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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

Recruiting for Breadth

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Recently, I was asked at a School for CEOs seminar for my views on ‘blind’ CVs. The seminar’s subject was ‘Getting on the Board’. Susie Cummings of Nurole, Sharon Black of Bibendum and I made up the panel. It was a lively audience who asked some challenging questions, including this one.

Time was when applicants for a job would put all sorts of personal information on a CV – their age, gender, a photo. For some time now, it’s been realised this may lead to people being selected out of a recruitment process early, due to conscious or unconscious biases. Including this information is no longer seen as best practice, and a good thing too. More recently, some employers have taken this idea one step further, removing home addresses and the names of schools from CVs. Now some, including government departments and, reportedly, HSBC are going even further, removing the applicant’s name from their CV as well. Some are thinking of removing past employers’ names too. The idea, as before, is to make the recruitment process as fair as possible.

There’s no doubt that recruitment has been much too narrow in the past. All too often, the hiring manager has succumbed to the temptation to hire someone just like him/herself. Greater diversity is what society, rightly, expects now. Breadth is also good for business. Diverse teams take better decisions and run better businesses than narrow ones. Teams who select people in their own image are more subject to group-think and thus more likely to make mistakes.

Recruitment is difficult enough as it is, with a lower probability of success than we’d all like. In GE terms, it’s a 1-sigma process. Subjective factors play a huge part.

A tricky question, then. My answer was that, regrettably, we’re all a mass of prejudices and biases, built up over our entire lives. Now, you’re going to meet the candidate at some point. When you do, your prejudices and biases are going to kick in, unbidden. My view – but I accept others see things differently – is that it’s better to acknowledge those influences on your decision-making, and correct for them, than pretend they don’t exist. I reckon removing the name of the applicant is taking a good principle beyond the point where it’s helpful, reducing them to a cipher rather than a living, breathing human being. If you believe that diversity is a good thing, and you’re striving to achieve it in good faith, you will end up with a better recruitment process, and that seems to me the better approach.

Indeed, as I get more experienced I find myself extending that principle into all my decision-making, as best I can. Every issue I confront, every problem I try and solve, requires a decision (sometimes several). I know from past experience that I have certain prejudices and biases in the way I look at, for example, a market entry project or an investment in technology. In some cases I’m liable to be risk averse, or sceptical of the data. In other cases I know I can be tempted to take things at face value. More and more, I feel it’s better to be aware of my imperfections and try to correct for them, rather than allowing them unconscious rein. We’re only human, after all.

© Patrick Macdonald 2016

The next School for CEOs seminar addresses the salient topic of Mental Health. It’s on 14 September in London with Geoff McDonald. If you’d like to join us, please apply via the School for CEOs website.

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