On July 24, I was invited to join BBC World Service Radio to discuss Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s response to the alleged disparaging remarks made by a fellow Congressperson, as well as my own experience being subjected to aggressive language in the workplace. Before I spoke, another guest answered questions first. I listened in horror and sadness as she retold stories of being the target of her male coworkers’ sexually charged, sexist, vulgar remarks and behaviors.
Then it came time to share my experiences. One of the stories I told was that of an HR manager who witnessed a verbal assault on me but failed to say so much as a mumbling word. It happened while I was on a video call discussing prescreened, assessment-tested candidates with the hiring team. I expressed concerns, backed up by facts and data, that the evaluation criteria (or lack thereof) used by the senior member of the team was biased. The more I advocated, the more aggravated he became. While I walked the fine line of decorum and professionalism, he raised his voice, stormed up the steps in his house, slammed his laptop shut, and abruptly got off the call while I was speaking.
I was shocked. The other two people on the call were not. They attempted to continue on like it was OK. Adding insult to injury, a day later when I questioned the HR manager’s inaction, she excused the aggressor’s behavior as something that happened frequently because the aggressor was compensating for being a “mediocre white man.” Again, I was shocked hearing this come from a white woman.
I can talk all day and night about the negative and disruptive things that occur while recruiters execute their duties to acquire talent. However, what I and others don’t talk enough about are the negative and disruptive things that recruiters are subjected to by HR and HR-adjacent leaders and practitioners.
The most egregious of these disruptions happened to me at the beginning of this year when I was asked to fill positions that would report to a general counsel and chief compliance officer. I was mildly warned that she could be “difficult” but was assured that given my experience, expertise, and professionalism, it was nothing “I couldn’t handle.”
However, it wasn’t long before a number of questionable emails, unrealistic expectations, and accountability-evading comments led me to report my grievances to the TA director, HR director, and HR VP (her peer). They did nothing.
It all came to head on a Friday morning in early February. I had done the ridiculous and coordinated a series of individual interviews with members of the senior leadership team (including the CEO) for two senior counsel candidates. Each candidate had a complete interview schedule that included pre-interview details and required documents. All of the interviewers confirmed separately via their individual calendars. They also all received the entire schedule of interviews to ensure proper hand-offs. Additionally, an executive assistant was confirmed to be on hand to manage the flow.
At 8:30 a.m., I got a message that the 11:00 a.m. interviewer hadn’t traveled to do the interviews as originally planned and would need to do them via telepresence. While I was on the phone with the executive assistant providing the update and working out logistics for setting up the calls, I heard the” difficult” general counsel screaming in the background. She was cursing me, belittling me, lying on me, scapegoating me, and embarrassing me.
And she was doing it in front of the candidate she was supposed to be interviewing! As a result, I started to get emails from the HR VP and the HR executive operations manager questioning why I “hadn’t coordinated the interviews properly.” I spent the next two hours restoring my reputation, responding to email messages, Skype calls and phone calls.
What started out as blame-game turned into people gossiping about the behavior and meltdown that occurred in the middle of the executive suite. Afterward, the closest I got to an apology was the ops manager affirming that she’s “a bitch who talks to other VPs like that too.”
The missing link that ties together all of the aforementioned experiences is a lack of respect. That HR leaders were complicit and uncourageous made the disrespect that much more impactful.
So, what are the ingredients for R.E.S.P.E.C.T?
Reciprocity. “Give the respect you want to receive, embody the grace you hope to encounter, and help others with no expectations whatsoever.” — Cory Booker
Empathy. “Empathy is respectful understanding of what others are experiencing. Instead of offering empathy, we often have a strong urge to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling. Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being.” — Marshall B. Rosenberg
Support. “If you have some respect for people as they are, you can be more effective in helping them to become better than they are.” — John W. Gardner
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Partnership. “I firmly believe that respect is a lot more important, and a lot greater, than popularity.” — Julius Erving
Empowerment. “Honor may not win power, but it wins respect. And respect earns power.” — Ishida Mitsunari
Communication. “Honest communication is built on truth, integrity, and upon respect of the one for the other.” — Benjamin E. Mays
Truth. “I respect those who tell me the truth, no matter how hard it is.” — Unknown
Recruiters deserve respect. When it is absent, so is the ability to build sustainable, cooperative relationships with the HR counterparts with whom we work most closely.
The absence of respect puts us in a difficult and double-minded space where we’re constantly having to decide if we can, in good conscience, welcome people into an environment that could be toxic for them in the way it’s been toxic for us.
We must demand the same respect that we give. When we raise issues during the hiring process, we should press HR to take a closer look. We cannot permit a view that we are transactional spectators rather than catalysts for positive culture change. Let’s exercise the power that comes with the knowledge we possess.
Lastly, let us not accept abuse from HR. I’m singling out HR here for a reason. Sure, hiring managers from many parts of an organization mistreat recruiters .But it’s particularly disappointing and disturbing when it comes from HR leaders — because no other department is as closely aligned with TA. Plus, if HR isn’t standing up for us, how can they stand up for other employees when they face these types of challenges outside their purview?