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Feds Also Say That Oracle Underpaid Women and Minorities
January 23, 2019 12:03 am|Comments (0)

Oracle allegedly underpaid thousands of women and minority employees by $ 401 million over four years, according to a document filed Tuesday by the US Department of Labor, as part of an ongoing discrimination lawsuit against the software giant.

In the document, the Labor Department also claims that Oracle strongly prefers hiring Asians with student visas for certain roles because they are “dependent upon Oracle for sponsorship in order to remain in the United States,” so the company can systematically underpay them. Between 2013 and 2016, the department says, 90 percent of the 500 engineers hired through its college-recruiting program for product development jobs at its headquarters in California were Asian. Over the same four years, only six were black.

Once they are employed, Oracle also systematically underpays women, blacks, and Asians relative to their peers, the complaint claims, alleging that these disparities are driven by Oracle’s reliance on prior salaries in setting starting salaries and the company’s practice of steering black, Asian, and female employees into lower paid jobs. The department says some women were underpaid by as much as 20 percent compared with their male peers, or $ 37,000 in 2016.

“Oracle’s suppression of pay for its non-White, non-male employees is so extreme that it persists and gets worse over long careers; female, Black, and Asian employees with years of experience are paid as much as 25 percent less than their peers,” according to an updated complaint filed Tuesday. “Oracle’s compensation practices cause an increasing pay gap as those employees devote more of their lives to Oracle.” The Labor Department began investigating because Oracle has government contracts worth more than $ 100 million a year.

Oracle did not respond to a request for comment.

The document says Oracle underpaid more than 1,200 female employees by $ 165 million, more than 2,700 Asian employee by $ 234 million, and a smaller number of black employees by $ 1.3 million. The government’s case looks primarily at employees in product development, IT, and support roles at Oracle’s Redwood City, California, headquarters. In 2014, the department says, Oracle employed 7,500 of its 45,000 US employees at the Redwood City office. The agency claims that the total cost of Oracle’s discriminatory practices are likely “much higher” than $ 400 million because the company’s discrimination has continued since 2016.

The government’s allegations against Oracle echo those in a private lawsuit by former Oracle employees who say the company discriminated against them on the basis of sex. On Friday, lawyers for that group alleged in a new court filing that Oracle paid women $ 13,000 less than men in comparable jobs with comparable experience, based on expert analysis of Oracle’s pay data.

Pay equity is an increasingly high-profile issue in Silicon Valley, part of a broader examination of race and gender discrimination in hiring, promotion, and funding, as well as sexual harassment. When 20,000 Google employees walked out to protest the company’s practices in November, pay equity was ranked second in their list of demands.

The government lawsuit, which began in January 2017, was filed by the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and will be decided by an administrative law judge. The OFCCP is demanding that Oracle pay injured employees and applicants for lost wages and to correct discriminatory practices, including additional hiring.

But a bigger threat to Oracle may be the OFCCP’s demand to cancel all of Oracle’s government contracts and to bar the company from future contracts until it complies. The same office sued Google, which is also a federal contractor, for discrimination against women, alleging systemic bias against female employees. That case has been delayed while the two sides argue over how much pay data the government can get from Google.

Annual diversity reports published by major Silicon Valley companies show low numbers of under-represented minorities. In the four years since they began sharing the information, there has been little progress in improving those ratios to reflect the diversity of the industry’s billions of consumers around the world. Employers often allege that the numbers stem from a shortage of qualified candidates.

The OFCCP’s claims about systemic race discrimination at Oracle are based on comparing the number of recent college graduates of a particular race hired by Oracle versus the number of graduates at the schools where Oracle recruited and who had the degrees Oracle targeted.

However, the agency says its figures are incomplete because, it says, Oracle did not track race or ethnicity for the majority of applicants and deleted data requested by the Labor Department, including an email inbox where college recruits submitted their resumes. “There is a presumption that the information Oracle has refused to produce or destroyed was unfavorable to Oracle,” the complaint says.

Oracle tried to dismiss the Labor Department’s case based on the method for choosing administrative law judges. But last week, an administrative law judge ruled against Oracle.

More Great WIRED Stories


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Paul Broca's Great Discovery Also Reminds Us That Scientists Are Fallible
June 30, 2018 6:24 am|Comments (0)

Database Center for Life Science(DBCLS) via Wikimedia Commons

The highlighted region is Broca’s Area.

June 28th was the 194th birthday of Paul Broca, the physician and anthropologist who discovered the area of the brain responsible for our ability to produce spoken language. His discovery marked the first clear link between a region of the brain and a specific function, and it advanced our understanding of both brain structure and language. But Broca’s discovery, like much of the medical and anthropological research of his time, was born in a context of deeply racist ideas.

Huge swaths of anthropology and medical science in the mid-nineteenth century were explicitly racist, and Broca was no exception. Rather than a species with a common origin and variations in physical appearance, Broca and his fellow polygenists believed that human ethnic groups were actually completely distinct species which been created separately in different parts of the world. It’s not hard to imagine the kinds of things European colonial powers justified by viewing other peoples as different – and, almost always, lesser – species, especially since at the time, many anthropologists believed that cultures could be ranked along a continuum from barbaric to civilized – terms which make modern anthropologists cringe.

