I’ve been thinking about “isms” this week. No, not prisms, organisms, or specialisms. More so sexism, racism, ageism, and..errm..homophobia-ism. It’s always difficult to write a blog about isms however, especially when you fit squarely into a demographic which has never been on the receiving end of one. I’m an (annoyingly) middle-class (disputedly) middle-aged (slightly suntanned) white (mostly) heterosexual male. One misplaced phrase, or an inappropriate joke, could see me cancelled. Well, given I’ve been cancelled publicly many times before, and I think my sentiment is in the right place, I thought I might as well go for it anyway. It’s also hard as regardless of whatever hardship I may have faced in my life, I won the lottery when it comes to being on easy street. I’ll just pause for a moment as all you entitled white men tell yourself how hard you had it growing up under a single mum in Christchurch like John Key did….You done? Let’s continue. The reality is, if you’re based in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, the US, Canada, and any other English-speaking developed country, having the name “John Smith” at the top of your resume is never going to see you wrong. As unfair as this seams, as Recruiters or hiring managers, we are all guilty of perpetuating hiring decisions based on an “ism”. Some of us are worse than others, some are more overt, and we may have a different “ism” we are guilty of, but trust me, if you’ve recruited for any length of time you’ve either employed an “ism” when selecting candidates, or you’ve passed on an “ism” from your client.
The first off the rank is sexism. Recruiting for agencies these days, I’m much more likely to have a client say “ideally we’d like a woman” than “we’d like a man“. Positive discrimination you say? Well perhaps, however this desire for women, usually into senior roles, is based on how sexist recruitment agencies have been historically. There are probably more female recruiters than men, and the top billers in New Zealand to my knowledge are women, however, they are definitely underrepresented in leadership roles versus their male counterparts. We may see slightly less sexism in our hiring, but not in who we promote. Yesterday I joked with a female recruiter that “high-billing female agency recruiters are often a right pain in the arse”. That woman down the viaduct who was overheard calling me a sexist pig was right. It may have been a joke, but it was most definitely an indefensible sexist comment.
Racism is probably the biggest powder keg to discuss. Most people thankfully wouldn’t describe themselves as racist, however, life isn’t really about how we describe ourselves. I used to describe myself as Auckland’s biggest recruitment lothario, until LinkedIn insisted I change my bio. Unfortunately for our conscience, racism isn’t just about judging someone by the colour of their skin. It’s also not reading a CV properly because of an Indian name, or a client asking “what is their communication like” when someone isn’t called something like Hamish, Angus, or Dan. We seem not to care when a handsome French candidate has a beautiful soft accent, but when Goodnews Adeyemi speaks perfect English with a hint of Nigerian we don’t seem so keen to hire. Or tell him our mum’s maiden name. It’s strange because in my experience, Recruiters from other cultures are often better recruiters. And if you have a foreign name in this industry, and have made a success of yourself, give yourself a pat on the back. You did it the hard way.
Homophobia is also a consideration, although less so in this industry. Ah man, just that comment alone has marginalised a whole swathe of people. I told you this was difficult. The thing about being part of the rainbow community, is that you can often still present as someone who conforms to all the other prejudices out there. You can still be a middle-class, white male with a name like Mike MacDonald. However, there is still an issue. A gay man will be perceived as bitchy, and a gay woman will be perceived as a very angry motorcycle mechanic. And if we look at the growing number of folk who identify as non-binary, we run into serious prejudices. I am yet to represent a non-binary recruiter, but when I do, sadly eyebrows will be raised. No doubt around which toilet they should use and who’s touch rugby team they should play on. Who cares? It’s f*cking touch.
Now on to what I feel is the most overt “ism”, and the genesis of this blog; Ageism. It seems to me that ageism is the most socially and professionally acceptable “ism” to joke about, and to base hiring decisions on. Only yesterday, I had a truly exceptional candidate tell me several times that he was “an old fart”, and another one who paused at the end of a 50 minute conversation to “confess” that they were actually 53. Can you imagine speaking to a candidate for an hour on the phone for them to say “hey, there’s something I need to confess. I’m black”. I mean, it’d be quite funny as a Chris Rock skit, but it wouldn’t and shouldn’t happen. And now as I sit here with two great candidates, I’m second guessing my clients. Are these candidates too old? Will they fit culturally? Do they have the energy and drive anymore? But when I think back to the candidates, and the content and delivery of our conversations, and I’d love to hang out socially with both, and they have more energy, hunger and drive than the surly, lazy, mumbling 22 year olds that I also have to deal with. And there’s me be ageist again.
Anyway, I think we all need to have a word with ourselves occasionally. Have a great weekend.