Hey, tech companies: your employee referral policy may be violating US law

I think alot about how to create and nurture diverse, high-performance teams and workplaces. That ranges from being vigilant about the language used in job adverts and in any company materials for which I am responsible to keeping an eye on whether recruiting and other company materials show only white men.

And I think alot about how hard it can be for a company full of young straight white men – read, most technology startups – with a hiring strategy heavily reliant on employee referrals to recruit any older brown queer women.

Because unless companies are intentional about diversifying their applicant pool, the referred candidates will tend to look, sound, and dress like the employees who referred them. People tend to refer (and hire) people who look like them; like attracts like.

This is often not the result of intentional bias or explicit discrimination, but intent (or lack thereof) doesn’t mean you won’t be held accountable for the outcomes, especially from a US legal perspective.

Emphasis mine, quote from a statement by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on prohibited practices:

It is also illegal for an employer to recruit new employees in a way that discriminates against them because of their race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. For example, an employer’s reliance on word-of-mouth recruitment by its mostly Hispanic work force may violate the law if the result is that almost all new hires are Hispanic.

Take a moment and look around your office. Are your colleagues –  especially the folks in senior management, and the ones with hiring responsibility – mostly white men? Do you depend heavily on employee referrals?

Might be time to review your hiring practices.

[Obligatory “I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice” here]


Experts coast. Amateurs work.

I really enjoyed this perspective from “The Eloquent Woman” blog, on her recent decision to hire a speaking coach (she is, herself, a speaking coach):

You may wonder why a coach would get a coach. I don’t lack experience, skill or nerve when it comes to public speaking or chairing meetings. But it’s a poor chef who fails to keep her knives sharp. A trainer who seeks no training after she hits ‘expert’ status is just sharing the expertise of long ago, over and over again. I wanted to set the bar higher for myself.

Hands up! (or, on transparency in newsrooms)

Media types are all a-twitter about this Seth Godin post, “Principles for Responsible Media Moguls“.

So I thought I’d cross-post a piece I wrote in 2011 on transparency in newsrooms.

I’m fascinated by the concept of “radical transparency“, though not under the guise of eroding privacy norms.

The concept is especially relevant to media organisations and newsrooms; journalists and media executives are not themselves used to being obliged to reveal how the sausage is made.

Still, the (media) world is moving toward more openness around the reporting process, including in the slightly uncomfortable area of corrections and clarifications, and the not unrelated challenging of keeping on top of evolving stories. Online media have been far more willing to embrace transparency than their printed ilk. (Good examples: Business Insider’s use of Chartbeat, FT Alphaville passim.)

Along those lines, a colleague shared what I think are a very good set of rules for dealing with either corrections and clarifications or fast-moving news situations.

  1. Don’t kill posts
  2. Keep the reader updated about contentious things as quickly and honestly as possible
  3. Don’t back yourself into a corner by accepting the first plausible explanation
  4. Rely on facts whenever challenged

I will put my editor hat on here for a moment. These are excellent principles; in practice, the challenge is getting reporters (and indeed, editors at all levels) to be comfortable with what is a radical departure from the voice of God approach.

This is a challenge that can only really be tackled by creating an environment in which reporting is preferred to punditry; in which gaps in knowledge are met with training and mentoring instead of ridicule (because there is no shame in not knowing, only in not then seeking to find out); in which editors will stand up for their reporters when the pressure is on; in which genuine mistakes, errors and misunderstandings are acknowledged and corrected swiftly, openly and guilelessly; in which press release “journalism” is shunned; in which reporters are challenged to go deeper, to ask more questions, to seek more (and better) sources, and crucially, to always question their assumptions; and in which the most junior reporter feels empowered to fact-check or correct the most senior of colleagues.

Such an environment is not easy to achieve, but it’s worth it.

My $0.02, etc.

Social Media and the Devolution of Friendship: Part II » Cyborgology

Add this theme to the list of blog-posts-in-my-brain.

In short, “sharing” has become a lot easier and a lot more efficient, but “being shared with” has become much more time-consuming, demanding, and inefficient (especially if we don’t ignore most of our friends most of the time). Given this, expecting our friends to keep up with our social media content isn’t expecting them to meet us halfway; it’s asking them to take on the lion’s share of staying in touch with us. Our jobs (in this role) have gotten easier; our friends’ jobs have gotten harder.

The Product is the Byproduct

There’s a blog post in my brain about the difference between your company and your product, and this tremendous deck by Zach Holman articulates a lot of what I’ve been thinking:

“A great product [is] the byproduct of the environment you build at your company. This environment may actually be harder to build than the product itself, but you’ll be left with a better everything by the end of it.”

Extra nerd points for the production footnote, Zach.