Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thoughts on Diversity and Unemployment

Years ago, at the beginning of my career, I applied for an entry level job at a public relations firm. I still remember how excited I was when I was invited to interview. This was before the internet age, so I made a flurry of phone calls to tell my family and friends. The day of the interview I arrived a little early, patiently waited in the lobby for over an hour in my best suit, with several copies of my resume printed on heavy cream-colored bond paper. Several other candidates arrived, waited a few minutes and were ushered in to meet with the hiring team.

After waiting more than an hour an HR representative called me into her office. She explained that the position was no longer available. I never had the chance to interview. I left the office feeling rejected, put-upon and possibly the victim of racism. In my hour of waiting, I had not observed any people of color working for the firm. I will never know the truth. But that day inspired a passion in me. I vowed that if ever I were in a position to hire, the process would be transparent and fair.

Diversity efforts, while imperfect and unproven, exist to remind companies that hiring should be a fair and inclusive process. Not too long ago – in my lifetime – hiring was a flagrantly biased process. Companies were free to discriminate, nepotism was a common practice, and entire groups of people were openly excluded from the process.

I am inspired to write about this because we are entering an era in which every open position will carry huge importance in the job market. Candidates, who have already been treated poorly by ATS systems that serve HR, and not jobseekers, will be very sensitive to the outcome of every open position. Just as recruiters have more access to information, so do candidates. So it’s in our best interest to ensure that our hiring processes are fair, inclusive, and free of bias.

Moreover, as organizations focus on performance, and rooting out wasteful practices and underperformers, the dial always points back to hiring decisions. I have advised many hiring managers to take a look at their teams; does everyone have similar credentials? From the same school or program? The same company? Similar temperament? While these factors are far more important than achieving a team that “looks” diverse, the lack of ethnic or gender diversity is sometimes an indication that a team lacks the ability to approach problems from a variety of angles.

I have little patience with most diversity programs, because they wander too far from the root problem – ensuring that everyone has equal access to opportunity. But that does not mean that there isn’t a great need for such programs. As long as hiring managers insist on only hiring folks from their alma mater, or insist on hiring a brother-in-law at the expense of a more qualified candidate, we will need to educate managers about the cost of building homogeneous teams.

These days, most organizations can’t afford to pass up the best candidate. Sharks, it is our duty to source and present candidates with this in mind. It is our duty to stand up to managers who want to do things the old way. And it is our duty to ensure that the entire process is able to withstand the closest scrutiny.

And don’t leave anyone sitting in a lobby for an hour – ever.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your Post. I still remember my waiting over an hour at one of the Big 6 accounting firms in '92.

    Please consider joining our new international discussion group on Linkedin.com It's called Diversity A World of Change

    Bill Bargas
    Chief Diversity Officer