Ditch Stereotypes & Get Curious!

     Entitled! Lazy! Me, Me, Me! Job Hoppers! Welcome to the Millennial Stereotype! You've heard all these and more, but you probably never realized how destructive this stereotype, and all others like it, is to your ability to attract, hire, and retain top talent. Stereotypes and biases are our brain's way of reaching a solution quickly. They are meant to help us avoid danger, and are generally good at their job! For example, if you see someone waving a gun, you probably don't have time to ask a lot of questions to determine how you should react, you probably just take cover! Unfortunately, our brains don't know when NOT to apply stereotypes or biases to certain situations. When we think about it, we know that not all millennials are entitled, lazy, or self-absorbed. Yet, we like, comment, and share the million articles we see reinforcing the stereotype! So, how do you know who fits the stereotype and who doesn't?

     Let me give you a hint! You can't know based on a person's age! The only way we can determine who fits the stereotype is by asking questions. In recent news, an African American man walked in to his nearby Old Navy store to do some shopping. Coincidentally, he was wearing an Old Navy winter coat when he entered the store. The manager and two associates approached the African American man and demanded that he show proof that he paid for the coat he was wearing. The man insisted that he had purchased the coat but couldn't provide any evidence to back it up. He asked that the manager review the cameras to prove that he walked in wearing the coat. The manager demanded that he remove the coat so the Old Navy crew could check the system and verify the purchase. He complied. They checked the system and reviewed the camera footage, and came to the conclusion that the African American man was telling the truth.

     A similar situation happened at Victoria's Secret and Applebee's all involving African American customers and non-African American employees. The employees in every example mentioned were terminated from their respective company. In the case of Applebee's, the entire restaurant closed.

    Women are stereotyped to be kind, helpful, and collaborative. These stereotypes follow women into the workplace. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, women are often assigned tasks and projects that are aligned with the stereotype of women. Getting coffee, taking notes, ordering lunch, cleaning the office. These are the types of tasks that women at work, regardless of position, are relegated to. These stereotypes have detrimental side effects! Organizations risk losing customers, top talent, and market share. Old Navy's public image is tarnished due to the acts of a few employees. Customer loyalty suffers, top talent think twice about applying to work for the company, and other retailers use this as an opportunity to gain market share. This all stems from the stereotypes our brains conceive about groups of people.

     There's good news! Stereotypes and biases don't have to influence behavior. In most instances, it would be advantageous for us to take a minute to get curious. What does it mean to be curious? To continuously ask questions! When approaching a situation, that is not life threatening, I practice metacognition. Metacognition simply means, "thinking about thinking" and it's one way for people to understand, analyze, and control our cognitive processes. It's most useful in learning situations and involves questions the situation, the solution, and the process at which we arrive at the solution. In other words, metacognition challenges the shortcuts our brain subconsciously creates.

     At various points in my career, I've been in a recruiting role responsible for hiring for entry level and managerial roles. It's true! Hiring professionals spend less than 10 seconds reviewing a resume. It's been proven that stereotypes and biases play a role in preventing women and people of color from being hired. These preconceived notions help us draw conclusions quickly, for better or worse. For example, most organizations utilize an Applicant Tracking System to review and filter through resumes. However, at some point, hiring managers come in contact with a resume and must face their biases. It's time to get curious!

1. Your brain will likely come to a conclusion before you consciously realize it. Ask yourself, "Do I know that this is a fact or am I basing this on a gut feeling or hunch?" "The candidate is not qualified for the position. Is this a fact or my gut feeling?"

2. Regardless of your answer, ask yourself, "What are the facts?" List the indisputable facts. "Candidate has 5 years of experience, candidate was responsible for leading a team of 4 salespeople, candidate has a bachelor's in business management, etc."

3. Ask yourself, "What else?" Rarely, do we catch all the facts at first glance. Review the situation again and question everything! "What thoughts am I having regarding the candidate's gap in employment? Am I giving this person a negative review because of their employment gap? What more do I need to know about this situation?" Now's your chance to channel your inner kindergarten! Keep asking questions!

4. Compare the list of facts to the criteria. In hiring situations, the criteria is the job description. "The candidate has a bachelor's degree. The job description asks for a master's degree. The candidate has 5 years of experience. The job description asks for 3 years of experience."

5. Determine if the facts warrant your initial reaction. At this point, you may experience confirmation bias, or you will look for facts that back up your claim. Think about your thinking! Now, you can make a decision based on facts. Try not to allow your emotions to creep into your decision making. You can't defend emotions, you can defend facts!

     Let's see this in action! You are the leader of a team and it's time to issue pay raises. A 1-5% raise is customary, but your team's average increase must be around 3.5%. You go down the list of teammates and assign increase percentages. All done right? Easy peasy! Well, maybe not! You just reprimanded one of your team members for working past midnight...again! This absolutely has an impact on your assignment of pay increases. You may be likely to give this employee a higher percentage due to the amount of hours and dedication he is putting in, but if you ask yourself "What else?" you will see all the facts. The employee has volunteered to serve on several projects and committees unrelated to his role. After reviewing his calendar, you realize that 60% of his time spent at work is dedicated to these extraneous projects. Because he doesn't have a lot of time at work to get his time sensitive projects complete, he has to work past midnight. Those are all the facts. Does he still deserve the pay increase you initially thought?

     Getting curious and challenging your stereotypes and biases may seem like a longer process but with all things, it takes practice. Eventually, you will be curious about everything and the five steps will become second nature. Once you get curious, you discover answers you didn't even know you were looking for!