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]

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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.

Your users know when you’re only pretending to be personal

I really like BestVendor, a site that “helps you find the best work apps to get things done”. Recently, they launched their List-A-Thon feature, a way for users to create their own lists of the tools they use. (There’s a Galavant List. Of course.)

So when their co-founder and head of product Ben Zhuk weighed in on my list with a question about Quicksilver vs Alfred, I was impressed and delighted. Impressed, because it means their team is actively and sincerely engaging with their community of users. And delighted, because a fellow product person liked my GTD toolkit enough to let me know.

But then I got an email from Veronica de Souza, community manager at BestVendor with the subject line: “I loved your BestVendor list!”

And I thought, momentarily, wow.

Until I read the rest of the email:

Hey Stacy!

Thank you so much for your awesome list. As you know, your list is part of the BestVendor List-A-Thon. If you need a refresher of the details, click here. You can check the standings at any time by going to the List-A-Thon tab. The best part is that you can update and add to your list at any time!

Make sure you share your list with your networks to get the most views. You’re just a few views away from winning $1500 or an iPhone 5!

How should you promote your list? Tons of ways! Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Tweet it, share it on Facebook & LinkedIn or shout it from a rooftop!
  • Blog about your list, the “making of” it, how you curated it and why it’s great.
  • Send an email blast to a relevant audience.
  • Submit your list to social content hubs like Reddit, HackerNews, Digg, etc.
  • Comment on other lists and give feedback

And I was neither impressed nor delighted. Because, Veronica, not only do you not love my list, I’m willing to wager that you’ve never even looked at it. I’m actually pretty sure you sent the very same email to all of the users who created lists. And that you don’t love any of them.

Don’t get me wrong – email is a powerful communications medium, and mass email campaigns are a necessary component of doing business on the internet. And even though email marketing is so often a mass medium, it’s possible to make your campaigns feel more personal (or at the very least, more intelligently targeted).

But insincerity masquerading as personalization, however well-intentioned, is jarring. I don’t need you to love my list, Veronica. And I appreciated the cute puppy gif you included in the original email. But you didn’t need to lie to me – “thanks for sharing your BestVendor list” would have sufficed.

UPDATE: Veronica responded in the comments. Well done, BestVendor team:

Hey Stacy,

My use of the word “love” in the List-A-Thon email was probably a poor choice. Community Managers make mistakes sometimes

That being said, I personally DO read every single list that is submitted to BestVendor. I can speak for the entire team when I say that our interactions with people on the site are 100% genuine. So any “like” or comment you receive from us on a list (or on any other post throughout the site) is genuine.

The email that you received was sent to those who had been the first to enter the List-A-Thon. I didn’t want them to forget about the contest and I wanted to remind them that lists can be updated and edited at any time. But you’re right, “love” was unnecessary, and I value your feedback.

Thanks!

Veronica from BestVendor

Getting things done the Galavant way

I’m a huge fan of lifehacking, by which I mean “I am completely overscheduled and need more hours in my day, so in lieu of a Time-Turner I’m going to need to be as efficient as possible”. I sometimes call this life in beta.

My preferred tools and techniques have evolved over the years – I used to be full-on hipster PDA, for example.

Here’s my GTD toolkit circa September 2012, ranked in order of measurably-improve-my-(perceived)-productivity.

Software:

Quicksilver – this is by far my favourite application launcher for OS X and it’s consistently the first application I install on any new Mac. Use this constantly. (Free)

Divvy – Found via this post on Reddit, Divvy is the single best window management tool for OS X. Use it about once every 10 minutes. At least. ($)

– Google Apps – Google organizes my life. I’ve been a Gmail user since 2004 (when Blogger users received invitations to the beta), and a Google Apps user since at least 2008. I won’t tell you how many email addresses I have. But it’s a lot. I use Google Apps for calendaring, document collaboration, email hosting and analytics for my domains.

Asana – I use this for everything – at work for project management, at home for grocery lists and travel planning.

