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These Are the 3 Biggest Trends in Workforce Innovation

Keeping up with the changing world requires constant innovation — and this includes hiring. Evolving technology, the shifting generational makeup of the workforce, and a candidate-centric market[...]

February 18, 2020

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Like Carrie Fisher, Contingent Workforce Leaders Can Be Diversity Heroes

Iconic actress Carrie Fisher passed away this December 27. The news shook many in Hollywood and devastated countless fans. However, it’s essential to understand why this loss has rattled the world. Fisher was not merely mourned because of her popularity as Princess Leia in the fabled Star Wars film franchise. She was in life, as in her films, an unrelenting and stalwart champion of diversity – a beacon of strength for women and the disabled. Her legacy reaches beyond a galaxy far, far away. She has left a powerful mark in this one, as well. Fisher used her celebrity as a pulpit from which to preach the importance of neurodiversity and gender equality. Fisher acted on her words and helped scores of people rise above discrimination. As we enter a new political climate, one where troubling threats to diversity have been promoted as potential policies, it is imperative that the staffing industry work harder than ever to ensure that businesses thrive in 2017 through the strength of diverse workforces.

Carrie Fisher, Princess of Diversity

When Carrie Fisher was cast to play Leia in the first Star Wars film, which debuted in 1977, she immediately gained mass appeal by destroying long-held stereotypes about women in a traditionally male-oriented film genre. The epic space opera ironically gave her the title of princess. She was by no means the damsel in distress. In fact, throughout all of her appearances, Leia confronted the highest villains with brash and intimidating poise, led the rebellion to victory as a military commander, and often found herself saving her male counterparts from certain peril. As The New York Times recounted in its tribute:

“Ms. Fisher established Princess Leia as a damsel who could very much deal with her own distress, whether facing down the villainy of the dreaded Darth Vader or the romantic interests of the roguish smuggler Han Solo.

“Winning the admiration of countless fans, Ms. Fisher never played Leia as helpless. She had the toughness to escape the clutches of the monstrous gangster Jabba the Hutt and the tenderness to tell Han Solo, as he is about to be frozen in carbonite, ‘I love you.’ (Solo, played by Harrison Ford, caddishly replies, ‘I know.’)”

Off-screen, Fisher remained just as tough, scathing, strong, tender and dedicated to saving the world from forces of bigotry and exclusion. The popular women’s magazine Hello Giggles perfectly captured the spirit of Fisher as a real-life hero: “Whether she was discussing ageism, advocating for mental health, encouraging you to stand up for yourself, or explaining the importance of facing our fears, the actress deserves endless praise for providing inspiration to women everywhere.” The publication printed a series of quotes from Fisher’s speeches and interviews that demonstrated her role as a feminist icon and inspiration to those struggling against inequality.

  • “Screw beauty, it’s superficial anyway, and my other attributes matter way more than my appearance.”
  • “We treat beauty like an accomplishment, and that is insane. Everyone in L.A. says, ‘Oh, you look good,’ and you listen for them to say you’ve lost weight. It’s never ‘How are you?’ or ‘You seem happy!”
  • “I identify more with who I feel myself to be than what I look like.”
  • “Men don’t age better than women, they’re just allowed to age.”
  • “I finally quit apologizing for it… For being something different. For being strong. Strength is a style.”

Fisher didn’t just instill confidence and hope in women, she also advocated for neurodiversity. She spent her life dealing with bi-polar disorder. Rather than hiding the condition to avoid the stigma, Fisher openly discussed her struggles, treatments and successes in combatting it. As Huffington Post observed, “She gave honest testimonies of the trials and triumphs of battling addiction and bipolar disorder, displaying a no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to discussing the realities of mental health conditions.”

  • “I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital ... I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.”
  • Of neurodiverse people afraid to pursue their dreams: ”Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
  • ”One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. ... At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”

Reviving the Case for Diversity

In June, we published an article on the promotion of diversity as vital to business success. We questioned the need to continue making the case for diversity. It’s already been made, dozens of time over. Yet the charged rhetoric we’ve heard from politicians in several countries indicates that the case must still be made.

Recently, we have heard key political leaders call for a registry of people who practice a specific faith. Some have proposed complete shutdowns of immigration for individuals of that religion, including deportation. These bans have been discussed in the United States, Poland, Austria, Britain and others.

