Saturday, April 25, 2015

This is what you get for $200,000?

Heh. For all that Sommers is poking some fun, I have wondered about this very thing.

I have recruited and hired hundreds of people over the years in half a dozen countries. My general observation is that appearances count for very little but that they do sometimes shed light on underlying behaviors and values.

Generally, you are looking for three things necessary to create value: 1) ability to fulfill some specific knowledge and/or skill set, 2) ability to fit in with the company's culture as well as the client's culture, and 3) the demonstrated capacity to adjust, adapt, and grow over time and with changing circumstances. In particular, you are looking for a self-directing, low maintenance employee. Every organization which I have ever managed has exhibited the Pareto Distribution of Management Time Consumption. 20% of employees (and usually a much smaller number) account for 80% of the time an executive has to spend on employees.

A resume gives you some indication of skills and knowledge and experience but they are at best indicative. You'd think that face-to-face interviews are more valuable but they also are prone to certain systemic errors. For all the time and research, for most companies, it appears that after a few critical hurdles, it is very much a hit and miss process in terms of whether who you hire actually fulfills your hopes and expectations. All that said, I set most store in terms of evidence that reveals something about the person's behaviors and values.

From the link. The Oberlin College student self-reports:
On April 1, I interviewed for a programming job at OnShift, a Cleveland-based tech company that makes medical shift scheduling software. Two weeks later, I received a phone call from the recruiter who had contacted me about the position, saying that they would not be hiring me. The hiring director had relayed to her that they would have hired me based on my personality and technical abilities, but would not be doing so because of the way I looked. I was informed that my appearance “looked more like I was about to go clubbing than to an interview,” and that the run in my tights, coupled with my mild lateness — which I had informed them of earlier, due to my afternoon class — suggested to them that I was “unprofessional and not put together.”
It is the student's interpretation that she was "denied a job on an all-male development team for what I looked like."

But is that likely how it occurred? An alternate explanation from the company's perspective, given only the information that the writer, Elizabeth Bentivegna, provides might run along different lines. I can imagine the interviewer notes might look something like "Candidate appears to have the technical skills we are seeking and was poised and pleasant to speak with. However, the candidate was late to the interview, wore attire inappropriate to a business environment, and did not appear careful even about the details of her presentation (runs in her stockings). This would seem to indicate carelessness (being late), lack of familiarity with business norms (inappropriate attire) and poor attention to detail (runs in stockings). Given the numerous other well qualified candidates, let's pass on this one."

I have no idea whether that is what actually happened but it seems as reasonable a conclusion, or more so, as Bentivegna's conclusion. If you are new to the professional workplace, it is easy to discount the details and context about which you might know nothing.

Given the rest of her letter, it would appear that OnShift dodged a bullet. There are a lot of indications of a high maintenance employee including:
Jumping to conclusions ("I was denied a job on an all-male development team for what I looked like.")

My "experience has definitely helped me care less about what people think."

I carry a grudge ("I have a few more things to say to OnShift and anyone in tech who considers themselves an ally of women.")

I communicate in two modes, OUTRAGE and Cliches ("pull your heads out of the sand and face the winds of change".

"The concept of “professionalism” in terms of dress is outdated and oppressive from many angles."

Your primary goal should be to serve my ideology ("You cannot cherry-pick which parts of progressivism you embrace.")

You are in business to serve me ("You cannot stretch out your hand to those in need and yank it back on a petty whim.")

It shouldn't matter what I look like ("But it doesn’t matter what I looked like precisely.")

You should hire based on what I think the requirements should be rather than what you think the requirements should be ("Why was my ability to code not enough?")

I demand compassion ("if you do not show your candidates adequate compassion, you’re not going to get one.")
I did find this line of her argument interesting. She seems to acknowledge that it is reasonable for a company to want its employees to appear professional. "When a man needs to look “professional,” he puts on a suit. Done." So the importance of attire is accepted. The apparent issue for Bentivegna is that OnShift did not accept her perception of what constituted professional attire for a woman. Despite the hundreds or thousands of books on variations of Dress for Success, Bentivegna appeared to be under the impression that "a fitted black T-shirt, a red skater skirt, black tights (yes, with a run, the horror!) and a black cardigan" might constitute professional attire. Unless she is taking Abby Sciuto as her role model, this does not match any known standard of professional attire. Given that she is attending Oberlin College, I find it hard to believe that Bentivegna would actually be that unaware or have done so little research. Her description almost sounds like she was making a statement along the lines of "I don't accept your bourgeoise definitions of professional attire."

Later, Bentivegna has set up some hypothetical questions which she has for OnShift, including this revealing one.
So you think she’s a brilliant programmer but doesn’t seem professional enough? Hire her so you can mentor her and help her become a better working woman. We don’t need to have our actions scrutinized and ripped apart in search of error. We need guidance and an opportunity to show the world what a woman in technology looks like. And after everything we have been subjected to, you need to roll out the red carpet for us.
This seems to reveal a mindset where there are no other candidates and where it is the company's obligation to serve and provide for the employee and take on the obligation of improving the employee rather than the reality that it is the employee who seeks to create value for the employer.

Callow, self-centered, and staggeringly unaware children of privilege or in the throes of an ideology are nothing new.

What is striking is not so much the behaviors of the author of this embarrassing screed. What is striking is that Oberlin College is doing so little to help its students understand and prepare for the business world. Oberlin costs $200,000 for a four year degree. This is what you get for $200,000?

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