A recent announcement from the EEOC describing their draft strategic enforcement plan for the upcoming months listed the following discriminatory practices as examples of what they’re targeting:

  • The channeling/steering of individuals into specific jobs due to their status in a particular group. Yes, this still happens. I don’t see too many male executive assistants or female construction workers, to say nothing of the continuing shortage of female and minority executives.
  • Restrictive application processes. A broad term that could mean anything. I wish they’d do something about tedious application processes, legal or not.
  • The use of screening tools that adversely impact protected groups. This parallels their recent reminder to employers about job-specific background checks, but could also eliminate the practice of many prominent employers that make year of high school graduation a required field on their online applications. Any idiot can calculate a person’s age from that statistic.

This is a classic enforcement agency list that misses the impact of common hiring practices that truly result in discrimination. Here’s what they missed:

  • Not having a hiring process at all. Too many jobs, particularly at the executive level, are filled by someone the hiring manager knows and has worked with before. An equally despicable practice at the higher levels is hiring someone who has valuable connections or a pedigree while ignoring the competencies required to do the job. Unethical HR people then cover the unethical executive’s tracks by completing the tracking logs as if the winning candidate was selected in a competitive hiring process. Hiring someone they know may relieve hiring managers of the desperation anxiety that arises whenever there’s an open job, but it is a biased, unfair and exclusionary practice.
  • Not focusing hard enough on age discrimination. This one is such an obvious candidate for enforcement that you have to be stoned out of your mind (or working in Washington, D. C.) to miss it. What does every outplacement agency tell older candidates? “Don’t go back more than 15 years on your resume.” Why? Because of likely age discrimination. Many people over 40 have learned to exclude certain companies (particularly tech and Internet companies) from their job searches because they know they’ll be stereotyped as yesterday’s news. People have learned to accept age discrimination as a fact of life, and given the huge number of Baby Boomers in the job market today, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more of an outcry. Then again, given their early indoctrination into the philosophy of “Hope I die before I get old” and market for youth-restoring plastic surgery, it’s likely that most Baby Boomers are too ashamed to admit they’re entering the golden years.
  • Not questioning candidate evaluation methods and records. Pretty much all you have to do in your recruiting logs is say “did not pass interview” or “failed phone screen” and that’s that. This is why managers can get away with telling the recruiter, “I just think Louise is a better fit.” Recruiters rarely push for specifics because they’re just happy to close another req. Hiring managers are seldom held accountable for justifying their decisions or for documenting specific examples of a how a candidate did nor did not meet the competencies the job requires.

In a legal sense, the tagline “equal opportunity employer” means that race, gender, age and all the other protected classes are irrelevant to a hiring decision. However, the spirit behind that phrase is far more important from an ethical and professional standpoint. The goal of anyone involved in the hiring process is to find the best person qualified for the job, and you can’t achieve that if the real hiring process is limited to buddies, people who attended certain universities or someone who has a “name company” on their resume. All of those considerations are not only irrelevant, but contradict a company’s claim that they are an “equal opportunity employer.” What those practices do communicate is that the hiring company is a narrow-minded closed network of like individuals who arbitrarily exclude people for no valid reason at all.

HR people (especially recruiters) need to have the courage to stand up to hiring managers, declare war on mediocrity and insist on an open, fair and competitive hiring process. Just filling the req isn’t good enough. A great company hires the best people through a professional hiring process where everyone feels they had a fair shot and even those who lose out develop a healthy respect for the company’s sense of fair play.

The EEOC won’t tell you to do that, but do you really need them to?

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About Bob Mendonsa

Bob Mendonsa is an experienced, engaging facilitator with over twenty years of experience delivering and designing leadership and organizational development programs at all organizational levels in a wide range of industries. Bob’s body of work also includes significant experience in team building, human resources and assignments as the top HR/OD executive at three different companies.

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