Gender distractions and Recruitment

Gender distractions and Recruitment

Today was supposed to be the day that I really cracked on with either writing more of my book or at the very least reading more of ‘Flawed by Willing‘ – which incidentally is proving an exceptional read.  As is often the case I got distracted and today’s distraction was gender inequality. The distraction was reading this piece on why women feel less confident applying for roles  – and are consequently less likely to apply for roles where they don’t meet all the criteria. And less likely to apply obviously then means ‘less likely to get’.

Over the past 6 months or so I’ve been urging almost everyone I meet to read The Why Axis by Uri Gneezy. It sheds light, through proper field experiments, on some genuinely worrying trends in terms of education, gender bias and disability. For instance if you are in a wheelchair you are likely to be quoted up to 30% more for car repairs – as the garage will do an informal mental calculation that suggests you are unlikely to shop around. That simply scares me. By the way, if you are in that situation, then interestingly all you have to do is tell the garage you’ll be getting multiple quotes – they reduce the price back to ‘normal’ levels.

Anyway when we think of the gender imbalance in salary and seniority in our economy we quite often think of the ‘old boys club’ mentality and that being one of the prime barriers. It’s an invisible ceiling. I’m not discounting that as an issue, but what I hear less about are the facts surrounding recruitment processes. I won’t repeat the stats that you can find in the article above, but I was chatting to a very well respected recruiter, David Bailey, and he revealed the following stats… It made me wonder if it was about an invisible ceiling – or whether it was as much about candidate behaviour as organisational behaviour.

In the recruiters experience “On average it can take 8 calls to engage female candidates in a search versus an average of 2 calls for men. It’s not that female candidates are harder to reach, but can take longer to commit to considering a new role. Men are more likely to say ‘yes’ and assume they already posses the necessary skills to take the next step in their career. Generalisations of course, but definitely a factor that affects the delivery of diverse shortlists. Which leads neatly on to the need for headhunters to be aware of unconscious bias too….”

Women are less likely to apply for roles (in general) and then take longer to commit to roles (in general). I assume these two factors combined, if multiplied across the entire labour market, must be a reasonably significant factor in the nature of the composition of the workforce.

I’d be interested to hear from any recruiters that have a different experience to the above – I’d also be interested in hearing any bright ideas that people have for a fix for these seemingly almost entrenched issues. What would make the process more inclusive given the difference in behaviours? Or what would change the behaviours?

It’s a big issue masked by some other issues. They are the hardest issues to deal with.

‘Disrupting’ Performance Reviews and sandcastles

‘Disrupting’ Performance Reviews and sandcastles

*I published this on Linkedin first and it pretty much died a death – apologies if it has popped up for you again.*

The use of the word ‘disruption‘ in HR has reached near epic proportions. It has reached a level of usage that almost makes it the norm, therefore resulting in either a complete victory or a completely non-disruptive level of word appropriation depending on your viewpoint.

It has become, to a degree, shorthand for ‘I can point out what is wrong with things’ which is useful to a degree, but not genuinely disruptive. I’m not saying HR doesn’t need disrupting, but let’s be careful how much we roll up under that banner. Let me give you an example – Performance Appraisals

‘Let’s throw out the appraisal’ sounds pretty disruptive until you realise that disruption only takes place when you can actually suggest what should be created in something’s place. It is far easier to destroy than create. Genuine disruption happens at the point when new opportunities are created, not when old methodology is identified.

I’ve heard ‘let’s throw out the appraisal’ from a host of folk at a host of conferences and I’ve yet to have the following questions answered to my satisfaction by most of them

  • Why didn’t you do it where you worked last? There is a very well known ex HRD doing the rounds saying ‘everyone should throw it out’, but they didn’t manage to do it whilst in role.
  • What are you going to replace it with that isn’t just ‘you know…chatting’?
  • If you do replace it with ‘you know…chatting’ how would that approach be viewed by, for instance, a regulator wanting to you to show you had sufficient controls in place over employee performance?
  • If you are getting rid of ratings then how are you deciding on allocating rewards? If you are doing it based on peer reviews/upvoting etc then how clearly do you understand the impact that will have on people’s behaviour?
  • Yes, you can give me case studies for a few orgs that are doing it, but how do you create the conditions for that to happen in less progressive organisations? That’s the big question everyone is waiting for you to answer.

I know that Performance Appraisals CAN be really rubbish experiences. They can also be constructive, clearly allocated time to talk deeply about people’s careers and ambitions. Some of the most impactful chats I’ve had in my career have been in reviews – that doesn’t mean I haven’t had constructive chats outside of them as well, but there is no doubt that occasionally sitting down and reviewing performance over a period in depth can be useful for spotting trends and development areas.

Just because you shouldn’t save your feedback up for a once a year event, doesn’t mean a once a year event can’t have worth. On Valentine’s Day I attempt to make my wife feel EXTRA special, it doesn’t follow logically that there is no level of caring on the other 364 days.

The difference between a rubbish review and a great one is normally the quality of the manager, not the quality of the process. The process only has to hit a basic level for the manager to be able to get a good level of utility out of it.

HR have a role not to create paperwork that gets in the way, but (and I may sound bizarrely old fashioned) writing stuff down helps people remember and reflect on the conversation. This isn’t the end of the world. The fact that managers don’t appreciate that talking to their team for a bit, agreeing some stuff to work on and writing a short summary of it isn’t an incredible imposition is part of the problem. That isn’t bureaucracy gone mad. That’s a reasonably sensible thing to do.

Instead of attempting to fix the paperwork we would do well to work out why we still can’t recruit/train/inspire/equip managers well enough so that we can trust them to sit in a room with someone else for a bit without it seeming like a chore, rather than an opportunity. Ironically most of the calls for us to focus on the paperwork less are in fact still focusing on the paperwork itself, like that is heart of the problems we face.

