Category Archives: Trust in business

Affinity bias and the recruitment process

Affinity bias and cultural fit plays safe and stifles diversity

Affinity bias is defined as:

preference for certain types of people for whom they have an affinity, such as respondents who are similar to them or that they find attractive, and including them in the sample at higher rates than others.

“The right fit” is a phrase I hear repeatedly in the hiring process. It’s a catchall term that covers a multitude of sins related to making sure that potential candidates will slide seamlessly into the prevailing corporate culture. This is supposed to guarantee onboarding success, but it also means that no boats will be rocked. It’s the safe and non disruptive option. Affinity bias occurs when hiring managers show a marked preference for candidates to whom they can relate which can play an over arching role in many selection decisions.

Affinity bias is a safe choice

Affinity bias is a safe choice

The role of trust 

Philippe is a French investment banker who joined a London-based outfit in 2014. Within 12 months the team had taken on a number of new hires all of whom were French-speaking, as either a first or second language. They were French, Belgian, Moroccan, and Québécois.  All without exception had attended a “Grandes Ecoles,” the French equivalent of a top Ivy League school. Although Philippe seemed open to interviewing and considering candidates with more diverse backgrounds, in the end the more familiar and dependable candidates prevailed. It was all about his perception of “fit.” They made him feel comfortable. He was confident about their rigorous academic backgrounds and knew he could count on them and trust them when needed.

Read: Top 5 videos that highlight and tackle unconscious bias

The role of chemistry

Threat to women's jobs conversation career

either on a personal or professional basis. You will frequently hear the phrase “the chemistry wasn’t right” as a reason for debriefing candidates. So if we all prefer working or having relationships with individuals who make us feel secure and feel we can trust, then the converse also applies. Why would we choose to be around people who make us feel insecure, ill at ease and as if we are not in reliable and trustworthy hands?

So in a personal setting it can make sense, even if it might be a little limiting. Affinity bias works. But in a professional sense it means we are restricting our hires or network contacts to PLU (People Like Us) or Mini-Mes based on affinity bias. Aren’t we repeatedly told that people do business with those they like and trust?

This bias can be based on race, age, religion, schools attended, or any other distinguishing demographic feature. But even within primary cultures there can be sub-groups. A German electronics company reported a logistics function where the team was comprised of hires from the Indian sub-continent because the EVP was Indian. So one of the major deciding components is the influence and power of  senior stakeholders on hiring decisions.

Read: OPINION: The business case for diversity is just offensive

Impact on diversity and inclusion

With affinity bias being so pervasive and embedded in different ways into corporate culture – how can we successfully achieve diverse and inclusive organisations? The absence of diversity at senior levels contributes to perpetuating the problem of exclusion especially women, older demographics and minority groups. This is why it’s so important to have women in decision-making roles.

The answer is to proceed with mindful intention. We have to have inbuilt systemic checks and balances to ensure that the diversity message prevails. This is not an easy process, as changing human behaviour long-term has only a 20% success rate. What we need is to create is a culture which is open to receiving feedback and which allows us to question any potential affinity bias influencing a key decision-making process. Organisations which are open to having this type fo dialogue are taking a step in the right direction.

Read: The value of Mindfulness in Recruitment

Most organisations are confused about what diversity and inclusion really means let alone making it happen. But any benefits gained in shifting to a truly diverse hiring culture fail very quickly if employees feel uncomfortable challenging the prevailing views.

For more information on unconsicous bias in the recruitment process contact us here

reputation management

Social media a danger zone for HR professionals

Career coaches are constantly exhorting candidates to take care of their cyber foot print, especially at entry-level. All recruiters and headhunters usually check out applicants online before meeting them. Line managers have been warned to pay attention when liking and sharing inappropriate content on LinkedIn. Many are unaware it all goes out to an individual’s whole network and can potentially damage their personal brand. Direct reports say that it looks creepy!  But social media is now becoming an unforseen danger zone for HR Managers. They too have to be mindful of their social media activity.  Social media posting is now part of the daily routine for those working in the function, but it can have a downside.  Any ill-considered content could be not just be damaging to their reputations, but can also be used in legal action.

