This headline assumes that one accepts that discrimination in hiring still exists. Well, I was recently asked to write an essay on whether I think racism in hiring still exists, how I feel about it, and how it can be counteracted. A portion of that essay follows:
“Do I believe that racism in hiring still exists? Yes, I believe that racism – and ageism and sexism – in hiring still exists. I also understand how easy it is to wonder if these are at play in the absence of sound and current data in specific situations.” (Is that recruiter not calling me back because s/he’s discriminating against me? Or is s/he just rude? Or swamped out of his/her gourd?)
“How do I feel about it? It is frustrating – as a job seeker, and as a hiring manager, and as a recruiter. It is frustrating to wonder – and sometimes not even need to wonder – why excitement turns to chill, why enthusiasm turns to silence, why a pending job offer turns to excuses. It makes me scared and angry that circumstances beyond my control affect me or friends and colleagues, angry that stupidity and excuses can be allowed to win out over fairness and hard work.
“Those are the easy questions.
“It isn’t actually that difficult to determine who is the best candidate for the job – if one is open to people who are different from one’s self. A good hiring process focuses on being clear about the requirements of the position, the duties of the position, the skills required to fulfill those duties, the ideal amount of experience required, and the “stuff you can’t teach” such as self-management, communication skills, analytical skills, and values such as honesty, work ethic, and so on.
“But these criteria for determining who is the best candidate for the job assume that there is not an unspoken criterion that the candidate looks like the interviewer. Humans are hardwired in their lizard brains to gravitate to those who are similar. Differences are dangerous in an eat-or-be-eaten-world.
“The good news is that we are not lizards. We are human, with a lot more to our brains than the lizard portion. We can utilize those higher brains to overlook or – better yet – appreciate differences.
“Which brings us to the hard question about racism in hiring: How do you counteract it? By fostering a sense of curiosity. At all stages and in all of the players, and first of all in ourselves. If we are willing, we can find out that life is just so much more interesting when we interact with people who are different. Not only that, but we can learn so much more. We must be curious as interviewers, and as job seekers, and as co-workers. It is not the job of just one side to be curious – we must all be willing to be curious. Anger has its place, but curiosity is more effective. Secondly, we must foster curiosity in others, by encouraging them to be interested, by helping them feel safe, and by lovingly calling attention to fear and lack of curiosity when they pop up. Finally, we must encourage curiosity in children so that we have less work to do in that area when they are adults.
“Legislation and political correctness will never solve the problem at its source. But we can do it through being conscious of our own tendencies, fostering curiosity, and providing opportunities for learning.”
I admit this makes practicing curiosity sound easy. I’ve been asked, “If it’s that easy, why don’t people do it more often?”
That’s a good question. I think the answer is: It is easy. But I also think there are several reasons more people don’t practice curiosity. The first is just habit; it’s easy to get comfortable. Another, more insidious reason is that we think we know the truth, and we think we know about people who are different from us.
But I think the main reason is Fear. Fear of admitting I don’t know something. Fear of being wrong (and of people finding out). Fear of being punished for not conforming. Fear of looking Dumb. Fear of having my worldview changed, which can feel like chaos.
Being curious takes a little courage. Courage to be vulnerable, courage to change my mind, and courage to create a safe environment for others to be curious. But being curious is also fun, and it makes life a lot more interesting. Are you up for it?
Susan T. Blake is an organization development professional and coach whose background includes management experience and a tour of duty as an award-winning recruiter. A graduate of the Triple Impact Practitioners Program, Susan writes about systems thinking, team building, curiosity, management lessons she’s learned from spiders and her cats, and other topics that make her wonder in her blog at http://susanTblake.com.
In previous installments of this series, we gave an elegantly simple definition of organization development and looked at its three components: (1) what practitioners do, (2) the results they are after, and (3) how it works. What’s so hard about that?
The Hard Part: The Practice of Organization Development
If organization development is so great and so potent, why hasn’t it become the de facto technology of choice for managing change in organizations? Its concepts aren’t difficult to grasp. The stages of planned change and levels of human systems that make up a considerable part of the typical OD canon are conceptually accessible. However, it is often difficult to practice since the very nature of culture—societal or organizational—is to lead, motivate, train, influence, bend, dupe or otherwise brainwash its members into “acceptable” patterns of belief, thought, emotion, and behavior. In other words, to not change anything! Because of this, the OD practitioner more often than not finds himself swimming uphill, negotiating rapids and whirlpools often created and maintained by the client that brought us in.
Another reason that OD can be difficult to practice is that academia is where many folks go to become OD practitioners. Unfortunately, OD is a skill-based field rather than an academic field. There are any number of colleges and universities offering courses and degrees in organization development under various titles—organization and industrial psychology, organization behavior, etc. And, they do a fine job of providing their students with a sound and deep knowledge of human, group, and organizational dynamics and behavior as well understanding of strategies and tactics of managing change. Still, a degree, even an advanced degree, does not alone make a successful OD practitioner who needs a set of skills that will enable him/her to navigate the seemingly permanent white water that is heading in the other direction.
What, then, does make for a skilled practitioner beyond the requisite knowledge base? A skilled OD practitioner is…
√ An independent thinker who doesn’t collude with resistance
√ Willing and able to swim upstream against the desires and dictates of organizational culture
√ Personally secure enough to not feel threatened by authority figures and other perceived sources of intimidation
√ More interested in being rather than doing
√ Someone who believes that being effective is more important than being right
√ Someone who connects easily with others
√ Comfortable with emotions—his own and those of others
√ Comfortable with ambiguity
√ Able to stay focused and can help others (including groups of others) to focus
√ Self aware and able to effectively manage her own foibles
√ A devotee of curiosity and learning
This might seem an intimidating list. Yet, with intentional and deliberate practice along with focused and consistent support, we can surprise ourselves with how often we can maintain such a level of consciousness at least when the stakes are important to us. Unfortunately, none of these characteristics of a fully conscious person are amenable to academic education. Knowledge of them does not give skill in them. The skill of these characteristics can be learned, however. Mentoring, coaching, apprenticing, skill-oriented workshops, meditation, and psychotherapy are all useful. In fact, the combination of them all does very well!
Accordingly, we have added eight disciplines of consciousness as a third aspect of the OD canon to make a three-dimensional Meta-Model of Planned Change. These eight disciplines are Conscious Use of Self, Systemic Thinking, Support Systems, Sound and Current data, Feedback, Infinite Power, Learning from Differences, and Empowerment. They are crucial to activating the practitioner’s personal power on behalf of activating the personal power of clients on behalf of activating the power inherent in organizations. With such a triple impact, organization development practitioners can transform the human processes that are the life-blood of human systems toward both increased productivity and increased human satisfaction.
Next time we will take a look at the three-dimensional Meta-Model of Planned Change and begin an in-depth look at the disciplines of planned change.