And the Sign said, Long Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply…

by Terri Swain

You’d be hard pressed to find a sign like that out today. Or advertisements seeking “Help Wanted Male” “Help Wanted Female,”  or signs telling someone to use the back door.  We’ve come a long way from those early contentious days of the Civil Rights Act, but are we there yet? Have we created a business world where equal employment opportunity is the standard and diversity is recognized and embraced?  The days of blatant discrimination are more or less removed from the mainstream, but some of the barriers to advancement are alive and well.  Yes, even in your organization.

How can you go about identifying and tackling these barriers? The obvious first step is often overlooked…just ask. Although many organizations will jump directly to training, data gathering is a critical first step and can be accomplished a number of ways. Warning: if you’re not prepared for what you might hear and aren’t prepared to do something with this information, don’t do it. You’ll add fuel to a smoldering fire.

  • Exit Interviews – not just as employees are leaving but survey those that have left the organization within the past 1-2 years.  People are far more likely to be candid when they have nothing to lose. Analyze this data demographically and ask direct questions. Consider follow up focus groups.
  • Track/Analyze data you already keep – EEOC charge activity, employee complaints, union grievances – this can show trends of problem areas and problem supervisors
  • Frank conversations – one of our clients was frustrated with the lack of females in first line supervision. When openings occurred, the females were not applying.  After several external recruiting strategy meetings to increase female supervision, we suggested the ASK.  This client approached a few high potential female candidates to inquire why they weren’t applying for the position.  Their response:  they didn’t believe a female would really be considered because all the supervisors were male.  Females were informally encouraged to apply and within months, this artificial barrier was removed.
  • Employee Surveys – include diversity questions and determine your own internal barriers – be prepared to get creative with your solutions.  Accounting firms and consulting firms notorious for heavy travel and long hours have increased retention of valued female associates by allowing them the opportunity to work but not fast track so that they can retain balance in their lives. BONUS!  It’s not become a female friendly policy but a family friendly policy.
  • Focus Groups – One client wanted to get the pulse on why females and minorities were exiting the company at a higher rate than their white male counterparts.  Focus groups allowed us to identify attributes about the work – long on call hours that could be restructured and make retention better for everyone, including minorities and females.  The information helped identify geographical parts of the country that were key training grounds but were not ideal for culturally diverse people.  This couldn’t change but did allow the company to better craft its recruitment messages

In our increasing global world, removing barriers is not just good for EEO/AA Compliance – it’s good business.