I once read a romance novel where the hero had been made a fool of in his youth. It’s a common enough romantic trope, but in this particular novel his father tried to warn him.
His father was wealthy, but he’d come up rough and made all his money through his own clever hard work. He knew a thing or two about people, and while he’d sheltered his son from most of the seedier parts of life, he did not hesitate to tell him about them. Like most parents he hoped that his cautionary tales would take root. That his son would learn from them and avoid making some of the mistakes he’d made.
In this story, he told his son that the man who’d recently hired him meant him harm, that he had not hired the hero based on his excellent credentials and work ethic. He was hired to be used as a lever to bring another employee to heel. You see, dad had seen it happen before, and like most clever people he paid heed to destructive patterns and could recognize when they were about to repeat themselves.
But like most children our hero didn’t listen. He was eager to prove himself to his father, to emulate his success, and this new job was plum, a feather in his proverbial cap.
He began with excitement and worked diligently for some months. He even rented himself a fancy apartment near his downtown gig. He reasoned, as he was working steady and things were going well, he could afford it.
But as you’ve probably guessed by now, his father’s prediction came true. After less than a year on the job, our hero was fired. Most employment being at will these days, the reasons why are as irrelevant as the excuses he was given at the time.
Shaken and worried, he went home to his fabulous apartment and sat down to think. His father had been right all along. He hadn’t listened, and now he was in trouble. His rent was impossible without a job, and he was too proud to ask his father for help.
His father knew his son well, and he paid him a visit in his apartment high above the city with its excellent view and practically no furniture; he hadn’t got around to buying much before he lost his job.
Our hero expected a lecture, or at least an I told you so, but his father was a kind man, if hard in business, and he knew this was just one of those lessons that’s part of growing up.
“What are your plans?”
“I haven’t a clue,” his son admitted. “But I need to move. I can no longer avoid to live here.”
His father waved this aside. That was easily fixed. “I meant what will you do for work?”
“No clue,” his son repeated. “I have no desire to work for anyone else I can tell you that. I don’t trust anyone not to do what —- has done.”
His father nodded. He understood the bitterness in his son’s voice. It was why he’d always worked for himself. “Well, you have a degree in finance. Why don’t you open your own business?”
Our hero laughed. “How? No one will trust someone with little to no experience to manage their money.”
“Then start smaller,” his father advised. “It will be tax season in a few months. You can do that easily. Why not go and work for H&R Block or someplace similar? Learn the process and the business. You can save money, get your own business set up, and when you’re ready you can go out on your own.”
He waited while his son thought over his idea. No fool, he saw its merit, and he agreed. Later in the book we find our hero is as wealthy as his father, happily steering his own ship before he gives the heroine a run for her money. But that’s another story.
I relay this snippet from a book for one reason, and it’s not because I love a happily ever after. I do, but the point I think is critical is that our hero was used on the job. It happens all the time, and most of the time, there is no savvy father around to tip you off that you’re joining a hornet’s nest. You just get stung.
It happens all the time, especially to minorities. A recruiter paints a far different picture than the reality on the job for reasons they do not divulge. Sometimes there are quotas to fill. Or, perhaps there have been incidents, and the company’s image and brand need a boost. The kind of boost that a well publicized minority hire could provide.
This, in my opinion, was the case with Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth. Whether she was fired or voluntarily resigned from her post – there seems to be some confusion there – Omarosa, the notorious villain from The Apprentice who later collaborated with the President again on a show called The Ultimate Merger, enjoyed a brief but high profile stint in the current Administration.
We’ve yet to see who used who more – I’m laying a firm bet on the President as the winner in this distasteful contest, but there’s still a lesson to be learned.
Organizations do hire for reasons other than the need to find talent. Sometimes they hire for reputation management or repair. Sometimes they hire to make their numbers, to give the appearance of diversity. There are a half dozen other reasons I could name, none of which have anything to do with a candidate’s ability to do the job for which they’ve been selected.
For minorities out there who are pure of heart and sincerely want to find work I’ve come up with a short list of red flags they can use to determine whether or not the company courting them actually wants them for their talent, or wants them to check a box.
- Take a look around. Are there many minorities in the workforce, particularly in senior leadership roles? Investigate before you’re hired. When you go for the interview, examine cubicles if they give you a tour. Ask for a demographic breakdown if it means something to you. If the organization cares about diversity and inclusion they shouldn’t mind discussing those topics with you. Don’t just look at the web site. Diverse stock art is easy to come by.
- Is the organization’s position on diversity and inclusion clear? Their strategy and thoughts on diversity’s value to their business should be prominent on their web site. It may even have it’s own tab. Read it. Is there depth? Or is it primarily surface platitudes and feel good statements that wouldn’t bear close scrutiny from a programmatic or strategic examination? How a company feels about D&I should be evident in its social media feeds, its PR outreach, basically, it should be evident in most facets of the business.
- Consider their reputation in the external marketplace. Are they often in the news for diversity-related topics? Are those topics good or bad? If the company is making headlines because of lawsuits, that’s a huge red flag, especially if it happens more than once. If they’re in the news discussing successful diversity initiatives, that’s something else. Obviously, you want to hear and see more good news than bad. And I don’t mean Taco Tuesday and Fried rice Friday. Look for credible wins in strategy, recruitment, retention, substantive areas of talent management or the business.
- Listen. If you’re being hired because you’re a minority there will be clues. Someone will say something that rubs you the wrong way. For instance, “It’s about time we had some color around here!” It could be anything, really. Just listen. You often feel microaggressions before your brain can process them. You should not feel like a novelty. Your color, gender, disability or sexual orientation should not be a topic of conversation unless you bring it up, or it fits into a discussion around the company’s activities in that dimension of diversity.
Omarosa got played. She played three roles in the White House. She’s black, she’s a woman, so she checked several boxes in an administration filled to the brim with old white men, and she’s not opposed to being the entertainment. Or maybe she played the President, who knows? It depends on her next step.
If she publishes a book or a clothing or cosmetics line in the next six to 12 months and it’s a flop then she got played. If she does something like that and her product is wildly successful, then Trump got played, and she got paid. We’ll see.
But like the hero in that romance novel of mine discovered, time will always tell whether or not an organizations’ employment intentions are sincere. And should you find yourself on the losing end of a scam, do what he did.
Take a minute to lick your wounds. Look around to identify sources of support – hopefully you’ve got a smart, rich father to take the sting out of things – and then get back up on the horse, so to speak. Our hero had rich relations to ease his financial stress, but he didn’t use them. He was his father’s son. He downsized to fit his new – temporary – circumstances, but his ambition remained rich.