From April, 2012

The Most Important Diversity Issue Isn’t Race!

Or ethnicity, or gender or sexual preference. Which is not to say that these aren’t real and important issues.

But in my experience as a manager, the most important aspect of diversity, in terms of impact on the workplace and productivity, is “thinking styles”.

The concept of right brain and left brain thinking was developed from research conducted in the late 1960s by an American psycho-biologist Roger W Sperry. He discovered that the human brain has two very different ways of thinking. One (the right brain) is visual and processes information in an intuitive and simultaneous way, looking first at the whole picture then the details. The other (the left brain) is verbal and processes information in an analytical and sequential way, looking first at the pieces then putting them together to get the whole. Sperry was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1981, although subsequent research has shown that things aren’t quite as polarized as once thought (nor as simple).

Researchers continue to unlock the secrets of the human brain. According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, “the human mind is better thought of as a series of relatively separate faculties, with only loose and non-predictable relations with one another, than as a single, all-purpose machine that performs steadily at a certain horsepower, independent of content and context.”

To take this further, other researchers posit that the human brain, your brain, comprises dozens of different and separate cognitive abilities. They group these under two general categories: Fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. The first category of cognitive abilities, fluid intelligence, includes things like pattern recognition and abstract thinking, which tend to peak in early adulthood. The latter category, “crystallized intelligence” includes skills that are the result of experience and education, things like verbal ability, inductive reasoning and judgment. These abilities can continue to develop and expand as we age.

While fluid intelligence appears to be the result of nature, i.e., genetics, and therefore is relatively fixed, the good news is that we can actually have an impact on the experience-based cognitive abilities that make up our “crystallized intelligence”.

So not only do we each have our own unique array of different cognitive abilities upon which we can draw, but also our personal inventory of “brain powers” changes as we age. In other words, we all think differently from one another, but we also think differently at different stages of our lives.

I have always found that the most powerful teams in terms of output consist of a full range of thinking styles. This usually means a diversity of personalities and ages. Unfortunately, however, many managers hire employers who think (I said “think”, not “believe”) just like they do. They’re taking the easy way out. It’s harder to manage a team of diverse thinkers. But the diverse rewards justify the effort.

How often do we turn job candidates away not for race, age, ethnicity, etc. but because they don’t fit culturally within our organization? In essence because they don’t think and behave like we do.


When does Hiring for “Cultural Fit” become Discrimination?

I have read numerous discussions over the past year in HR magazines and on Linkedin discussing the importance of hiring employees that match your company’s culture.  The reason being, if I have three equally qualified candidates from which to choose, clearly at that point I must hire the individual who best fits my organization’s culture.  By doing so I should increase the chances that not only will I be satisfied with the employee but they will also be satisfied with the organization.  Employee satisfaction often walks hand in hand with employee retention and high employee retention usually means less expense for our company.  So hiring for cultural fit seems logical, right? 

Here’s the rub however.  When do we use the explanation of “Cultural Fit” as an excuse to discriminate?  I recently started a discussion on Linkedin regarding the prevalence of discrimination of not only groups such as minorities, women, and the elderly, but also Asians, the attractive, smokers and the obese.  As one commenter put it, “Cultural fit has become the new euphemism for discrimination.”  Further responses were varied.  Many took the stance that everyone had biases in one form or another and that we just needed to roll with the punches, stop whining essentially, and continue to put our best foot forward until you land with the organization that best appreciates you.   

After all, if you didn’t get the job HR could just argue that you didn’t fit in well culturally.  For example, one commenter said they turned down a qualified candidate because the person was, as she put it, a redneck and they didn’t think a redneck would work well with the customers.  “Redneck” if you didn’t already know, isn’t one of the EEOC’s protected classes.  In essence the qualified “redneck” candidate was not a cultural fit.  One commenter supported her by saying the organization’s needs were evaluated from the perspective of the customer and the candidate could not meet them.   

Another commenter said they refused to hire a candidate who, by his intense smell, obviously smoked.  Why?  Because it would bother other people in the office.  This is another example of cultural fit coming into play. 

