Tim Worstall riffed off an earlier vX post and pointed me to the story of Dame Stephanie Shirley (an English biography that Americans ought to hear).
Amongst many things, Shirley practiced taste discrimination against men: her business plan was that she could gain an edge by employing underemployed women. And it worked, until they made it illegal:
This is the story of Steve Shirley, or more properly Dame Stephanie Shirley, and her company FI Group:
In 1962, Shirley founded, with a capital of £6, the software company Freelance Programmers,(later Xansa since acquired by Steria and now part of the Sopra Steria Group). She wanted to create job opportunities for women with dependents, and predominantly employed women, with only 3 male programmers of a total of over 300, until the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 made that practice illegal. She adopted the name, Steve, to help her in the male-dominated business world. Her team’s projects included programming Concorde’s black box flight recorder.
There was most definitely taste discrimination against women with small children being employed as programmers. Dame Steve was able to employ them at lower than their male counterpart rates and make a decent sized fortune as a result. She’s also said that the Sex Discrimination Act was the death knell for that particular business opportunity as it made the discrimination which produced her opportunity disappear.
Tim also pointed me through email to Dame Shirley’s TED video.
I’m going to thank Tim in advance for this example I’ll use in classes in the future. We economists often make the point that (harmful) discrimination must be leaving money on the table, and sending a signal to the enterprising to change how things are done. This case demonstrates that discrimination against women created opportunities for employing women.