programme I made for the BBC I asked Hazel Cosgrove, the first woman to be appointed as a judge in Scotland, and an active member of the Edinburgh Jewish community, what had led her to choose law as a career, she replied as if it was self-evident, "Because Judaism teaches: Justice, justice shall you pursue."

Lawyering may also run in the family such as being a police officer, a fire fighter, or an actor. In DC, an example of this is one firm that has the grandfather, the father and the son all as attorneys.


Presenting disproportionate numbers can be persuasive if presented in a critical thinking process.

The example of rape above demonstrates this. The numbers are disproportionate. One could instantly jump to discrimination or unfair treatment of males. But most, when presented with these numbers, will instantly retort that most convicted rapists are males because males are the perpetuators. That retort makes sense. It is logical, BUT this line of reasoning is not applied to many other disproportionate numbers.

Here is a case in point: NBC News' Maya Brown writes about a study done by the Alliance for Educational Justice. She titles it “Police have outsize effect on black children.” She reports that 80% of police violence in schools involved black children. The report concludes that police in schools are ineffective, a waste of money with negative effects on black children.

There is no context in the article about this percentage or even whether it is disproportionate. So, the persuasive approach is to pay attention to disproportionate numbers. These raise red flags. Instead of jumping to assumptions for conclusions a critical thinker does the research. They are researching for other factors that might explain the numbers. If they find none then maybe there is unfair treatment or discrimination.

This thoughtful process is the same one that celebrated writer and thinker Malcolm Gladwell urges in his famous book Blink. He urges readers to pay attention to their instincts, their gut reaction, their intuition. Allow these to raise red flags. Second step: Do the research. More likely than not the instincts are correct based on life experiences.


See Recommended Books under “Blogs” drop down menu.

Roy J. Lewicki is the author of 'Essentials of Negotiation', published 2015 under ISBN 9780077862466 and ISBN 0077862465. Publisher: McGraw Hill Higher Education

The Conflict Resolution Training Program, Leader’s Manual, ISBN: 0-7879-6077-2. Prudence Bowman Kestner and Larry Ray

5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

Getting Your Way Every Day.


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