Others took the stance that in no shape or form should discrimination be tolerated.  If the candidate is qualified, HR departments should give equal consideration to each candidate.  But is this really possible to do when the company’s profits are on the line?  Look at Hooters restaurants, for example, which for years have employed women who must have certain attractive physical characteristics.  Their high priced lawyers helped them win a lawsuit several years ago and they are still allowed to employ only women of a certain appearance.  If they did not wouldn’t their profits suffer?  Couldn’t a case be made that women of a certain appearance, and of course men were unable to effectively do the job as set forth by the company’s culture regardless of their past waitress/waiter experience?   

 If I’m obese and am turned down for a retail job for a sportswear company where most of the salespeople are attractive and fit, is this discrimination or was my failure due to a lack of cultural fit because management knew my overweight appearance would turn off customers?  Is this discrimination or rather a case of a lack of cultural fit affecting the organization’s bottom line?   

Are companies beginning to establish that candidates can be discriminated against under the pretense of cultural fit if their “smoker’s cough”, obesity, or even their rough around the edges “redneckery”, hurts profits or disrupts their colleague’s ability to perform well? 

If you’re a woman, or old, or of a different ethnicity organizations should give you fair consideration because these are attributes out of your control.  And yet if your personality or appearance is a cause for rejection whether you’re black, Indian, or even pregnant, can we say anyone is really protected?   

So the question continues to be when are we being discriminatory and when are we just looking out for the best interests of our company?  

iPhone Hiring? Is Being Impractical Really the New Cool?

Video interviewing is a new technology getting noticed more and more among HR professionals and recruiters for its many benefits in helping organizations hire more effectively and affordably.  I like video interviewing.  I get all the benefits of it and have written  about it in the past.  I’m a big supporter of conducting video interviews.  With that said video interviews must be done right. 

Now I know everyone either has an iPhone or maybe wants an iPhone.  It is the new cool toy!  I like the iPhone, and as with video interviewing, I have no problem talking about how wonderful it is.  But when it comes to conducting video interviews over an iPhone (or iPad) I have an issue.   

Why you ask?  Because some people want you to believe that PCs and laptops are about as cool as Betamax players and if you’re going to do a video interview, you should conduct it with the most cutting edge piece of technology.  But just because you can conduct an interview on an iPhone doesn’t mean you should.  

Once upon a time wasn’t the microwave considered a miraculous piece of hardware that must have been alien in origin for its sophistication?  “Hey look everyone we don’t have to boil hotdogs anymore we can cook them in 30 seconds!”  Can you imagine what they must have been talking about in 1980?  “Why spend four hours cooking your turkey in the oven when you can do it in one?” 

That’s my point.  Conducting a video interview using your iPhone or other mobile device is like cooking a turkey in your microwave oven.  Sure you can do it but why would you?  I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t.   

Reason Number One: It will look bad!  Most candidates want to conduct a professional interview with you.  This isn’t a video web chat with their old college roommate.  They want to look and sound their best.  While candidates generally favor video interviews done on a desktop or laptop, conducting one on an unstable device such as a phone is impractical.  The only current application I can see for doing an interview on a phone is because the candidate is unable to get to one of the one billion PCs in use today worldwide. 

Reason Number Two: It will look BAD!  Yes, I realize I already said that but it is worth repeating.  Do you really want your candidate to interview over their phone while walking down a sidewalk?  Let’s see how good a candidate looks while conducting an interview on a subway or in the back of a cab while his head snaps to and fro as the cabbie plows through pot holes.  Your candidates don’t want to deliver bad interviews to you nor do you want to see bad interviews. 

Now I know what you’re about to say.  A candidate would never do that.  They would go somewhere quiet and noise free to conduct their interview.  If the candidate indeed has time to do that then why wouldn’t they then do it on their laptop or PC?  Why bother with holding their phone up in front of them the whole time trying to keep their aching arm steady?  The same is true for trying to conduct one on an iPad.  Can you see a candidate with fully extended wobbly arms steadying an iPad in front of their face and trying to answer questions?  

I understand that smart phones are all the rage but let’s not get crazy.  Form factor matters.  For another example from the history of technology diffusion, it took years of work on handheld devices, with failure after failure (even Apple’s Newton!) before Palm introduced one that found broad market acceptance.  The Palm has evolved to today’s smart mobile devices, but they are best used for certain applications, with video interviews not on the list.