Broca’s preoccupation with racial classifications drove his interest in anthropometry, the measurement of the human body. Like many of his contemporaries, he espoused the idea that physical features, such as how far forward a person’s upper or lower jaw protruded, the ratio of the brain’s length to its width, or the length of a person’s arms relative to their torso, could predict intelligence. And Broca and his colleages, steeped in European ethnocentrism, always associated intelligence with traits that tended to be more common among European populations.

And that’s how Broca ended up examining brains. The mid-19th century was the heyday of phrenology, a field of study that claimed to be able to draw conclusions about a person’s character, personality, and intelligence based on the shape and features of their skull. A bump in the wrong place might brand you a habitual criminal or reveal an innate tendency to aggression, phrenologists claimed. The foundation of the whole discipline was the idea that certain areas of the brain controlled certain personality traits, as well functions like speech, memory, and motor control.

By the early 1860s the scientific community was starting to debate this set of ideas. At the Society of Anthropology of Paris, a scientific society founded and led by Broca, discussion centered on whether the capacity for language could be traced to a particular piece of the brain. In an effort to settle the debate, Broca paid a visit in 1861 to a patient named Louis Victor Leborgne, who had been nicknamed “Tan” because that was the only word he could clearly pronounce. Leborgne could understand other people’s speech with no trouble, and his mental faculties were intact – he just couldn’t make his mouth form the words he wanted to say.

Leborgne passed away shortly after Broca’s visit, and the surgeon returned to the hospital to perform an autopsy on Leborgne’s brain. He noticed a lesion in the left frontal lobe, and over the next few years he found lesions in the same spot in the brains of 12 other people who shared Lebourgne’s trouble with words. (Most of those brains are now on display at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris.) Today, we know that that area of the brain plays an important role in the production of language, and it bears Broca’s name. The inability to form words which plagued Lebourgne is now called Broca’s Aphasia. (That’s distinct from Wernicke’s Area, a bit further back in the brain on the left temporal lobe. A lesion there produces Wernicke’s Aphasia, in which a person can’t understand language.)

Broca’s discovery marked the first known link between a specific region of the brain and a specific neurological function. Scientists have since discovered many others, and we now have a reasonably good map of which parts of the brain are linked to which functions – although the idea that their shape is linked to personality traits, let alone that the shape of a person’s skull can predict their character, has long since been thoroughly discredited.

The racist underpinnings of much of Broca’s body of work don’t alter the significance of his discovery, but it’s important to place his work into the context of his attitudes and assumptions. It gives us a stark look at how far science has come in just 150 years. And it reminds us that even those who make great discoveries are also capable of embracing some really awful ideas. Broca’s story reminds us that scientists are human, and good science requires evaluating ideas on their own merits.


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Nokia phones to expand to high-end while also striking nostalgia chord
February 25, 2018 6:05 pm|Comments (0)

BARCELONA/HELSINKI (Reuters) – Seeking to capitalise on their comeback over the past year, the makers of Nokia phones are expanding to include a premium Android smartphone, their first, and a remake of one of its biggest hits of the 1990s, the 8110 “slider” phone.

Set up by ex-Nokia executives who have licensed the famous brand, HMD Global — as the year-old company is known — has focused on mid-priced Androids and even sub-$ 100-priced phones since entering the smartphone market.

Chief Executive Florian Seiche said HMD has sold around 30 million phones after introducing 11 new phone models over the past year. On Sunday, it announced two new models, plus refreshed versions of three phones first offered last year.

“We feel great about the momentum we had in 2017 and that gives us the confidence to double down in 2018,” Seiche told reporters at a briefing in London ahead of the product launch.

Mobile phone market tracker Counterpoint Research said Nokia phones surged during 2017 to become the world’s No. 1 seller of low-cost feature phones and No. 11 in smartphones after only entering the market last year. On a combined basis, Nokia now ranks as the No. 6 mobile phone seller, Counterpoint calculates.

The New Nokia 6, Nokia 8 Sirocco, Nokia 8110, Nokia 1 and the Nokia 7 Plus are seen at a pre-launch event in London, Britain February 22, 2018. Picture taken February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

HMD’s strategy is to use distribution partnerships with 600 top mobile operators and retailers in selected markets around the world to offer reliable, affordable products with the latest innovations, plus monthly Google security updates on all phones.

Europe remains the biggest region for Nokia phones sales, Seiche said; India, Russia and Indonesia are its biggest country markets.

Slideshow (5 Images)

The Nokia 8 is the company’s flagship phone, priced at 749 euros ($ 920.75) and designed to compete with Samsung’s and Huawei’s premium models. A new, 4G-ready version of Nokia’s 8110 is priced at 79 euros ($ 97).

Nokia 8 is available in April, the revamped 8110 in May. The 1990s throwback model comes in two colour choices, classic black or banana yellow, a play on how its keyboard slid out, inspiring the nickname “banana phone”.

Nokia Corp, once the world’s dominant phone maker, sold its handset business to Microsoft in 2014 and is now focused on telecom network equipment.

HMD took over the Nokia feature phone business from Microsoft in 2016 and struck a deal with Nokia Oyj to use the brand on smartphones.

Editing by Larry King


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