Proprietary File Formats conflict with Equal Opportunities

Posted 28 Jan 2010 at 17:30 UTC (updated 28 Jan 2010 at 18:52 UTC) by lkcl Share This

In applying for jobs and contract opportunities, the first hurdle is the request for a CV in a proprietary document format. ASCII text, the utmost basic of file formats, defeats many stupid employers and recruitment agencies. Whilst this is useful to help weed out working for companies with stupid people in them, it doesn't help in actually getting work.

The approach which has actually had far greater success, however, in getting companies to change their policy of using proprietary document formats is to explain clearly that the "online application form" contravenes "Equal Opportunities" legislation. This article describes the approaches taken and the success stories, one at a time, by which the proprietary document format practices have been successfully changed.

Principles don't Cut It

I get contacted by or I contact about one recruitment agency a month. Every single one of them has failed the "My Principles Are More Important To Me Than Your Job" test, except one (and I didn't get the job). So, over the six or so years in which I've deployed this "Free Software Principles" technique, in which I've tried pointing people at the Sylvester Response, there simply hasn't been any traction because these people don't have any incentive to change.

Put simply: when I tell them they're placing a significant burden onto me by expecting me to use proprietary file-formats, it makes me look like a complete f*****g t***t.

However, eventually, by varying what it was that I said (and I had enough practice) I eventually began to get results.

Government Web Site "Accessibility"

The first success I had I didn't hear back about for over nine months. I had complained using a Contact Form that in order to fill in some application or other, it was expected that I have Microsoft Word. I explained that the cost of Microsoft Office was £500, and that the cost of a computer capable of running Microsoft Office was, at the time, also around £500, and were they seriously expecting me to shell out £1000 just to fill in some application form, and wasn't this contrary to some Government Regulation somewhere? Incidentally, if I was blind, this web site would fail "Accessibility" regulations, and overall I'm not very impressed, blah blah.

Hit send, had a bit of a laugh, told a few friends, they all laughed, thought nothing of it.

Imagine my surprise when I received a message nearly a year later, saying "We have taken into consideration numerous feedback (yeahright) and have revised our web site to be more compliant with Accessibility Guidelines. We welcome your input and feedback on our new site".

So here was a way! By tweaking what I said, it was actually possible to leverage regulations that these people had to comply with. Sentences with words like "oversight" began to form...

Refined: Equal Opportunities

The second success was very recent; it was again a large organisation for whom compliance with regulations is of particular importance. The web site contained, on the job application, a proprietary-formatted job spec. I explained, again, that as this is a job application, I might not have the kind of money required to purchase expensive computers, or purchase expensive software, and wasn't that discriminatory and contrary to Equal Opportunities legislation?

It worked: they had a meeting; they made the changes. They now had the right "words" with which to make effective policy changes, and to be able to justify their actions to their superiors.

Testing the Waters again

So, my next attempt will be the Open University. After finding that the Open University is beginning a Linux Course (T155), I was so absolutely delighted that I had to apply to be a Tutor. The page with the application form is here. Note the proprietary document format. Note also the assumption that the document can be loaded into "Wordpad", "Star Office" or "OpenOffice". This assumes that the applicant is willing to spend the money on a computer powerful enough to handle the bloat-ware, which is contrary to the Equal Opportunities policy. It also assumes that the applicant has no principles or ethics regarding Free Software. If being a "Free Software" advocate was a Religion, then there would definitely be a case for discrimination. In fact, the derivation of the word "Religion" comes from the Latin, meaning "Rules", so there would actually be a case that it is "Against My Religion (rules) to use proprietary file formats".

It is also deliciously ironic that the T155 Linux course is expected to instil into the students the principles and benefits of Free Software and its values. It's also ironic that the course description tells us of the benefits of being able to reuse older hardware. Yet potential Tutors who would be perfect to teach by virtue of their experience and their principles are forced to violate their principles and use the most expensive software and hardware, in order to apply for the job! The icing on the cake is the fact that google searches for" Equal Opportunities Policy" reveal top hits on documents mentioning the Open University's Equal Opportunities policy... in Microsoft Proprietary formatted files. Surely the top hit should be the policy itself, in an "Accessible" format!

A University should lead by example if it is to be teaching anyone at all. Ghandi's beautiful words went something along those lines. "Be the change you want to see in the world".


It is possible to get people to listen if you want to instil Free Software principles, but they have to have a "handle" against which they are forced to act, within the organisation that they work. Or, if they agree with you in principle, but are otherwise hog-tied, they need that "handle" with which to justify their actions to their superiors.

Using the words "Discrimination" and "Equal Opportunities" in the same sentence seems to do the trick.

Thanks for Sharing This, posted 2 Feb 2010 at 18:16 UTC by shlomif » (Master)

I also had my share of flak from job opportunities where the recruiters wanted resumes in Word format (including ones for FOSS jobs.).

What's involved?, posted 3 Feb 2010 at 12:33 UTC by chalst » (Master)

How time consuming were these appeals, altogether? Did you just need to write one letter in each case, or did they need involved explanations before they grasped what the issue was?

Re: what's involved, posted 24 Apr 2010 at 13:29 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

it's been a series of refinements. the recruiters just don't bother (except in one case, where they found it amusing) because it's not in their interests. it's the large companies, ones with a lot to lose, who are almost... _required_ to protect their equal opportunities policies with fervour. a single sensible letter, along the lines of the "sylvester response", in these instances sufficed.

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