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A Diversity Gut Check for You

A Diversity Gut Check for You

by Frank Roche on October 9, 2006

in Diversity

Bruce Potts - Tatt Man

Here’s a diversity gut check for you: Would you hire this illustrated man? (It’s is the real thing, a full face tattoo.) Would you hire him? The University of New Mexico did. This tattooed man is Bruce Potts, who teaches public speaking at the university.

Has the shock worn off yet? Is Bruce Potts the face of tolerance and diversity? Or did a voice in your head say, “No one who looks like that could work in our company”?

When I saw the original post on BoingBoing called Teacher Sports a Full Face Tattoo, I initially said, “Wow, cool.” Then I started to wonder. Would a guy who looks like this ever get hired in a “regular” job? And if how he looks matters, how is that any different that how other people “look”?

Workplace diversity is a serious topic in HR circles. Studies show that we like to hire people who look like us. An SBA article called Managing Diversity in the Workforce outlines the diversity gut check for all of us:

“We’ve all heard, and some of us have said, ‘I don’t care who I hire – or work with – as long as they’re the best qualified,'” observes Joan Steinau Lester, author of The Future of White Men and Other Diversity Dilemmas. “This of course brings up the question, how do we recognize the best?

“In real life, we all tend to hire people much like ourselves,” she continues. “Those are the people we instinctively recognize as ‘qualified.’ They speak like us, walk like us, dress like us and have similar cultural references. These people are part of our world. We ‘know’ them. And we automatically know how to evaluate them.

“It’s a stretch to see the qualifications of people who are different,” admits Lester. “Unfamiliarity all too often means discomfort and even mistrust.”

If you really want to do a diversity gut check, pull your seat belt tight and take one or two of the Harvard Implicit Association Tests. I’m serious, be ready to be rattled. Tests available include assessments of personal bias about gender-career, age, weight, and race. For instance, the race test says, “This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of European and African origin. It indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black.”

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the Implicit Association Tests in his best-selling book, Blink. Gladwell writes about orchestra auditions where men were selected disproportionately over women, that is until musicians started auditioning behind a curtain. Then, women held their own with the men. Once again, “how they looked” made a difference, and those decisions happen in an instant – a blink.

Gladwell put it this way in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “That’s what discrimination is. It is, we are making a judgment about somebody instantly, unconsciously, without realizing we’re doing it. And that judgment is biasing our — all the conclusions we make about that person down the line in ways we’re not aware of.” By the way, Gladwell, who is of quite a diverse background – his mother is a black Jamaican – was astonished to find that when he took the Race IAT, he scored with a an automatic bias to whites over blacks. He said it rattled him.

So…would you hire Bruce Potts, The Illustrated Man? Diversity, on the surface, seems so obvious and so clear. Compelling. But the complexities underlying doing what’s right is the tough part. As always, the devil is in the details. Thoughts?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

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