  • Maybe the incentives are all wrong?
  • Maybe the comms are all wrong?
  • Maybe the culture is all wrong?
  • Maybe the way we train people is all wrong?
  • Maybe you need to focus more on managerial capability when you recruit?
  • Maybe you need to focus more on identifying people who care about managing people when you recruit?

One idea that I’d love to see an organisation embrace is focusing on different motivational triggers to encourage completion. Why not try giving money to charity for each form returned – it fundamentally changes the dynamic from ‘because HR need it’ to ‘if I do it then it will make a difference’. It gives social worth to the activity. If you do try that at your organisation then please let me know the results.

But don’t just tell me you think we shouldn’t do reviews and expect me to think that is being disruptive. That’s too easy to be valuable.

It’s like knocking down a sandcastle, telling me you could build a better one and then walking away. It doesn’t matter how much flair was involved in your kick – you still haven’t created anything. You’ve destroyed, not disrupted.

The person who built the first sandcastle – and is now further down the beach trying to work out how to build a bigger one. They are being disruptive.

If you think I am talking about you when I say the word is employed too readily – but you know that you are doing good, constructive, pragmatic things to make people’s lives better – then you can rest assured that I’m not talking about you.

I’d like to thank the excellent Richard Westney and Simon Heath for helping me shape my thinking earlier in the week. Apparently that conversation stemmed from one with Neil Usher… Please note – I’ve probably used appraisal/review interchangeably in this post. It was for the sake of simplicity, rather than anything else.

Easy now, here comes the future… #HRTechEurope

Easy now, here comes the future… #HRTechEurope

A number of recent research papers have suggested that within the next 6 months the entire world will be run by a robot army, thereby leaving us as a species with little to do except sit around puzzling as to the role of humans in an economy that is run by robots. Of course, we don’t need to do that thinking either, as that could easily be done by robots. I imagine the last thing that people will relinquish to the robots will be the joyous act of putting funny cat pictures on the internet but, being a pessimist at heart, I fear that even that most sacred of activities is under threat. The only element of debate appears to be whether the robots will look like Arnie in Terminator or more like Johnny 5 in Short Circuit. Frank Sonder considers some of the potential impacts in this excellent and far less flippant piece.

I attended HRTech in Amsterdam last year and it is fair to say that one evening I became horrendously, horribly drunk. I assume someone must have cunningly spiked my 12th rum and coke, as it really hit me quite hard. As is the case with this new information age the results of that event were captured and instantly shared. This photo of HR professionals delicately balancing some traditional Dutch cuisine in their mouths was almost instantly available to anyone in the world with a connection to the internet (about 40% of the world’s population). Being drunk is, of course, a not unreasonable thing for an adult to experience occasionally – but it wasn’t previously the case that 40% of the world would have access to that information.


Alone (and drunk) in Amsterdam I should have done the sensible thing and called a taxi, instead I started tweeting that I was lost – and alone and drunk. David Goddin, it turns out, used to live in Amsterdam and guided me back to my hotel whilst I took photos. I considered those photos to be very arty at the time, but they were strangely quite blurry when I revisited them in the morning. Yes – social media is simply that responsive. It is a network like no other. Everything has changed.

Possibly the biggest differentiator between these times that we live in and any other period in history is the level of interconnectedness of people and the ability to have information on demand. The fundamental nature of ‘smart’ has changed from being knowledge orientated to being a function of the ability to acquire and process new information.  A new age – with new skills, new values, new capabilities and the same old problems for organisations. The very advances that allow us to share pictures of HR professionals eating also allow us to tackle far more challenging and entrenched organisational puzzles.

I, technically, started my career in old fashioned Personnel. I worked in Personnel for one year before the organisation I was in ‘rebranded’ the department as Human Resources. On the launch day of this brave new world I came in to find the door to the office had been labelled ‘Human Remains’. I later found out that this had been done by the HR Manager herself as an act of rebellion.

The key issues articulated to me as ones to solve for HR when I started my career were

  • management/leadership competence
  • problems caused by functional silos
  • proving commerciality to ‘the business’
  • an appreciation that communication cascade wasn’t effective enough to maximise productivity

I’d argue that the issues remain largely the same. The potential solutions are, however, far more accessible, affordable and likely to succeed. I believe we are at a tipping point in terms of technological capability and that is why I’m looking forward to HRTech in London. The possibilities for technology in HR are intriguing – not because they are ‘new and sexy’, but because they are starting to be able to address entrenched and deep problems that have existed for years.  The line up of speakers is excellent (I’m particularly looking forward to Costas Markides), but there will also be value to had from conversations and connections in the Exhibition.

If you are attending and fancy a coffee then tweet me – because that one act shows how technology doesn’t have to be impersonal. It isn’t technology or humanity; it is how we use technology to enhance our lives that matters – and I’m a firm believer that HR technology can help improve our connections and decisions in the workplace.

Come along and see some solutions. Come along and debate solutions. The future is coming and luckily it may solve the very problems that I faced in the first days of my career.

A magic tool for getting answers

A magic tool for getting answers

And I thought I was just being lazy…


Over the last few years I’ve found, without fail, that if I ask someone two things in an email – they will pretty much always answer only one.

I’ve tried using bold font, putting the questions up front, using bullet points and changing my writing style. Nothing seems to work. However simple the two questions or actions are (e.g. Shall we meet on Thursday at 2pm? Can you also send me through the XX document for me to review before this) I will either get sent the document and the 2pm meeting isn’t mentioned, or vice versa.

It has driven me to distraction at times.

However thanks to the fantastic David D’Souza I have found a solution!

David tends to email in numbered lists. There are always at least 3 things in the list (even if one of them is just an observation or something amusing!). There are never…

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