Diversity in the Workplace?

Gary Burnison, Chief Executive Officer at Korn/Ferry International, posted a comment on LinkedIn, Labeled 'World's Ugliest Woman' – Would You Hire Her?:
Last week, I was moved by an interview on Huffington Post Live about Lizzie Velasquez. She has been labeled and ridiculed by many as the “world’s ugliest woman.”

She is a talented author and motivational speaker. She could probably be an inspiration and effective contributor to most organizations. However, in most situations, she would not have the chance to get to a final interview to be hired.

I am not condemning anyone. The facts show that we have “biases” in hiring that are natural human tendencies -- and biases are difficult to overcome.

We live in an “instant judgment” society. I know the minute I walk into a room, opinions are formed about me before I open my mouth. The same is true of every person reading this post.

Plus we form opinions just by hearing the name. If O’Sullivan and Obama both walked in the door for an interview – which one might you be prone to hire?

Don’t get me wrong. Companies and people really want to get this right. Companies today want a diverse workforce. And, they do not want one just for “diversity sake,” they want to have a workforce that is an image of their customer base. They want it for broader thinking and a wider perspective. They want the best shot, and the best process for finding and developing the best talent.

It was always odd to me that a women’s fashion company might be loaded with men in the executive ranks. It did not shock me when GM appointed Mary Barra as CEO. I wrote earlier that a study released three years ago revealed that women buy 52% of all new cars and influence more than 85% of all car purchases. So, it should really not be a surprise that GM would choose a woman as CEO. It makes total business sense to have the executive ranks mirror its customer base.

So, great companies really do fight to overcome these biases of hiring people who “look and think like us.” And, the best HR departments are working to institute hiring practices that open the door for diversity to drive excellence.

Easy to say, tough to do.

One recent example some may have read was depicted in a Wall Street Journal story on Amazon and its hiring system. It notes that Amazon has “a gantlet of people, dubbed ‘bar raisers,’ who must sign off on would-be hires.

Bar raisers are skilled evaluators who, while holding full-time jobs at the company in a range of departments, play a crucial role in Amazon's hiring process, interviewing job candidates in other parts of the company.”

Amazon is opening the door for a wide range of opinions to see if a candidate will succeed. “Succeed” in this instance goes beyond words we hear in human resources like “fit.” A person can “fit” the mold, “fit” to meet the requirements, and “fit” the culture. But they still might not succeed.

While Amazon is raising the bar, it is also inculcating a check and balance system in hiring.

An effective talent acquisition and talent development program is strategic to a business. This, of course, assumes that a company considers people its most important asset.

To assure that HR is strategic in increasing the chances that great people are identified and developed, starts with the CEO. In the Amazon story, it notes that Jeff Bezos recognized their hiring program is “something the broader team is very proud of."

Despite great human resource programs that we have seen and been privileged to help developed at companies – the question remains, can people overcome their biases to hire on ability? How do we create a system where the Lizzie Velasquez’s of the world have an equal shot at a job?

Orchestras have overcome this with blind auditions. This began in the 70s and 80s. In 1970, female musicians comprised less than 5% of players in top five US symphony orchestras; by 1997 it was 25% -- thanks to blind auditions. But while diversity is important, this blind audition process assured the hiring of better musicians.

A more current example is the television show, “The Voice.” Judges do not get to see singers, but only hear them, before the initial talent evaluation.

So, how do companies make hiring strategic?

There is no one solution. The Amazon example is one way to create a check and balance in hiring. Few companies can really have blind auditions. We suggest that companies have systems where they “try before they buy.” Is there a way to have a candidate work on a defined project? Is there a chance to collaborate with them on solving a problem? This “try before you buy” is a two-way street. The candidate gets an idea if he or she can succeed as well.

Second, get many opinions as Amazon does. While HR can guide and lead a process, great chief human resource directors do not make final hiring decisions. They guide an egalitarian process and help the decision making process by those on the line doing the work.

So, final question: do we see more if we hire without seeing the candidate?

Stevie Wonder was quoted as saying, “I am glad I am blind. I can see more of life this way.”

We need to close our eyes to biases, to open the world of possibilities.


P.S. A thank you to Lizzie – whom I have not met – but her message is an important reminder to all of us. The reference to Lizzie and excerpt below was published with permission through her publisher, Liguori Publications. http://www.liguori.org

I have included a link to Lizzie’s book, Be Beautiful, Be You -- http://www.liguori.org/be-beautiful-be-you.html#

When an Internet video calling her "The World’s Ugliest Woman" went viral, Lizzie Velasquez set out to discover what truly makes us beautiful.

“After spending years wanting to look like everyone else, I realized I needed to love and accept myself just as I am. When I stopped listening to other people and started making a life for myself, I discovered my purpose in life, my passion…”
I love this post and think Lizzie Velasquez should serve as an inspiration to all of us. The morons who make fun of her have never walked a mile in her shoes and don't have her wisdom and strength.  I also love the Stevie Wonder quote at the end of Gary Burnison's comment: “I am glad I am blind. I can see more of life this way.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day so I'm going to discuss a topic that is often overlooked but critically important, diversity in the workplace. There is a great website which discusses the benefits of diversity but I'm going to share with you why I remain extremely skeptical and there is a lot of work ahead to promote true diversity in the workplace.

