But we just want the best people

We hear this a lot in response to calls for equality, whether in business, government or public life.

‘I don’t care if they’re a man, woman or a toad (okay, maybe not a toad) – just get me the best person for the job’.

So how come we still see such blatant discrimination in so many places?

  • UN Women reports that as of 2017, there were only 2 countries in the entire WORLD that had 50% or more representation by women (and I’m going to bet you don’t guess the right countries, I know didn’t)
  • This Glass Ceiling Index reports that just over 20% of company board seats in Canada are held by women.
  • And in my home province of New Brunswick, we only have 16% of elected provincial seats held by women.

So how do we reconcile this (what I believe is a mostly genuine) desire to have the best people at the table, with the fact that there are still so many underrepresented groups in power?  [Gender being only one of those groups – if you want to get deeper into this, check out intersectionality, there’s tons of amazing writing out there on it].

Shouldn’t the best people just bubble up to the surface?

The answer is a resounding no.

In the 1970s and 1980s – in responses to calls for equality – orchestras began using blind auditions.  If biases or barriers didn’t exist, we’d expect there to be the same number of men and women (or perhaps more importantly – people who looked all kinds of different ways) in orchestras, though this wasn’t the case.

“As late as 1970, the top five orchestras in the U.S. had fewer than 5% women. It wasn’t until 1980 that any of these top orchestras had 10% female musicians. But by 1997 they were up to 25% and today some of them are well into the 30s. What is the source of this change? Have they added jobs? Have they focused on work that appeals to women?”

Nope, they just started using blind auditions.

I was listening to Adam Grant’s new podcast yesterday, “Work Life” (go check it out, AMAZING) where he was talking with the staff at The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.  One of the things that struck me was that they use blind auditions for hiring writers – because they want to eliminate their biases and just get the best people in the room.  Bam.

They’re willing to do the work of getting past their own biases and as a result, they report better results (funnier material) in their prep sessions because there’s so much diversity of thought in the room.

In a fairly recent academic study, researchers looked at whether someone’s name would influence their chance of getting hired for a lab manager role.  The resumes used were exactly the same – the only thing that changed was whether the applicant’s name was John or Jennifer.

Jennifer was recommended on average to be paid a lower salary (13% less than John, with the EXACT SAME resume) and she was rated as less competent.  To be fair, this was from both women and men.

I really don’t want my chances of being hired to a position I’m qualified for – or my salary – to be dependent on whether my name is Vanessa or Victor.  Seems pretty arbitrary.

It’s International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is #PressForProgress.  It feels to me like the movement towards gender parity is really heating up – everything from marches, to #MeToo, to #TimesUp, to Frances McDormand’s Oscar call for inclusion riders.

Do we really need inclusion riders?

Yes.  We need them to show ourselves that we do indeed have biases, and that there are ways to get around them.

Let’s not be lazy or naive.

As we press for progress, I hope that we all work to recognizes our own biases.  And find ways around them.

I was talking with someone the other day who said that they just wanted the best people as political candidates – didn’t matter whether they were women or men.  I agree.  So how do we get rid of biases when part of the process of running in an election is such a public thing?  I’m not sure.  Maybe it’s inclusion riders in creative industries and inclusion policies on boards, hiring committees, and political nominations processes.

PLEASE – don’t be the complainer.  Be the person who’s willing to admit you have biases and work with others to find creative solutions around them.

Our futures depend on it.

Let’s keep pressing.  Things are only beginning to heat up.