Social media activity reflects our belief systems 

There is a new discussion around posting and tweeting  on issues which are important to us personally. They reflect our views, values, our belief systems. But to counter that, they are they also an indication of deeply embedded biases and attitudes. The question is whether they are going to follow us into the workplace and impact our decision-making.  Or are they  a form of authentic expression separate from our professional lives? Adding a disclaimer may be enough for any organisation, but what about a legal process?

Clearly I could never get a job in UKIP or any European Fascist Party. Needless to say I don’t lose sleep over that. Or I might, if there is a populist takeover and all dissenters are rounded up. That has happened before.

Shifting culture

We are seeing increasing cultural and political shifts, with strong feelings and rhetoric on all sides.  Is it possible to separate what we see posted in the public domain, from the person’s ability to do an unbiased, neutral and professional job? The lines are actually very blurred.

Here are two stories that have been shared with me only this week. The names have been changed for obvious reasons.

Aliyha is a research chemist with an international company based near Birmingham, U.K. She has received what she experiences as unconstructive and even obstructive communication from her HR Manager, Alison, regarding her career progression. Aliyha is seeing her peers’ careers developing at a different (i.e. more advantageous) pace.  Last week she discovered quite accidentally that Alison has been very energetically re-tweeting Katie Hopkins over a long period.

I checked out the account and the profile is the usual benign HR blurb: “HR Management, CIPD, mother and wife etc.” She also endorses Katie Hopkins and her opinions somewhat enthusiastically  – at least once a day.  Depending on your point of view, Hopkins will be a “controversial columnist” or a provocative hate generating commentator. She has caused outrage and legal action associated with her comments on immigration, overweight people and even children’s names, as well as personal vindictive attacks resulting in libel suits.  Aliyha asked

“I have no reason to believe that my performance is lower than that of my colleagues. My annual appraisals have always been excellent.  I have never had any problems at all until Alison became my HR Manager.  Is it because I am the daughter of immigrants, a bit on the chubby side and have an Arabic name  – could this be what is coming into play now?”

The answer is we will never know for sure, but there is no doubt that if Aliyha’s complaint becomes a case, her lawyer confirmed he intends to reference Alison’s online and social media activity and support of a racist, as an indicator or her inherent bias and prejudice.

Backlash 

At the other end of the scale Michael is a Trump voter. An HR Director in a security company in San Diego,  he believed his social media activity was minimal. However, he  has openly supported Trump on his Facebook page and posted pro-Trump comments on LinkedIn. Since the November election he has been surprised danger zone for HR professionalsto encounter negative undercurrents from colleagues, who now question his commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workforce for the company.

He has been called a racist and misogynist. His peers and team have told him that even if these are not his personal views, it is clear that he tacitly approves the stance of  President Trump. Michael feels that he has unfairly lost the trust of colleagues and employees and he is the victim of bias and prejudice.

I asked Annabel Kaye, Managing Director Irenicon a UK-based employment law specialist if there is a case.  She agrees social media is a danger zone for HR.

HR Managers should be and always are careful of their online posts. It is entirely possible that Twitter support of Katie Hopkins for example could indicate unconscious racial bias if not active racial prejudice. Whilst it is not definitive proof either way, certainly in the UK it would allow the ‘inference’ to be drawn that any decisions made by the HR person who made those tweets might be influenced by bias and thus put their employer at increased risk of losing a discrimination case.

For this reason most HR people who tweet use things like  “my opinions only – nothing to do with my employer”   on their bio as disclaimers.

But as discrimination cases are often about what people think (consciously or unconsciously) this would still be evidence as to their state of mind. Of course in the UK individuals who make discriminatory decisions are potentially liable as well as the organisation. So all in all, not a good plan to publicly support racists, sexists, or other discriminatory tweeters or characters if you don’t want this coming to an employment tribunal near you.

Of course, this is not definitive proof of discrimination or bias, but it is another item that is going to be used in tribunal.

Separate personal and professional

So what does this mean for HR and our social media activity and how it relates to personal branding and reputation management?  Should HR or even all professionals go back to the old school way of keeping our views on sex, religion and politics separate to our professional personas?  At what point do they decide that social media can be a danger zone for HR managers? And  then what happens if what we tweet is out of alignment with the values of our organization even with a disclaimer?