 – iDoneThis – I started using iDoneThis in July 2011 (from my first entry: ‘wrestled inbox back into submission’). At the time, the iDT team were alpha-testing what has become their primary product: iDoneThis for teams (then called ‘WeDoneThis’). I use iDoneThis to keep track not just of “what I did today”, but also what I ate, whether I had a migraine, what time I woke up. It’s part #gtd, part quantified self. ($)

Alfred – I confess to being late to the Alfred train – I used it on and off while Quicksilver was on a development hiatus – but after reading this post on how to integrate iDoneThis and Alfred I coughed up the GBP 30 for a Mega Supporter license. Don’t be a free user, etc. (Free, $ for the advanced feature set)

Fantastical – Holy calendar management, Batman. Fantastical allows you to use natural language to enter calendar events (like “breakfast next Tuesday at 8am with Brianne at Ground Support); it syncs with iCal, BusyCal, Entourage, or Outlook (and by extension, iCloud and Google Calendar). Use this hourly. ($)

Evernote – Recipes, yoga poses, notes from classes I’ve attended, pages ripped from magazines and newspapers, receipts, bills, travel itineraries  – Evernote is my go-to digital filing system. (Free, $ for features like offline notebooks and searchable PDFs)

BusyCal – Because iCal is terrible, terrible piece of software. Even without the skeuomorphism. I rarely ever have to open BusyCal – because Fantastical is just that good – but when I do, I’m able to seamlessly manage my (embarrassingly large number of) Google Calendars which span two different Google Apps accounts.

DropBox – DropBox makes it automagical to access and sync files across all my devices, or from wherever I am. And I never have to travel with external harddrives again. (Free, $. Referral link)

CrashPlan – After one catastrophic hard drive failure and a subsequent roommate-formatting-my-iPod incident, I converted to the way of the backup. My backups have backups. TimeMachine + CrashPlan + multiple external drives = peace of mind.

Lastpass – Even though I’ve been increasingly been moving to the xkcd approach to password management, Lastpass is a brilliant, useful tool. (Free, $ for premium features like mobile access)

Pinboard – I was a long, long time Delicious user. And then – that whole thing. And that other thing. Cue swift switch to Pinboard, which is a brilliant service. The archiving feature is well worth the paid upgrade. ($)

Instapaper – Flirted with Read it Later (long before it was Pocket) and Readability. Subscribed to Instapaper and paid for the app when there was still a free option available. No regrets. (Free, $)

IFTTT – The glue of the internet. IFTTT makes my phone ring when I get an email with certain terms in the subject line or body. It sends articles I like in Instapaper to my Pinboard archive. It’s awesome. (Free)

– MailChimp – I switched to MailChimp from TinyLetter (which was acquired by…MailChimp) for the Galavant Times newsletter. Easy to use, full featured. (Free, $)

– Shoeboxed – Paperless life, activate. Every month or so I gather up my receipts, assorted business cards, hand-written notes and other paper-based odds and ends and mail them to Shoeboxed. Shoeboxed scans all those documents and allows me to download the scans to Evernote or in the case of business cards, export the collected contact details to a CSV. ($)

Week Cal – Because calendars on the iPhone don’t have to suck. ($)

Tweetbot – RIP Tweetie. Long live Tweetboot – brilliant on the iPhone, tremendous on the iPad. ($)

LiftFoursquare for habits. Simple, elegant. (Free)

Hardware / Offline:

11″ Macbook Air – The best laptop I have ever owned, bar none.

iPad 3 – Great for my ploughing through my Instapaper backlog. And catching up on Tumblr.

Kindle – The basic, ad-supported $79 edition.

iPhone – 4S, via many Blackberries and preceded by an HTC Sensation.

Sennheiser HD 380 Pro – Money well spent (as recommended by Marco Arment).

Doxie – A lightweight scanner with solid software and seamless Evernote integration.

Moo – Gorgeous, cost-effective business cards and stickers. ($, referral link)

Galavant Media on Up With Chris Hayes: July 22 2012

More clips:

Is Congress Capable of Raising Taxes? – Sun, Jul 22, 2012 ; Drought, climate change and the price of corn – Sun, Jul 22, 2012 ; A new era for climate and the food supply – Sun, Jul 22, 2012 ; Commodity prices and climate change – Sun, Jul 22, 2012Big banks betting on food – Sun, Jul 22, 2012The Romney Plan: A Giant Tax Break for the 1% – Sun, Jul 22, 2012