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Why the Old Excuses for Not Hiring Women and Minorities Don't Wash
Excerpts from Race, Gender & Rhetoric

Cover: Race, Gender & Rhetoric"Gee, if only we could find some truly qualified women and people of color, we would be so glad to hire them all! Those folks just don't have much interest in our industry. But we sure would love to hire them if they were."

Those words sound familiar? They should. When we ask women and people of color to give us their take on such remarks, only a handful ever grant them any validity at all. Quite simply, we don't believe in the arguments about the dearth of qualified women and people of color. We see them as being at best unfounded assertions, at worst, the code words masking a new brand of racism and sexism. Qualified women and people of color are out there, and if the work environments and offers are right, there's no secret to finding them. It's simply a matter of committing ourselves to developing systematic, objective, rational, and fair recruiting strategies, implementing those strategies aggressively and fostering a team environment that treats people fairly, regardless of race or gender.

Some researchers are saying that the U.S. is only producing one qualified graduate for every five technically oriented jobs. On top of that, unemployment is at a 30-year low. The joint significance of those two trends is that both old and new recruits are going to have lots of job offers to choose among. Which in turn means that to stay competitive, companies are going to have to find, recruit, and retain the best employees, regardless of race or gender.

BLAME RECRUITING. Too often, recruiters and their companies evaluate new recruits solely on the basis of how they "fit" our culture. That is one indication of how, even though today's jobs and today's business environment do indeed require new skills and highly intelligent and well-trained employees, many companies continue to measure new recruits with antiquated tools. One such tool is the face-to-face, one-on-one employment interview. Too often such interviews are unstructured and haphazard; the interviewers have been poorly trained in how to conduct an objective interview. The result is a selection process that is biased by the way in which interviewers over-rely on "impressions," and thereby leave plenty of room for subtle racism or sexism to slip into the recruitment process.

Clifford Montgomery, vice president of human resources at Quaker Chemical Corp. in Pennsylvania, has shared some interesting but, in our opinion, dangerous observations about new skills and how his company goes about determining them. His company designed an exercise that asked people what they would do if all the staff resigned on Friday, changed their minds over the weekend, and asked to be rehired. Who would be rehired? The company used a form that evaluated five areas: education, language skills, industry, job expertise, and interpersonal skills. Montgomery writes:

"From this exercise, it soon became clear that although [the five areas were rated] equally on a scale of 1 to 10, employees who rated high on objective criteria (proficiency credentials) were five times as likely not to be rehired as those who scored the opposite way. These subjective, unquantifiable personal characteristics appeared to be a major key to the success or failure of an employee, and while most hiring managers intuitively understood this, it had been virtually ignored in our staffing process. As a result, interpersonal characteristics and cultural fit have become highly regarded assessment criteria."

THERE MUST BE BETTER WAY. While we agree that interpersonal skills are important, we have some major concerns about Quaker's approach, which seems to suggest corporations should look for people who "act like me, talk like me, look like me, make me feel comfortable." Our view is that companies should look at an employee's intellectual, technical, and professional skills and at their emotional intelligence, their ability to be empathetic, and their willingness to accept and value different race, ethnic and gender groups.

Here we offer some steps as ways of avoiding race and gender bias in the recruitment process:

Step 1: Develop specific hiring criteria, and make sure all interviewers and hiring managers make use of them.

Step 2. Develop specific instruments to measure the criteria.

Step 3. Train interviewers. Interviewers need to go through their own self-analysis so as to assess their own culture, norms, values, emotional intelligence, racial and gender attitudes and the like. They should go through the recruitment process, like any other new job candidate. They should even receive feedback from recruits about their skills.

Step 4. Have diverse interviewers. Because of our natural tendency to hire people like ourselves, it is crucial that women and people of color be recruiters and interviewers.

Step 5. Use a team-review approach. All parties to the process should meet as a team to review candidates, and to arrive at a team decision.

Step 6. Evaluate the recruiters in terms of their number of hires, as well as the race and gender, types of positions, and the success or failure of their recruits.

John P. Fernandez is President of Advanced Research Management Consultants (ARMC), a Philadelphia company that specializes in human resources and marketing. A former divisions operations manager at AT&T, he's the author of eight books, including the The Diversity Advantage and Managing a Diverse Workforce. He has taught management at New York University and has been a visiting professor at Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Reprinted and excerpted with permission from Race, Gender & Rhetoric
By John P. Fernandez
Copyright 1999 Bloomberg L.P.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed or stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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