When people ask me why with all my experience and skills I haven't landed a job yet, I just bluntly tell them the truth, I pissed some "powerful" pension pricks off and they blacklisted me in the industry. They also continue to  illegally discriminate against me because I have multiple sclerosis and they see this as a 'weakness' or a 'liability' (they're so dumb, it's pathetic, and I'm not just talking about the Caisse and PSP).

So why don't I sue the bastards? What for? What's the use? All that money and negative energy to go work at places run by a bunch arrogant assholes who think they're important because they write big checks to the real wolves of Wall Street.

No, I'm not interested in working for or with assholes and backstabbers. Been there, done that. I think it's disgusting how some institutions treat me but I'm at a point in my life where I realize the "powerful" idiots will never change, it's all about managing their career risk and how good they look to their peers and the public. As long as they keep collecting their big bonuses, they couldn't care less about diversity in the workplace.

But I'm not happy with diversity in the workplace and give all of Canada's top ten pension funds a big fat "F" on this front. Moreover, the federal and provincial auditor generals have done nothing to highlight the miserable state of diversity in the workplace at provincial and federal Crown corporations.

I blame our laws for this. You see when you read "we do not discriminate against applicants based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or any other status or condition protected by applicable law," it's all a bunch of bullshit. These laws have done virtually nothing to promote true diversification in the workplace and there is no accountability whatsoever.

Every single Crown corporation, government organization and federally regulated private company should produce a comprehensive report on diversification in the workplace showing exactly how many women, gays, aboriginal and especially people with disabilities they're hiring. Moreover, there should be explicit programs targeting the hiring of minorities, especially aboriginals and people with disabilities, the two minority groups with the highest rate of unemployment.

Look at the senior management of any federal or provincial  Crown corporation and you will not find one person with a disability. It's actually quite scandalous. Women, blacks, gays and aboriginals have made huge inroads but there is systematic discrimination against people with disabilities which is why the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is unacceptably high, often running as high as 70% or 80% in good and bad economic times.

In my work experience, I only saw two people in a wheelchair working at low level jobs at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). And there is a story behind one of the employees which I won't share publicly.  To their credit, BDC was the only Crown corporation where they had buttons to open doors, even bathroom doors, allowing their disabled employees to be more mobile. And unlike most places, BDC's HR department is doing an outstanding job but they still have a lot of work ahead to promote true diversity at all levels of their organization, especially senior management.

People don't like talking about diversity in the workplace. They think "the best people are hired at all levels no matter what" but that is a crock of shit. Politics in the workplace plays a huge role as to who gets promoted to any position, especially a senior position.

And sometimes hiring quotas work against an organization. A friend of mine reminds me of how he's seen many women get promoted to senior positions at a well-known Quebec bank and according to him, "a lot of them are completely incompetent" (can say the same thing about a lot of guys getting promoted).

Of course, Quebec is a special place. I love it here and wouldn't live in any other place, but the systematic discrimination that goes on here at government organizations and Crown  corporations against Anglos, ethnics and people of disabilities is just insane, if not criminal.

I remember when I applied to a job at Hydro Quebec and passed this two hour bullshit psychological exam. I scored highly and got called for an interview for a trader position. The managing director hiring told me I scored highly on all their exams. Then, he gave me a copy of his team's organization chart and asked me what are my origins. I told him Greek. And he then told me "comme tu peux voir, j'ai pas un ethnie dans mon équipe" ("as you can see, I got no ethnics on my team"). I looked at him and blurted "Il est temps que tu commences!" ("it's about time you start!"). I was so turned off, I never applied to Hydro Quebec ever again.

But as I stated, I love Quebec and especially love Montreal and wouldn't live anywhere else.  The petty politics drives me insane but this is a fantastic province and I really appreciate the French culture and diversity in Montreal.

I was thinking about it this morning at the gym. My trainer, Lloyd Lawrence, is a 57 year old black man who can makes guys half is age at the gym look like little girly men. Lloyd is one of the best trainers I've ever had and he really cares about his clients and seeing results. "There is nothing you cannot do man when you put your mind to it. Now, come on, give me all you got!"

I love how Lloyd pumps me up and makes me laugh. "Look at all these 25 year old guys in the gym and they can't do a tenth of what I was doing at their age. It's sad but people don't know how to train properly. They listen to a bunch of people with fancy degrees who don't know what they're talking about." I told him that is exactly what happens in the financial services industry which is why so many clueless people are getting raped on fees.

Diversity, I love it. I hired two guys to renovate my dad's condo. They both have a hearing impairment and I have to talk slowly and listen carefully when talking to them. But they're incredible, best contractors and renovators I've ever seen and would recommend them in a flash. They truly care about the quality of their work.

So, this Martin Luther King Day, I want all of you to think about how important diversity is to you and how important it is to have a truly diverse workplace. I also urge all the public pension funds to provide an annual report discussing diversity at their workplace and providing hard stats on how they are taking diversity seriously.

Below, Lizzie Velasquez was born with a rare disorder that prevents her from gaining weight. After discovering a YouTube video calling her the "World's Ugliest Woman," she chose to rise above cyber bullying and work as a motivational speaker. Watch the clips below from Huff Post Live and talk to your kids about cyber bullying. This lady is inspirational and very brave. I'd hire her in a second.