So where do you stand in the danger zone for HR professionals?

 

 

 

10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers!

Citibank’s career advice for women! ( updated September 15th 2010)

My good friend Silvana Delatte sent me this link from Business Insider about a laminated sheet supposedly issued by the HR department of Citibank on how women sabotage their careers. If this is not a spoof (which I suspect it might be) then it makes interesting, if not incredible (as in unbelievable) reading.

Nowhere does it mention doing a bad job, so perhaps good performance isn’t necessary to advance a career in Citibank! This list would be infinitely less risible if the almost all male board had not been part of a group of testosterone driven mis- managers which brought global economies grinding to a halt. The subsequent government bail out was at great cost to the tax payer and impacted the lives of millions. Perhaps some of that money could be used to invest in constructive gender based management training, clearly sorely needed. I can make any number of excellent recommendations, so please contact me Citibank!

So let’s look at this list and analyse it!

  •  Women tend to speak softly – you are not heard. Anyone speaking softly isn’t heard, especially in the company of people who talk too much and don’t listen! Good managers listen! Being heard is also not about the volume of the voice but the pitch. Women could be advised to reduce the pitch of their voices by half a semi-tone.
  •  Women groom in public – it emphasizes your femininity, de-emphasizes your capability: Grooming in public is a no no – for anyone. That’s why companies have bathrooms!
  • Women sit demurely – the power position when seated at a table is forearms resting on a table and resting forward. Good posture in business meetings accompanied by positive body language and facial expressions, indicating engagement is a given. Nowhere, even in AskMen, have I seen any suggestions that leaning forward and appearing aggressive is a bonus.

Are you sabotaging your career? Look at the career coaching programmes! 

  • Speak last in meetings – early speakers are seen as more assertive and knowledgeable than late speakers. Thinking before speaking and measured contribution is never to be under estimated. This is probably because the people who are making this judgement are poor listeners and have the attention span of pre-schoolers.
  • Women ask permission – children are taught to ask permission. Men don’t ask permission, they inform. I actually agree with this one. However polite deference is not to be confused with approval seeking and definitely preferable to arrogant bamboozling.
  •  Apologize – women apologize for the smallest error which erodes your self-confidence. Men tend to move into problem solving mode. I agree with this one too. Women apologise for even the smallest thing even if it’s not their fault or there is nothing to apologise for.  But having said that for many the word “sorry” is missing from their vocabulary. Problem solving is not the same as admitting a mistake and dealing with it. Problem solving can be aka covering up. and /or reactive management.
  •  Women tend to smile inappropriately when delivering a message, therefore you are not getting taken seriously Well I did some quick research on this little gem and would be interested to see the metrics on that. Women do smile more than men, mainly to soften situations that is true. Smiling would only be inappropriate when delivering extremely bad news. I seriously doubt if a woman would do that unless she really disliked the person. Then she might well do.
  •  Play fair – women tend to be more naive. A women might assume the rules have to be obeyed whereas a man will figure out a way to stretch the rules and not be punished. So is the message here ladies, playing dirty is fine? May I suggest that stretching the rules was what got Citibank into its little pickle. There is surely no substitute for professional integrity. Besides the activities of the mascara mafia have been well documented. Women can and do play dirty, but target mainly other women.
  •  Being invisible – women tend to operate behind the scenes and end up handing credit over to the competitor. This is a fair point – women have to stop waiting for recognition and step up and get out of the support roles. But then whoever is stealing their thunder should have a little more professional integrity (see above). Good managers recognise and reward.
  • Offer a limp handshake – one good pump and a concise greeting combined with solid eye contact will do the trick. Agree with this too except this isn’t an arm wrestling contest. I would suggest that firm contact would be infinitely preferable to “one good pump” which implies a potential dislocated shoulder.

So ladies, what advice would you give the gentlemen of Citibank?

Apart from ” Do try not to bankrupt anyone today, darling.”

