Recruiting in the Age of Political Activism

You have just made a six-figure offer to a star recruit for a key VP position. Later in the day, you see him in the background at a white-nationalist protest on a cable TV newscast. You are not sure if he is part of the activity or an onlooker. What do you do now?

Your star new hire Stanford MBA shows up at your Day One virtual onboarding wearing a “F— the President” t-shirt. Everyone on the Zoom call can see it. A fellow new hire sends you a private chat message about the shirt’s inappropriateness. Do you say something?

Your recruiting administrator asks to take personal time so she can join a protest in your city that afternoon. She has made her political views known to all on the team (she has an Antifa button on her backpack), and she gets angry with individuals who take opposing views. What do you do?

An Elusive Playbook

As I write this, the country is in turmoil with no clear end on the horizon. I would argue that this is only the beginning of increased political activism, especially in an election year. As a TA professional, how do you suppress your personal beliefs in dealing with the issues that have become so intertwined in your candidates’ and employees’ lives?

It was not that long ago that talent leaders started encouraging people to bring their true selves to work. Well, be careful about what you wish for, because here it is. And we do not have all the tools to deal with it. 

A good friend of mine in the HR space recently shared with me that his CEO recommended everyone read a book called How to Be an Anti-Racist. But is it appropriate for a CEO to make a suggestion that can easily feel like a requirement for employees? 

Likewise, we have grappled with the intersection of politics and religious and sexual orientation issues recently. Can you say “Chick-fil-A”? Where is the line in the sand?

We don’t have a playbook for this in talent, and as much as we believe we are objective and open-minded, we all have biases. Some we are not even aware of.

Rethinking Protocols and Processes

So, do we rescind offers when we see folks potentially engaging in what we believe are racist activities? Are we ruling out candidates when their political ideology does not match our own? (Nevermind that diversity encompasses more than just protected-class characteristics?) I teach D&I in grad-school HR classes and the SHRM certification prep class, but no textbook has even come close to touching on the scenarios playing out in front of us right now. 

As the country burns both figuratively and literally, we need to craft ideas and processes to deal with this new environment. It is not enough to suggest the “blind audition” concept to hiring. 

For instance, I do not want the CEO or anyone suggesting, let alone telling, me what to read or which side of the political spectrum to lean toward. If I do not agree with a viewpoint, I should not be forced to take the popular side of the issue. This is going to be increasingly difficult for all of us going forward.

In many organizations today, your recruiters are Gen-Y or even Gen-Z. They may have vastly different perspectives on the world than your C-suite or your management team. So how do we ensure fairness in hiring the best candidates, and what is our tolerance or tension to allow for conflicting political or ideological differences?

Now is the time for all talent executives to rethink their D&I protocols. It is time to reset acceptable boundaries and rules for hiring.

To cite a parallel, I always hated the concept of dress codes in public and private schools, but I understand the reasoning behind having these rules. Similarly, I don’t want our world to be overrun with policies and protocols, but we do need to work through this enormous challenge. I don’t want one size or one outfit for all concepts to rule us. We each must find appropriate solutions.

Working Toward Answers

I know that I asked a range of hard questions here. And maybe you were looking for concrete answers. I don’t have them. At least not yet. And I bet most of you feel the same.

So let us turn our energy to finding solutions and share them with each other. [Editor’s note: ERE’s Facebook Group is a great place to start.] Let’s be inclusive, not exclusive, if your peers do not see things exactly as you do. There is a lot of gray area to work through. Nothing is binary in this conversation. Let’s share best practices, and better practices too. As I said, one size does not fit all.

I will be back in the coming weeks and months to revisit this. Let us start a healthy dialogue.

Be safe.

Mark Fogel is best known for his HR with an Attitude. His background includes almost a decade and a half as CHRO at Leviton Mfg., The Marcum Group, and The Success Academy Charter School Network, as well as co-founding Human Capital 3.0, a boutique HR advisory firm. Mark has been honored by SHRM nationally as their Human Capital Leader of the Year in 2007, and by HR Executive Magazine as an Honor Roll recipient in 2010 and “Best HR Ideas” in 2012. His HR teams have garnished numerous national and local awards for HR innovation, wellness, and employee engagement. Mark speaks regularly at national conferences. He is also a Senior Adjunct Professor at Adelphi’s Graduate School of Business.

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