June 29, 2006

Playing Politics

The task of hiring someone in a racially diverse city like Miami is fraught with the perils of being accused of “playing politics.” The sole criterion for filling a position is usually defined as “hiring the person best qualified for the job.” But a job has many facets.

Let’s say, for example that Acme Inc., a public company, has a clientele that is largely Nigerian. Wouldn’t it be prudent for the company to hire someone of Nigerian descent? But suppose the person’s base qualifications don’t match up to others? How many Nigerians should the company hire? What about the Asian Americans, North, Central, South Americans and others that are part of its clientele?

Filling a position cannot be seen in a vacuum. It has to be seen in a broader context that relates to the mission of the company. The problem is that a company, especially a big company, has competing interests. For the company to remain profitable, it must serve the needs of its base clientele, but in doing so it must not alienate its other customers.

So what’s a company going to do?

The prerequisite of all these transactions is trust. That is the one non-negotiable. Without trust everything else fails. If there isn’t any trust, that’s when the company or person is accused of “playing politics.”

What are some ways of “playing politics”?

“We” usually accuse others of “playing politics” when “they” have an agenda that is different from “ours” and “we” feel powerless to thwart “their” agenda. Or another scenario is that “we” assume that “they” are on “our” side, see things as “we” do, and have common interests and goals as “we” do, and then, BAM! “They” introduce something else.

This can happen despite all the safeguards a company institutes. A group of people screens hundreds of applicants and out of the pool, X is chosen. X looks like, walks like, sounds like the hiring manager in a company has committed itself diversity as a public policy.

The following questions arise:

Does hiring X serve the broadest interests of the community, the company or the clientele or merely the goals hiring manger, which may be related to the goals of the company, but s/h e has allowed these personal considerations to supersede all others? In other words, whose interests are largely served by the hiring of X?

Why is X being hired?

How many X’s have been hired? Are all the X’s that good that they clearly outmatch all the Y’s, J’s and K’s?

How long has the company been hiring only X’s? Is this institutional preference for hiring X’s? Does hiring only X’s result in loss of clients? Have unqualified Y’s been hired to prove the superiority of X’s? If qualified Y’s have been hired, do they have the full support of X’s, some of whom may not want to see Y’s succeed and will do anything (including mild acts of sabotage) to make sure that Y’s do not succeed?

How can this be stopped? Should it be stopped?

If a case of preferential treatment is discovered, how will the hiring manager reprimand a fellow X? Will hiring mangers reprimand Y’s and not X’s? And if some within the company are clearly committed to hiring only X’s, what can be done about them? Does this go to the top of the chain of command? If it does, what then? Or are the Y’s just paranoid and think all the X’s and M’s are out to get them?

These are just some of the questions that are exacerbated in a city like Miami that is divided primarily by race, ethnicity, and gender. Whenever I have been put in these situations, I always remember an important lesson that I learned from my friend, Gene Tinnie, who told me, “Whenever someone says, ‘We’re all in this together’ always ask, ‘Who is we?’”

Francis, are you out there?

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FSJL said...

Race and ethnicity have become so intertwined that in some places they cannot be told apart.

fwade said...

Frankly, In my consulting practice I have stayed away from this kind of work (and discussion.)

The reason is that I cannot help but fight for an impartial point of view, and I usually try to do that by comparing another country's culture with what I see in front of me. These kinds of comparisons can get people very upset, I have found!

In other words, the positions that people take up tend to be superstitious / religious when it comes to race matters, and therefore not truly open to debate, or logic, or inquiry.

I become _very_ quiet when conversations go down that tunnel...

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks, Francis!
I love the part, "the positions that people take up tend to be superstitious / religious when it comes to race matters, and therefore not truly open to debate, or logic, or inquiry."