Mobile interviews are like microwaved turkeys.  Yes you can do them efficiently but the poor taste and presentation make you wish you had done them right from the beginning.

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Discrimination: It is so Prevalent, Everyone Gets a Fair Shake!

We all know discrimination exists in the hiring process.  The primary concern is to give equal consideration to job candidates across different races, genders, ethnicities, and to those candidates from different age groups.  This is important because if organizations don’t give fair consideration to these groups then the HR department or hiring manager can get in big trouble if the candidate decides to file a lawsuit citing discrimination.

I have written numerous times in the past on varying forms of discrimination.  Asian candidates have been passed over for positions and promotions because allegedly they don’t exude “executive presence.”

Overweight individuals and smokers are passed over because high work absenteeism and health care costs are linked to employees in poor health.  Healthier appearing candidates are often given greater consideration for employment.

I have spoken with a sales manager who worked for Big Blue (IBM) back in the day and they gave demerits to individuals with beards or who wore loafers.  Why?  Isn’t it obvious?  Wearing shoes without laces must mean you are lazy!  Silly yes, but it’s a true story!

Recent physiognomy studies point to our ability to accurately predict an individual’s competence in whatever they do just by viewing a short video of them.  How many people are passed over because the hiring manager notices during the interview that the candidate lacks that certain something?  It may not be color, age, or gender, but something is missing and their gut is telling them to go with someone else.  And sometimes we’re just discriminated against because we’re not likable enough.  Candidates would like to believe they are hired merely on their qualifications but how often is that actually  the case?  Appearance and cultural fit come into play more than they realize.

Now a recent research study out of Europe suggests that attractive female candidates are discriminated against more than not only their attractive male counterparts but also their less attractive female competition.  Wow, just when you think being pretty gives you a leg up you discover that it could be an impediment.  The reason for this discrimination according to the research?  Good ole jealousy from predominantly female HR departments!  I’m not surprised really.  My hair is thinning, I’m 5’10 and weigh 150 pounds soaking wet, and dress most of the time like I’m going to a baseball game.  You think I want to see all the girls swooning over Thor, our new Nordic IT guy who is so good looking even I want to buy him a drink?

So with all this discrimination occurring for nearly every possible reason, does discrimination really still exist for the ”protected classes”?  Let me put it this way.  Let’s say I’m an African American candidate sitting in a room full of other candidates waiting for my opportunity to speak with a hiring manager.  Naturally I might be a little nervous because I’m a minority and I might not get a fair shake but knowing what I do about discrimination I look around the room and take stock of my competition.

Sitting diagonally across the room is Bob.  Bob has a receding hairline, a beard, and his pants are riding up over a pair of brightly colored socks.  When he laughs I notice a piece of broccoli caught in his tooth.  Yes, that and his socks are sure to distract the hiring manager!  Not to mention that beard has got to go!

Sitting next to Bob taking up two seats is Janine.  Janine is very pleasant and we’ve been engaging in casual conversation for the past 10 minutes but she’s pushing at least 250 and has a mole on her upper lip.  That’s not going to do her any favors!  I’m guessing my premiums are way lower than hers and believe me, I know the HR manager will take note.

Sitting to her left is Jake.  Jake has just popped a second stick of gum in his mouth because he’s already been outside twice to smoke!  We can all smell it on his suit each time he enters the room.  As my pastor says, smoking won’t send you to hell but you sure smell like you’ve been there.  To my far right a few seats down is Tran.  He’s impeccably dressed but he’s Asian and short and I’m guessing he’s not exuding that so called Executive presence for which he might be discriminated against.  I know it’s sad but I’m starting to feel pretty good.

Lauren is chatting me up to my right and I can tell by her smile she’s into scrawny guys with little hair.  She smells divine and is dressed professionally but she’s a total hottie.  If the HR person is a woman I have a good chance she might feel threatened by Lauren’s good looks and not move her forward.  Lauren, you’re gorgeous but this job is more important to me than your phone number.

To my left is Mike.  I don’t know much about him.  He looks fine but his constant griping about “the government” has put all of us on edge even if some of us agree with him.

So despite all my competition and my minority status I sit back, relax, and realize that all of my competition in one way or another will be discriminated against!  The hiring process is so unfair to everyone that it almost has become fair to us all.

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