Is it okay to be biased for underrepresented communities in hiring?

I’m a big podcast listener. It’s one of the reasons we started HR Famous because we loved the format! One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is The Prof G Show with Scott Galloway.

If you aren’t familiar with Scott Galloway he’s a New York University professor of marketing and hugely popular. He’s a liberal and rails openly against Trump and also his own industry, Higher Education. I’m a moderate and he’s so freaking smart, I could care less about his political leanings, I just get smarter listening to him.

Besides being a professor, he has started and exited a few technology companies, sits on boards, has school-aged kids, and talks a ton about the stock market.

On a recent pod, Elitism: Money vs. Influence, he gave his top 3 attributes the top-performing employees of the companies that he has started. These are:

  1. Most likely Female. “First they were female. If they were male I couldn’t say this but it’s okay because as long as you are biased for underrepresented communities your okay, but we try and ignore that…” (42:03 in the pod)
  2. Graduate from a world-class university. Ivy League, Penn, Michigan, Stanford, Berkley, Vanderbilt, etc. “Better schools matter…more applicants…start with better core human capital…better screening.”
  3. Athletes are very successful. They understand teamwork, discipline, they can endure and push themselves harder. “Someone who can finish an Ironman isn’t lazy”, says Galloway.

So, Professor of NYU, former business owner, and thought leader says it’s okay to be biased in selection.

I’m not sure I agree we should ever be biased in our hiring selection practices, but Galloway points out a reality in our culture. As long as we aren’t biased towards the majority, we will look the other way and ignore it.

What Galloway is saying is not different than how the vast majority of hiring managers are making their final selections. They take a look at past and current performance and they make some educated inferences about what those top performers have in common. Based on this knowledge, it will shape their hiring selection. Does this, or could this, lead to bias? Yes.

Does it make it wrong?

That’s the big sticky question, isn’t it?

We want to say, no, it’s fine, continue to hire the females if those are your best performers. But, just because your current females are your best performers doesn’t mean they’ll be your best moving forward, or that maybe one of the males will be even a better performer.

Flip the scenario.

Galloway now tells us that one of the three attributes for high performance is they are “male”. Do we have a problem with this now? Most likely, you do have a problem with it based on hiring equity issues, broadly, but it’s hard to say specifically since maybe this organization doesn’t have gender equity issues.

Want to know what Inclusion is difficult when it comes to organizational dynamics? It’s because what Galloway laid out is exactly what every organization lays out. The difference is, it isn’t always friendly to the underrepresented community.

Like I said, regardless of your feelings on this one subject, Galloway’s podcast is money! It’s on my must-listen to pods each week.

Give me your thoughts on this in the comments?

4 thoughts on “Is it okay to be biased for underrepresented communities in hiring?

  1. Thanks for the tip on the podcast Tim, I will check it out.

    I think what he is prescribing or perhaps encouraging IS a form of sexism against men. I think it’s probably wrong but it is a reality today. I personally was working in a middle-management leadership role for a fortune 100 company in 2016 when we did a large round of layoffs and we really focused on preserving jobs for women and men of color by moving them into roles or departments that would not be eliminated when layoff time came around. At the time I felt we were racially and sexually discriminating but against white males but I kept it to myself. I wasn’t really a decision maker as our directors and employee relations/HR folks “helped us” re-organize so I never spoke up. Obviously when the layoffs happened over the next year they were made up of a majority of white males and the women and black men we had re-orged kept their jobs. Eventually my position was eliminated along with several of the directors I had worked with during the reorg. One of the Directors and I grew close in our time of transition “unemployment” and he later told me that we WERE practicing a form of discrimination. He felt it was wrong but the company was a federal contractor and needed to improve it’s diversity hiring and employee numbers. So, yes discrimination is real and will likely continue.

    • JT – I definitely hear you, but having more white males laid off than women or people of color isn’t by itself a form of discrimination because I’m guessing that, like most organizations, you probably had a higher representation of white men as employees. Thus, more white men would be laid off. I find most organizations are very careful during large layoffs to not discriminate because it is easily tracked if it happened.

      • Thanks for your feedback & engagement Tim. I enjoy reading your blogs and it’s really cool to hear directly from you.

        You make a good point in that we did have a higher representation of white men at that company and I agree that in the big sense, more white males laid off is not an indicator of discrimination. However there was a form of micro-discrimination that went on in some cases where I was directed to preserve one employee over the other purely based on their race or gender. I think you’d agree that in order to avoid discriminating on accident companies frequently must discriminate on purpose. My new reality in HR (because I want to be true to myself) is that we do discriminate against white men in some cases because we don’t want to discriminate against people with higher intersectionality scores. Maybe that’s the right thing to do right now so we can advance the cause of social justice, but sometimes it feels like we are repeating the sins of the past with a new tweak. I still long for a day where people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

        Anyway, thanks for your writing and thoughts. I’ve discovered your blog here and will stay tuned!

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