At the heart of recent referendums, such as Brexit, what emerges is a referendum on inclusion. Fears of immigration, gender parity and LGBTQ rights stoke the flames. They appeal to a sense of stereotypes and ambiguous generalizations. Let’s say a Muslim registry or ban was imposed, for the sake of argument. It would necessarily apply to celebrities like Muhammad Ali, Shaquille O’Neal, Janet Jackson, Doctor Oz, Ice Cube and Omar Sharif – heroes and public figures many advocates of the act would have neglected to consider.

The reality, in any context, is that clamping down on diversity stifles innovation and progress. Simply put, it’s terrible for business:

  • Without the genius of Katherine Johnson, the moon landing may never have occurred. Johnson, an African-American woman, calculated the trajectories for the missions that sent the first Americans into space. She was so accurate that when NASA began using computers, they called her to verify the numbers. Since Johnson’s time at the agency, 58 women have flown into space.
  • The whites in 1960 Greensboro discovered that sit-in protests by segregated minorities hurt their businesses more than integration could have. Overall sales at the time fell by 20 percent. Profits dropped by 50 percent. Conversely, in desegregated companies located in cities such as Dallas and Atlanta, sales soared. Ultimately, within a year of the first demonstrations, businesses across more than 100 Southern towns and cities agreed to integrate.
  • For a modern perspective, consider the merchants in Mississippi who posted signs welcoming LGBT customers, in response to the April 2014 legislation that allowed for discrimination: they enjoyed strong spikes in sales. Their competitors, who turned LGBT consumers away, suffered tremendous financial losses.

The most important thing to remember is that while potential new policies could somehow forgive levels of discrimination by removing protections, they rarely – if ever – mandate discrimination. And that is why the staffing industry must continue to push for evolving diversity and inclusion efforts.

How Contingent Workforce and Staffing Leaders Can Help

We already know the methodologies and processes that drive world-class diversity efforts. The problem we need to tackle is curbing biases that provoke the “business case” conversation. One of the biggest advantages that contingent workforce program leaders and recruiters have is their initial outsider status. When they first engage a new client, they are seeing the employment culture with open, objective eyes. People within an organization probably don’t recognize any biases that exist -- they’re too entrenched in the environment. MSPs and staffing providers can make a tremendous impact by analyzing the client culture, identifying biases and then deploying solutions to overcome them.

Diversity Discovery

Use the discovery phase of implementation to uncover the characteristics of the program stakeholders. Interview them to gain information about their attitudes, opinions and needs. Consider asking questions that could provide answers to these topics.

  • Who are the best workers in similar positions and what makes them great?
  • What constitutes the ideal employee in the manager’s opinion?
  • Where does that ideal come from? Does it bring any limitations with it?

Dedicated Interviewing Teams

After determining the biases of the group, categorize them. This allows you to uncover attitudes that lead to homogeneous hiring or potential discrimination. Work with the client to create a dedicated team of interviewers who are likely to be the most impartial as a group. Work out a series of questions with these individuals, ensuring that everyone agrees. This gives you the opportunity to identify and weed out remaining biases within the group, standardize the questions and create relevant evaluation criteria.

Blind Resumes

In this process, remove all contact and personal information. These details -- especially when they hint at age, gender, culture and other attributes -- can form unconscious biases in the minds of reviewers. A blind resume includes only skills, objectives, work experience and education. Truly blind resumes even edit details of education to display only academic data, such as degrees achieved and honors awarded.

Open Field Recruitment

Unlike internal recruiters, who are more likely to scout candidates that seem like everyone else in the organization, staffing professionals can recruit on a broader scale, using deeper talent pools. Invite anyone to apply. Instead of scrutinizing keywords or years of experience, look for accomplishments and potential. Oftentimes, we discover that what workers may lack in specific skills or longevity, they make up for through motivation, a willingness to learn and a desire to achieve.

Choose Fit Over Familiarity

When focusing on fit, emphasize characteristics that demonstrate alignment -- how a worker’s aspirations and potential contributions mesh with the prevailing mission and values of the business.

Be a Diversity Hero

Beyond implementing policies and procedures to strengthen diversity, I believe staffing firms and MSPs play a more critical role. They’re not just stewards of the underrepresented. As consultants outside the client’s organization, they’re ideally positioned to conquer the internal biases of business cultures that demand a “business case” to place qualified talent.

Each year, diversity is a hot topic, because the world is growing more diverse. For 2017, we must continue to champion an inclusive workforce regardless of politics, policies or accommodations. To compete and grow, we as diversity heroes must push to help clients develop the most innovative, progressive, thoughtful and insightful business cultures possible. We accomplish that, as Carrie Fisher and others, by standing as the inspirations, voices and proponents of the diverse.

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