[IPAC-List] The lights finally go on

RPClare at aol.com RPClare at aol.com
Mon Aug 16 11:23:48 EDT 2010

Two quotes:
1) from a former Mayor of Providence, RI, twice convicted felon and
popular radio host and political commentator: "never pick a fight with someone
who buys ink by the barrel" (you cannot "win")
2) from my former Selection boss: "no one ever fails a good test...their
result determines the quality of the test/process"

In a message dated 8/16/2010 11:05:37 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
Mark.Hammer at psc-cfp.gc.ca writes:

A recent incident here in Ottawa*** has reignited a kerfuffle over
hiring of minorities. While we have never actually HAD any "affirmative
action" program in the Canadian federal public sector, the distinction
between affirmative action, employment equity, and diversity, as
historically connected but different approaches to recruitment and
hiring is lost on a great many, including, sad to say, the cabinet
minister who technically oversees the public service. Since he was only
a couple of weeks into the job when he made his rather under-informed
public pronouncements, I'll cut him some slack.

But that's not the nature of my post.

Last Friday, I entered into a series of e-mail exchanges with a
columnist of a somewhat grumpy right-wing bent concerning his
pronouncements about our "affirmative action" programs. I tried to
differentiate the various approaches for him, and explain that fostering
a workforce representative of the citizenry it serves was not the same
thing as making restitution for historical wrongs. He asserted
staunchly that it was ALL "affirmative action" that ignored merit. So I
asked him what he thought "merit" was, and he replied with one word

It was during my reply that things finally clicked for me.

For a couple of years now, we have been asking hiring managers, and
candidates, in two separate-but-parallel surveys, what they felt was
important in making the selection decision. We give them a bunch of
different things to rate, like abilities, training, work experience,
general knowledge, potential for development to higher positions, etc.,
and "personal suitability or match to the work team". Both hiring
managers and candidates give the strongest ratings to abilities, but
where candidates tend to place their work experience, training and
general knowledge just behind that, and often well ahead of "match to
the work team", managers place match to the work team just ever so
slightly behind abilities, and well ahead of the candidate's training,
prior work experience and general knowledge.

Candidates tend to think about their merit in isolation, and generally
quite apart from the context they are applying to. Makes sense. They
often have little information about the particulars of the context, so
they focus on only those things they know about: themselves. Managers,
on the other hand, ARE privy to information about the context, and when
they ponder whether this candidate is going to "work out", they factor
in things that go well beyond mere "qualifications", like personality,
the diversity of their work team, how the candidate might fill on
knowledge gaps, and so on. Indeed, our revised definition of "merit" in
the current Public Service Employment Act treats membership in one of
the designated employment equity groups as a potential component in an
expanded definition of merit that the manager can consider as an aspects
of "organizational needs".

So, for the candidate, like this irritated columnist, one's merit IS
"qualifications", while for the hiring manager, "merit" goes well beyond
mere qualifications and takes the organization into account. The
columnist I was debating with considers that "preferential hiring" and
contrary to merit. And the perpetual conflict occurs because THE
MANAGERS, each of whom have different perspectives, and can't HELP but
have different perspectives. Of course the columnist who cynically told
me I had been "well-trained" and "spun things nicely" does no hiring
himself. He sees things exclusively from the candidate's perspective,
as do all the folks who complain to him about non-existent "affirmative
action" policies.

So what's my punch line? There is work to be done in terms of
educating the broader applicant pool about the FACT of their different
reality, how managers make picks, and why that matters, and especially
why they need to understand that employment law and policy is almost
always going to reflect the needs of hiring managers more than the
wishes and perspective of applicants.

Some of you are probably saying "Well, DUH!", but maybe others are
muttering, like me, "Come to think of it, that really IS the basis of
the conflict, isn't it?".

Happy Monday. Hope your summer is going well.

Mark Hammer

(***Woman applies on-line for a position as part of a process where the
hiring manager was trying to specifically recruit visible minority
candidates. Somebody was placing too much faith in use of technology to
do the job of human beings, so when the woman got to a filter question
that asked whether she was "white" or "visible minority", and she
replied "white", she got unceremoniously bumped by the software. There
are ways to tell someone they're not EXACTLY what you're looking for at
the present moment, and that was likely one of the least sensitive or
considerate ones. The woman took offense, contacted certain
higher-profile parties to object, and here we are.)


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