Written with a smile! Please see also follow up post “Trapped! Women and the Smiling Myth

September 15th 2010 -Update! An interesting post came across my screen today, which now makes some sense of the aforementioned problem-causing laminated sheet issued by Citibank. It isn’t a spoof , although it seemed that way. I was right to apply some cynicism.

Writing for The Thin Pink Line Blog, Lois Frankel says that this sheet has taken points from her book ” Nice girls don’t get the corner office ” completely out of context  and she tries to set the record straight in her post .

I did read the book some time ago and will have to revisit it. Condensed to bumper-sticker style homilies these points seem dated and Lois was right, taken at face value they don’t make a lot of sense, so they need to be evaluated in context, which I will certainly do. On her own admission the title including the term “nice” was forced upon her by her publisher. Some of the most successful people ( corner office holders) I know have been simply all around “nice” ( male and female).

That sheet certainly aroused a good discussion!

Women and communication: a salutary personal tale

Wanted for White Collar Fraud

Dorothy and the suspect search consultant
On average, women use twice the number of words per day than men. Women maintain eye contact while speaking for twelve seconds vs. a man maintaining eye contact for three seconds. Women supply detail to build rapport , men speak directly in short sentences going straight for the bottom line, supplying detail as a necessary illustration to their focal points. Women need to deliver their story (as I am doing now , otherwise this post would be one sentence and how much fun would that be?) in order to get to their bottom line. We build relationships. Generally we don’t need solutions ( although perhaps exceptionally I like that) and we also need to be heard! A lot!

Communicating like a female: the story!
I was recently contracted to support an executive search consultant on a global  project. He had worked for one of my major clients and had now set up his own business. In my female brain he was already someone I knew,  so  I didn’t make even rudimentary background enquiries before starting on the assignment.  I know…I know ..big mistake.

The sting
Even the most basic research, which is something I carry out on a daily basis for other people and would certainly advise any coaching client  to pursue, would have revealed a sub-text of  erratic professional performance. This should have raised a number of  brightly coloured red flags, complete with their  poles.  After some extremely inconsistent and suspect behaviour during the course of our collaboration, leaving me feeling profoundly uncomfortable, I realised that now he ran his own company, we actually had divergent business models and professional standards.  

How did this even come about because as you know I’m not a shrinking violet ?  After much reflection I finally wondered that it was possibly because he had always communicated with me in a female way! I was going to say like a woman, but was strongly reprimanded by Marion Chapsal. This is not a derogatory comment, but just a different style that we women seem to connect with.

The detail
My ex – associate ,   I suspect not unintentionally either, successfully focused on building a rapport with me over a long period, until I perceived him as a trusted contact and foolishly believed that we were in an ongoing business relationship –  when actually this wasn’t the case at all!  The relationship was with his previous company, so nothing concrete had been done to put him personally into that category.  With 20/20 hindsight (what a gift!) I could see that in many of our networking chats over the years,  initiated on the pretext of staying in touch,  I had essentially provided a free consulting service.  When in typical John Gray  style my generosity wave came crashing down with the force of a tsunami ( I even coached him on Twitter!) I finally supplied a fee schedule.

No communication
Where are we now?  He is MIA owing me a reasonably large some of money! Emails are bouncing, business addresses no longer exist, telephone numbers have been discontinued. He has even blocked me on Twitter (go figure… is there NO shame in this world? ) Lawyers and debt collectors have been consulted and a police report filed. But no doubt …  I have been conned! It would appear that it’s illegal to smoke in a public place, put makeup on in the car while in a traffic jam (true… I was fined for such an act! ) – but it’s not illegal not to pay your bills.

Moral
The moral of the story is that all business relationships have to be scrutinised and thorough due diligence carried out, regrettably even with people you think you might know. My instincts are now sadly blurred. Today I’m going through a phase of viewing everyone with suspicion and caution. An acquaintance emailed me to ask me how I was doing and my first instinct was to wonder why they wanted to know. I even asked someone I normally work with on a basis of trust, to confirm a proposition in writing. Last week his word would have been sufficient. I know I will get over this reticence and revert to openness and trust, but perhaps not on the same level. It’s been an unpleasant lesson, but one I intend to learn from.

Is this all as much fun? No sadly it isn’t .

What do you think?