Saturday, June 07, 2008

Know thyself...

I've been thinking quite a bit about why private sector companies should care (or at least think) about diversity when recruiting. Mostly because this is an argument that I'm having to make a lot recently and I'm not sure I've yet come up with an answer that is completely convincing.

The line that people in the private sector take is that they are, effectively, blind to diversity. They don't care who the candidate is, as long as they are the best candidate for the job. This strikes me as old-fashioned and naive for two reasons.

1)It assumes (rather like basic economic principles) that we live in a completely rational world. Thus, if one could guarantee that the short list of candidates that they have to choose from are indeed the best 3 or 4 candidates for the job (selected without bias from the HR universe, or whatever function is being recruited from) then yes, their attitude would be positive and sensible. I don't think we can safely assume that market forces are completely objective and free from societal prejudice. To pretend that they are, or to act as if they are, is therefore irresponsible.

2)A recruiter to the private sector can repeat this belief, based on the idea that if they themselves are without prejudice, then the list of candidates they present will be The Ideal list of candidates. However, as above, I don't think that anyone can trust themselves to that degree. Although we may try and act as if we are not discriminatory on any grounds, the truth is that most (and I would go further and say *all* of us) do hold some beliefs either subconsciously or consciously, that would bias the selection we make. This doesn't make us bad people - we are bad people if we accept these beliefs without question or if we pretend that we don't hold these beliefs because we do not want to feel uncomfortable.

Given both (1) and (2) I think the private sector would do better to admit that there could be some bias to what is supposedly an objective process and to make sure that this is redressed to some degree by having a system of checks in place. Thus, if a short list of Finance Directors is presented that consists only of white men, I don't think it's at all wrong to question why that is - in fact, I think that's the responsible option. The sooner that this sort of response is made part of the typical recruitment process in the private sector, the sooner they will be approaching the stage where they really are selecting the best candidate. To deny that the private sector has an interest in diversity is completely counter-productive.

No comments: