Earlier this week, I spoke with a young techie. She’s created her own diversity app, and she wanted some media advice on how to publicize it as she preps for a formal launch. I happily shared what I know, but then the conversation stretched into some interesting areas.
I asked had she always had an entrepreneurial spirit, something I want to cultivate in myself. She told me yes, though she tried to go the job route at first. But she was mistreated so many times, she figured, I can do better by myself.
She has. She built a business, and has been consulting and successfully sustaining herself for some time now. She gave me a good half dozen links to valuable resources, and her energy and intelligence were intoxicating. I mean, this young woman was on the ball. She came to me for help, but I ended up inspired – and disheartened.
The things she was telling me – horrors endured while trying to make it in the workplace – gel perfectly not only with what I know personally, they could have been carbon copies of the articles I read so often about the culture in the tech industry, how unfriendly and ridiculous it can be for minority women.
Nigerian born, with a name to match, this rising star told me about an interview where the white man at the helm spent more time asking questions about her name – what kind of name is that? What does it mean? – than he did asking about her skills or intended commitment to his team.
I thought, OK, he was curious. He saw the interview as an opportunity to learn something new. But if that was his intention – and we’ll say for the sake of argument that it was – it was completely inappropriate and disrespectful. Based on what she told me, the guy broke like a half dozen interview/HR rules in short order.
I asked her, “What did you do?”
“I didn’t know what to do,” she answered, and I could hear the sadness in her voice. It made my chest tight.
“Well,” I said. “If that ever happens again, just know, you’re not getting that job; so shut that crap down immediately. Let that person know, I understand you may be curious, but the origins of my name are for another time. I’m here to discuss how my skills can benefit your organization.”
I said a few more things, but this is a PG blog, so we’ll keep it moving.
She told me other stories, her friends’ stories. One Nigerian girlfriend was constantly being subjected to unwanted physical attention. People were touching her hair without asking for permission, and harassing her with question after question about it. When she finally spoke up for herself and asked that her supervisor – yes, you read that correctly, I wrote supervisor – stop it, the person snowed her under with work and stopped communicating with her.
“That was punishment for having the audacity to protest someone’s wrong belief that your person is their playground,” I said.
My new friend sadly agreed.
“Your friend needs to find a new job. She’s ruined there,” I said, and again, my young friend agreed. But it takes time to find a new position, and in the meantime her friend is bitterly unhappy and too scared and unsure to defend herself.
My heart breaks for young women. Not because they deal with this kind of abuse on the job, per say, but because they don’t know how to deal with it. They don’t know how to respond. And that uncertainty means they stay in situations where they’re unhappy, and their spirits, souls and skills are steadily depleted. There’s no way a supervisor like that is going to go the extra mile to develop, mentor or advance that young talent. That person is too busy smugly petting the office curiosity.
See, I know how to back folks up off me. I’m so good at it, I can do it with a smile and without raising my voice or permanently damaging a relationship. And if I do damage that relationship, I won’t lose sleep or miss a beat because I know it wasn’t worth having anyway.
But I had to learn how to do all that the hard way. I too had to endure all manner of indignities before I evolved into the media savvy blogger and professional woman that I am today. I’m thinking about writing a book, sharing the lessons that I’ve learned. But today’s message is for companies.
Company leaders, you better be aware of who is interviewing prospective talent, and how they’re representing your organization. Have the wrong people in this critical talent acquisition role, and you not only lose great talent, you could open yourself up to legal punishments that will teach you a harsh lesson, quick.
Tech giant Qualcomm just learned that lesson – at least, I hope they did. Earlier this week the company announced it will shell out $19.5 million to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit affecting some 3,300 women in STEM within its walls. According to Madelaine Miller Strauss from newspros.com, the organization will also undergo extensive internal program changes to shape a better workplace for women and create equal opportunities for them.
Ouch. As my momma used to say, “That’s a lesson for your ass.”
But it’s not just about the money. Introducing the right new product or service into the market could help a company recoop even losses as severe as $19.5 million, and then set said company on a revenue-generating, industry-dominating course that will attract more bright, new talent.
I call it the cycle of success. Set up the organizational structure – talent and performance management, hiring and retention practices, rewards and recognition, learning and development opportunities – so that the players can collaborate easily and know that they are respected and valued, thereby releasing unnecessary tensions that might inhibit creativity and problem solving ability, and – boom.
That’s how you get, and stay, ahead of the competition. Face it. Very often that kind of fresh and fabulous idea generation and innovation, that kind of process efficiency or key competitive insight comes from young minds. Minds housed in bodies that look vastly different, that hold experiences, education and cultures as varied as the talent currently twisting uncomfortably in their seats during crappy interviews, and suffering on jobs where supervisors feel entitled to touch them inappropriately.
There’s a pattern developing, and companies are losing, and losing big. Talented women and minorities are choosing entrepreneurship over traditional employment. They’re starting their own companies, they’re succeeding, and I applaud them.
My tech savvy Nigerian scholar is skilled, she’s determined, she’s educated – she came from Stanford and is on her way to Berkeley – and she cares. She built her diversity app because she wants to spare her peers the indignities that she’s suffered, to let them know which companies truthfully and sincerely care about diversity, and are welcoming to diverse talent and the well of nearly limitless potential they represent.
So, if you’re a recruiter or a hiring manager you need to ask yourself, what’s going on behind closed interview doors? Because good or bad, right or wrong, whatever it is could be the reason a fabulous new talent either joins your team or becomes an extremely motivated competitor.