Discrimination is rife within HR

I read with interest the recent story of job applicant José Zamora who was struggling to get any acknowledgement for his job applications.  Coincidentally, or not, when he dropped the S from his name, and re-sent CV’s as Joe Zamora – apparently interest soared. 

 Those of us the in HR profession are quick to stomp on business leaders when we see/hear of them undertaking discriminatory behaviours and actions.

 But let me tell you.  HR is absolutely just as culpable when hiring for its own.

 There is for instance the FTSE 10 company we had been asked to support with a critical HR hire.  We duly screened and interviewed a host of people, deciding in the end that the best person to recommend was one we will call “John Smith”.

 The HR hiring leader was excited – the person on paper looked perfect, and she was ready to race through the hiring process with a view to making an employment offer within a week or 2.  An interview was setup, the candidate showed up on time, suited and booted and ready to impress.

And the interview was terminated in under 10 minutes.  This HR professional called me, absolutely bemused at being exited so early.

I of course immediately followed up with the employer and our conversation ran along these lines:

Me:                        Hi.  Heard that your interview with John Smith was brief and ended quickly – is everything ok?

HRD:                      Yes, the person who arrived isn’t the one for the CV you sent.

Me:                        (confused) Excuse me?

HRD:                      Yes, there is no way that person could have done all the things claimed on that CV. 

Me:                        (lost for words).  But I know this person, I know his referees, I personally checked all aspects of his experience and skills – what did I miss?

HRD:                      Have you actually met him?

Me:                        Uh, of course, he presents beautifully, I really thought you would like him

HRD:                      Really.  Did you actually meet him yourself?

Me:                        Yes, of course

HRD:                      Well how can he have such an English sounding name?

Me:                        Because he is British – I don’t understand?  (and then the light bulb came on!).  Do you mean because he is black?

HRD:                      I don’t want to have this conversation, but don’t let this mistake happen again

Needless to say, I refused to hire any further for that particular company, and its HRD has now moved to another FTSE organisation, and I refuse to hire for them as well.

We have countless examples of where fabulous candidates have not been considered, blatantly because of their sex, their age, their nationality, their weight, their “attractiveness”.  We have countless instances where fabulous candidates have actually been asked by HR leaders about their sexual preferences, their family situations, their religious beliefs.  These practices are not particular to emerging markets or novice HR leaders who don’t know any better.  Many UK, Australian and Canadian based job seekers for example, will share their stories of blatant ageism to the point that they now “adjust” career commencement dates on their CV’s, just to try and get a shot at an interview. 

Now, if you have a workforce that just won’t tolerate someone of a certain type of background, I have some empathy for your decision making.  If you have a special diversity need driving your choices, I also have some empathy.  But I don’t understand the other HR professionals, junior or senior level, who bluster righteously against discrimination but practice it when hiring for their own teams.  And for those people who have been “victims” of blatant discrimination, who then land jobs and adopt discriminatory practices themselves – I just don’t get that either.

“Practice what you preach” might be a little naval gazing topic for HR leaders everywhere….