Is it okay to be biased toward 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 to 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 and discipline, and they can endure and push themselves harder. “Someone who can finish an Ironman isn’t lazy”, says Galloway.

So, a 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 performances 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?

2 thoughts on “Is it okay to be biased toward underrepresented communities in hiring?

  1. Just want to add that it’s not enough to look at the attributes of your top performers to determine. It’s equally important to look at attributes of low performers — because the ultimate goal is to identify the UNIQUE attributes of each group to inform hiring decisions. You may find your top performers display X characteristic, but if your bottom performers also show this trait, then it becomes a useless trait to consider when hiring.

  2. Every teams has a unique composition that makes that team work. Imagine for example a small business where everyone from the owner to the interns are native Chinese speakers… imagine them having to hire their first non Chinese speaker: not easy for the new hire but possibly a totally necessary step for that this business to grow beyond its existing market.

    I think of language barriers as the ultimate form of cultural barrier. Language is what brings us together but it’s also wants keeps us separate. Culture is the same. Cultural barriers are sometimes precisely what makes some teams work and bond, but it’s also what makes those same teams limited in range and capacity.

    Challenging the status quo on cultural identify is not only the right thing to do from a fairness standpoint, it is also a prerequisite to being adaptable and to expand to new markets.

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