Inc. magazine posted a blog a couple of weeks ago entitled “5 Reasons You Need to Meet in Person”. Reason #3 was “make an impression”, and the author made hers with a pink, faux ostrich purse.
Now, pink is probably my least favorite color, and ostrich – faux or otherwise – is not my preferred texture in a handbag. But I always like messages that encourage people to accept and embrace their individuality. Joe Gerstandt, noted diversity and inclusion author and speaker, calls it flying your freak flag.
Embedded in that paragraph about carrying a pink purse, though, was a sad and telling sentence about the state of diversity in the HR/recruiting world today: “I was worried it was perhaps not professional enough for business.” With that sentence, the author turned her message “make an impression” into “make an impression – but only if it’s safe.”
HR and their recruiting counterparts claim to believe in diversity, but only because they try to be color or race-blind in their hiring decisions. When it comes to tons of other things that are marks of individuality – where you went to school, what you wear, what kind of company you keep,and what kind of jewelry you like – HR is incredibly close-minded. They want employees to think and look like them, and like everyone else in the company. That’s why people who write job seeker advice tell you to cover your tattoos and hide your flashy wedding ring, because diversity in HR is a no-no unless it is legally mandated, like race and religion.
In his latest book, Social Gravity (co-authored with Jason Lauritsen), Joe Gerstandt tells a story of working at a job fair with another recruiter when a gentleman visited their booth wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. His co-recruiter dismissed the gentleman as “clearly not management material” without knowing a thing about his talent, competency, or ability.
As Joe points out, we all make assumptions about other people that are often incorrect. HR pros and recruiters like the one in Joe’s story, though, are truly disadvantaged when they don’t fight back against that natural inclination to stereotype, and fail to embrace the worker who may look, talk, or dress just a little bit differently than everyone else. As a recruiter once said to me at a SHRM chapter meeting, “I don’t know why HR cares about all this stuff. They should only care about whether or not the person is going to help them make money. Period.”
So I continue to wear my Fit-Flop brand flip flops to business meetings, because they are the only shoes (except athletic shoes) that my problem feet can tolerate. If people talk behind my back, or if I fail to impress a potential client, so what? I just think of the song “I Am What I Am”, from the musical La Cage aux Folles, where Jerry Herman writes
So what if I love each feather and each spangle? Why not try to see things from a different angle?
Why not, HR?