I want to share a story I heard last week – It was a fine Friday morning when one of the top performers of the team walked into my colleague’s room sobbing. This gem of a person had an unbeatable track record in academics and cracking tough business problems. Yet on that fateful morning, barely three months after joining the team, a resignation letter was handed in. Why? Because she was a girl.
The team she been selected for had been placed under a hiring freeze for six months. Suddenly, a new team member arrives. Naturally, the water cooler conversation isn’t very pleasant. Rumors were quick to fly and everyone reached the conclusion that their new colleague was hired not because she was a deserving candidate, but because she was a girl. Quickly, interactions also began to change. For someone who had built her entire life on accolades well deserved, this was the worst form of insult. Between tears, she asked if it was true; if she was indeed hired based on gender vs merit. It didn’t matter how convincing the answer, she left soon after.
Then I heard a second related story last evening – One organization had come up with a program dedicated to offering mentorship to women candidates while in college. In the last week of the mentorship program, the candidates are taken through a hiring loop. If successful, they were handed an offer letter. For most, this would be the opportunity of a lifetime. Instead, the recruiter had to get up on stage and answer questions like these:
- Are you hiring only girls? Will you be hiring boys? <Awkward!>
- Will the others know I was hired via this program? <No>
- Why is this program gender specific? <Good question. You clearly haven’t heard about the latest trend in HR.>
Needless to say, the recruiter did not enjoy the Q&A.
Now these organizations weren’t gender biased. They had very strong mechanisms in place to ensure that the hiring process stayed the same irrespective of gender or any other criteria. What had changed was the slate representation. They doing anything wrong. Except one thing. Communication. Diversity is a difficult topic to discuss. PEOPLE TALK and they don’t always say the most pleasant things. Which is why there is a need for continuous, open and honest conversation on how an organization is approaching diversity and holds the same performance/hiring bar irrespective of gender, race, caste or creed.
No one wants to be told that they got to where they are today because of any reason other than merit. There is an innate need to be recognized for one’s ability vs one’s gender. Therefore, the next time you are designing a diversity initiative, spend a good 40% of your time assessing perception and communication. You may believe that the process is fair but not everyone else will.