Diversity Is a Best Practice, But Fairness Doesn’t Always Apply

© Michael Brown - Fotolia.com
© Michael Brown - Fotolia.com

The diversity perception is much different in practice. The reality is, we discriminate; we stink at giving folks a fair shake, especially when they’re not familiar.

Many of us in the world of work try to be fair, try not to choose one applicant or an internal candidate over another because of attractiveness, ethnicity, religious affiliation, physical capacity and many other attributes, including innovative like-mindedness, which isn’t the same as diversity of thought.

But we prefer the attractive familiar, however subjective, both physically and mentally.

We prefer the familiar when we hire

According to a new study by a team of researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston University, and Proctor & Gamble, makeup makes women appear more attractive and competent.

The research reveals that when viewers saw a female face for 250 milliseconds, women who wore color cosmetics rated more highly in the categories of attractiveness, competence, likability and trustworthiness. However, when participants were allowed to look at the faces for a longer period of time, while the ratings for competence and attractiveness stayed the same, the ratings for likability and trustworthiness changed based on specific makeup looks.”

Yep, we’re superficial like that. The heroines are pretty and competent, and the villains are ugly and incompetent.

Sarah Palin is hot, but Hillary Clinton is not. Right?

Psychological theory suggests that we often rely on the recognition heuristic, choosing the option that we recognize over the one we don’t. If we interview two job applicants, and one of them is more similar to us physically and mentally, that applicant will usually get the edge.

You need to be familiar with the unfamiliar

Personally, I’ve tried to break through that practice in previous hiring incarnations. I would like to think that I’ve hired based on quality of fit, not familiarity.

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Maybe I have at times. I hope so. If you and you organization feel that you’ve broken the discrimination barrier, then show us your diverse employed huddled masses on your career sites, not stock photos of airbrushed pretty models wearing makeup.

On the other hand, while I’m all about the best talent working for me, regardless of background, businesses aren’t social programs and shouldn’t be treated as such. In fact, the best business leaders could give a hoot about tolerance and diversity when they want their folks to be the very best they can be — for the themselves and the business.

Encouraging diversity of thought for driving innovation and growth regardless of background should be the best practice, but fairness need not apply. Get the edge by becoming familiar with the unfamiliar, if there’s a quality of fit.

This was originally published on Kevin Grossman’s blog at Marcom HRsay.

Kevin W. Grossman is the Talent Board president of global programs responsible for all aspects of the Candidate Experience Awards worldwide, the first nonprofit research organization focused on the elevation and promotion of a quality candidate experience. He also produces and hosts multiple “world of work” podcasts including The CandEs Shop Talk and WorkingTech. A certified Talent Acquisition Strategist (TAS) and Human Capital Strategist (HCS) by HCI, he has over 19 years of domain expertise in the human resource and talent acquisition industry.

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