Balancing the Scale

Early November, we joined the Anti-Discrimination Hackathon. Sponsored by three ministries, the challenge was to: develop a solution or method that helps organizations prevent biases that lead to discrimination on the basis of gender in the collection and labeling of data used by automated system processes for the purposes of assessing and selecting candidates.

For the majority of our team, this was their first hackathon and the first exposure to the Design Thinking process. It’s easy to get caught up in the pace and focus on the end prototype. Faster and faster, make those deadlines and finish your pitch against the clock.

Our tempo was different. Our unexpected advantage was experience. Everyone on our team had encountered discrimination in the labor market. Having this shared experience, based on different characteristics, made it clear that while we needed to start with the applicant process, the team and organization structures also needed to be part of our solution. Hence the name for our project, Balancing the Scale.

Fast forward to the end of the weekend, to the judging rounds. We made it through the semi finals and then we were the runner up! It means for us that we will have the chance to develop Balancing the Scale further with the involved ministries. That, of course, is the real prize. The chance to start working on a solution by Building With, instead of Building For.

Do we really need to worry about discrimination in the labor market ?

Participating in a hackathon on this theme fits well with what we do every day and what we believe in. We also want more companies to think about what they are doing, in terms of discrimination and anti-discrimination.  It means that you have to look honestly at your culture and be willing to face yourself, openly. This is hard work and I know that. It’s not the responsibility of HR or a D&I person to solve these problems. It’s the collective choices, intentions and actions of everyone in the organization.

During the past week, one of our community went on an interview that seemed promising. Until a certain line of questioning came up. Was there a connection between the applicant’s country of origin and if they engaged in software theft?  As an entrepreneur were the services they offered  legitimate or only done under the table?  Lastly,  could they login now to their previous employer and access the data? Over the weekend you are busy working on our project at the hackathon and three days later, you are interviewing with a Dutch company and being asked these questions.  The need for change is real.

In a phone conversation, I told them that this line of questioning was unacceptable to us. They assured me that was not their intention. They found it unfortunate that it came across that way as they were trying to get more information about the applicant’s skills. I think you can ask different questions than those if you want to find out someone’s skills. It would have been more meaningful if they hadn’t tried to “solve it” by offering us a business opportunity.

I have been advised  to soften my message and questions more than once. To be less challenging and direct, more diplomatic and nuanced when it comes to the work we do and the change we believe in. I choose not to make that choice. Softening the message does not solve complex problems.

Making the choice for Inclusion

As for next steps, ours will be to go forward with other parties on behalf of our community. Our goal for everyone who walks through our doors is to find their way to an inclusive work environment that gives them all of the opportunity to bring their skills and knowledge to work with them. I am going to continue to make sure that the graduates of our programs go on to inclusive work cultures. Not perfect work cultures but ones that make a daily mess and success of inclusion.

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