Following my article Bias towards style over substance is keeping your real talent hidden, I found out from a colleague about an organisation which eliminated introverts from their talent pool after doing some personality profiling of their high potentials. Most of my readers know where I stand on the issue of diversity of leadership style (ie. I believe we need more diversity in leadership style – please see Do you have to be an extrovert to get ahead?). It made me reflect on what organisations and leaders do to keep their diverse talent hidden and under-utilised.
Below are possible ways in which organisations and leaders keep talented people from shining. Even if organisations use blind CVs as a way of limiting unconscious bias based on names, the following will still make it difficult, if not impossible, for some talented people to get through the hoops.
Personality profiling as part of recruitment/selection/promotion – just as the story my colleague told me about, you may recruit/select/promote with particular profiles in mind. Even if it’s not as explicit as the story, there may be unconscious bias against certain profiles, especially for leadership roles. I have seen cases where personality profiles of potential candidates were assessed against the “ideal” leadership profile.
Recruitment/selections/promotion interviews – the interviewers may not be attentive or skilled enough to uncover talents of people who may not make an ‘impressive’ first impression. Sometimes the most talented people take a little time to warm up. They may need an extra question or two along with good listening to share the depth of their expertise and substance. The quality of the interviewer questions and interaction skills can help or hinder the talents from being revealed.
Leadership assessment centres – many assessment centres I know of focus on group work, working quickly, speaking up, thinking on your feet, presenting after a short period to prepare. It’s a pressure cooker situation which challenges people, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. However, it is biased against people who prefer to prepare well, read, research and reflect. How can their talents and substance be uncovered when they are not given the opportunity to do so?
Leadership frameworks – some leadership frameworks are skewed towards certain qualities, others are more balanced. Leadership development programs may be skewed as a result. Even if the frameworks or programs are balanced, when it comes to assessment against the frameworks, some elements may get more weighting.
What’s discussed in performance or talent assessment conversations – some conversations are more about style than substance. Talented people get overlooked despite all their achievements, quality output, strong relationships with their teams/peers, influencing skills – because they don’t ‘fit’ the usual expected leadership style.
People who are being led don’t have a say in leadership appointments – leaders get appointed by their leaders. People who have been led by them are rarely, if ever, asked about their leadership effectiveness. So people keep getting promoted even though not many people want to work for them. Then there are other people who don’t get promoted, even though their people love working for them and perform at their best.
The problem with these approaches is that:
Stereotypes, assumptions and unconscious biases are systematically allowed to influence, if not determine recruitment/selection/promotion decisions.
People who are at the effect of these approaches can lose confidence. I personally know quieter women who went through a leadership assessment centre and their confidence was shattered.
Because of the damaged confidence, they are less likely to put their hands up again, in fear of having to go through the pain again.
And so we continue the slow progress on diversity in all areas.
These approaches send message about what qualities are valued more in organisations. Do you know what qualities are perceived to be more valued in your organisation? Is it helpful or unhelpful to have that bias?