Category Archives: Diversity

Hiring Practices, Inside-Out and Upside-Down

A recent article from the Harvard Business Review asks the question, “What if a Company Maximized Jobs over Profits?” Most companies hire the bare minimum of employees to get the maximum possible profit, but a recent trend of “job entrepreneurs” seeks the opposite–to employ as many people as they can, and earn enough profit to make this possible. They start with a group of people they want to employ, and then design a business model that leverages their particular talents. For example, one “job entrepreneur” sought to employ people along the autism spectrum, and designed a web maintenance and software testing company that allowed his employees’ attention to detail and repetitive focus to be assets to their job performance.

I was struck by this “reverse” way of thinking about hiring. Besides being an impressively self-sustaining business model that takes the place of charity, it’s also a sort of exponential extension of my advice to employers on hiring: you have to look closely at the job you need done and determine exactly what skills an employee needs to be able to do it. Take a step back and look at your business; what does it really take to get the widgets out the door or the shelves stocked or the food served or the machines put together? Maybe there’s an underserved or underemployed group of people who would be perfect for the job, but have been overlooked because you haven’t understood the essentials of your business.

When I lived in Boise, Idaho, I knew a house-painting company who employed only ex-convicts. With good screening, the owner found employees who were willing to work for lower (but still living) wages for a chance to put their lives back together and build stable job histories. With the money saved, he was able to bid jobs at lower prices, get more business, and employ more people. It was profitable, sustainable, socially responsible, and a new perspective on hiring from which many businesses could benefit.

LGBT Rights in Lawrence, and the Rest of Kansas

A few days ago, I came across this article in the Lawrence Journal World: Outside Lawrence, discrimination based on sexual orientation is already legal in Kansas. The title pretty much sums it up. While House Bill 2453, another of Kansas’s nearly annual “religious freedom” bills, sputters in the Statehouse, this article points out that it’s already perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBT people in most of Kansas, except for Lawrence. Sexual orientation isn’t a protected class in the Kansas Act Against Discrimination, and in the absence of an explicit law, gays and lesbians have no legal recourse if they are refused service or fired for their sexual orientation. Lawrence adopted a non-discrimination policy in the early 90’s, the first city in Kansas to do so, and the only city where the policy is both widespread and enforceable.

Despite the dismal picture for LGBT rights in Kansas, it’s heartening to see many of my clients go beyond current state culture and establish non-discrimination policies themselves. One of the fundamental tenets of a healthy workplace is that employees feel safe and respected. Without that, communication breaks down and productivity and creativity become impossible. It seems obvious that protecting diversity is good for everyone, but if Kansas public policy is any indicator, it must not be obvious enough. More and more employers are creating policies that protect LGBT employees because it’s good business practice. Maybe someday the positive results will “trickle up” to the state legislature.

Accomodating Creativity

For years I’ve been presenting programs on the challenges and opportunities associated with accommodating mental disabilities in the workplace.  I think the first iteration was in 2004 at the Labor & Employment Advanced Practices Symposium with my friend and colleague Rich Paul at the Paul Plevin firm in San Diego.  One premise was that many contributions to science, music, the arts, industry, fashion have come from individuals diagnosed with mental disabilities.  We encouraged employers to think about making a place for talented people who may have unconventional behaviors or needs in the workplace.

Validation!  Today I picked up the Lawrence Journal World and spotted this headline:  “Creative people’s brains similar to schizophrenics’ brains, study finds” This  Bloomberg News article cited a study in Sweden involving people who took creativity tests.  The researchers found that creative problem-solvers had a lower concentration of proteins that aid in the chemical transmission of information in the thalamus, the part of the brain that determines what data is relevant for reasoning.  That’s a trait commonly found in patients with schizophrenia, a mental illness whose symptoms include hallucinations, jumbled thoughts and paranoia.  As I understand it, there is less information filtered by the thalamus on the way to the cortex where information is processed and analyzed.  With more data in play, the individual might be able to make more creative associations – to see things others don’t.

One of the researchers is quoted as saying “We tend to think of psychiatric diseases s negative, as destructive. But we can see that some traits or components of psychiatric disease may be useful.”

Accommodating mental disabilities in the workplace can require some creativity and a willingness to suspend the rules about the way we’ve always done things.  So often the characteristics of the condition affect how people do their work, the environment, attendance, work hours, behavior, and social skills.  And an employer might be able to defend a decision not to hire – or to discharge – an individual who doesn’t comply with clearly communicated expectations.  But consider whether making accommodations might not open your organization up to some amazing talent.  Sit down with the individual and talk about how the company might be able to work with him or her to get the work done.

You Say Tomato…

I made a presentation last week on “Gender in Mediation: Negotiation & the Gender Divide” (sponsored by Associates in Dispute Resolution – my friends and colleagues Larry Rute, Patrick Nichols . . . and am REALLY glad to have that behind me.  Don’t get me wrong, I am fascinated by this topic and enjoyed every minute of the reading I did to prepare.  It’s just that there’s so much out there and it’s such a complex and nuanced subject that it’s hard to distill into an hour’s worth of useful, organized information.  It’s also a pretty volatile topic – we all have a gender and we all have a point of view.   Cutting to the chase  – and without going into the whole topic of stereotypes and perceptions and why or whether men and women think and communicate differently and who is better at negotiating under what circumstances –  here are some thoughts about how mediators, advocates or parties to a negotiation can help keep gender from getting in the way.

First identify where gender-nuanced dynamics may play a role in communication/negotiation, such as: advocate and party; opposing parties; mediator advocate/party; opposing advocates; multiple representatives of the same party (insurance company, spouses, business partners, company president, human resources professional, etc.).    Then:

  1. Recognize Your Own Biases & Preconceptions.  We all have them.
  2. Better Define the Process.  Studies show that gender tends to have more of an effect in high ambiguity negotiations than where the process is strictly defined and understood.
  3. Identify Gender Triggers. Men tend to negotiate better in a highly competitive negotiation while women tend to do better when negotiating for others.
  4. Take Control of the Shadow Negotiation.  The shadow negotiation is kind of like the metadata of electronically stored information and is that underlying web that encompasses how people treat each other, who gets heard, how cooperative they will be.
  5. But Avoid Appearing To Be Judgmental.  You know what I mean. . .
  6. Don’t Automatically Identify Competence By Gender Or Stereotypical Behavior.  Beware of assuming woman lack subject matter expertise.
  7. Don’t Misread Style Differences. Don’t mistake a more collaborative or cooperative approach to mediation as a signal of weakness in position or resilience OR an effort to manipulate.
  8. Properly Perceive The Impact Of An Apology.  It isn’t always a sign of weakness or admission of liability.
  9. Consider The Effect of Gender On Credibility.  Think strategically about demonstrating competence and trustworthiness to develop credibility.
  10. Understand Gender Styles To Keep Them From Interfering. Bringing subconscious biases, assumptions and behaviors into our conscious mind will help us to be more effective in dispute resolution.