Sorting the sheep from the goats

Earlier this year I filled out a lot of diversity forms. It fascinates me that Great Big Corporations are very hot on diversity in terms of gender, age, race, disability, sexuality and religious belief but are almost always strongly normative in all other respects.  They want you to be just like them (so you fit in) AND a member of a minority (to prove they don’t discriminate).

An organisation’s cultural norms are often explicit.  Many organisations have a list of expected behaviours mapped neatly on to grades and called “Competencies”.  So if your temperament isn’t suited to ‘acting as a local leader driving forward change’ or whatever it might be, then you’ll never make it to Grade D. At the very least you are expected to espouse their cultural values – the Five Cs or Six Ss or Three Bears, or whatever was thought up for them by the consultancy they hired.

This post could go in so many directions.

  • The banality of these corporate values would be a good one: Enron’s were Communication, Respect, Integrity and Excellence, which says it all, really.
  • Whether to tick any of the boxes marked ‘other’ on the diversity forms. The box marked ‘other’ next to Sexuality is particularly worrying.  (Yes I **** sheep*, but there’s no consent problem because I only **** dead ones).
  • The fact that they don’t offer Atheist, Agnostic or Humanist under Religious belief, merely offering the option of ‘None’.  Technically right, but subtly discriminatory against Agnostics and Humanists if you ask me.

However I’m going to limit this post to the question of cultural norms; to the question of

‘How we do things around here’.

You see, I sound cynical about corporate culture and professional competencies, but I’m not. In fact I buy into both of them big time.  It doesn’t half make it easier when everyone is capable of doing their job well and behaves more or less acceptably. For the individual, it is hard to work with people whose behaviours or morals scrape on your nerves. And for the organisation, it is much easier to get a team to pull together if it doesn’t include mavericks, sociopaths, the suicidally depressed or pathologically dishonest, or even people who just don’t get on with each other.

Of course birds of a feather flock together to some extent, so some selection is done before applicants apply. The financially motivated are attracted to investment banking, literate arts grads veer towards the media, and those with social consciences virtuously accept the lower pay in the third sector.

However, when times are bad more people apply for fewer jobs and organisations really do have to do that screening.  So they use psychometric testing, Myers-Briggs and all sorts of other tools to make the selections for them.

Now the questions in my mind are:

1. How ethical is it to reject a candidate because of character traits?


2. How ethical is it NOT to?

* Eat. Obviously. What did you think I meant? Revenons à nos moutons.

PS: How amused am I that the recommended tags for this post are: “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator” “Goat” “Livestock” “Domestic sheep” “Reuters” “Grazing” “Flood” and “Cattle”? That’s right. Very.

PPS: How did “Reuters” get in there?  Suggestions in the comments thread please.


11 responses to “Sorting the sheep from the goats

  1. Ah but do they actually reject/ not hire people based on character or personality tests? I’ve only ever found those used once you’re actually in the job, and as a means of self improvement. The Civil Service still relies on interviews – albeit criteria based – backed up with a few aptitude tests (in-tray exercises, presentation).

    But given that it is very hard – uncomfortable at best – to change one’s personality, isn’t it better to find the type of organisation that suits you?

    • Hi Linda

      I absolutely agree it’s up to you to find an organisation that suits you, but very few people know what to look for, or where they’ll fit in. I’ve a post on that very subject on its way.

      Organisations have to have an auditable and equitable process to defend a discrimination case, so all of the recruiting tools I’ve seen have been aimed at filtering on either aptitudes or competencies. But there’s a fine line between aptitude tests and personality tests imho.

      I think it would help if there was more honesty about corporate culture. But instead of being self-aware and honest about their own culture, organisations tend to latch onto the buzz-words-de-jour – viz Enron’s claim to value “Communication, Respect, Integrity and Excellence” which is beyond comment, really.



  2. ‘eat’ only has three letters. I submit **** means _you_ were thinking of something else…

  3. That would be three stars to replace the e-a-t and a * to indicate the footnote 🙂

    It is interesting that you think these re being used more now than previously. I did a bunch of these for the big 5 (now big, er, 3, or 4) company I worked for as part of the selection process, but I don’t know how much stock was set by them – I got through to the next round fter all.

    • Don’t do yourself down, Kelli. I think it’s hard to see professional or organisational norms when you are on the inside looking out. There’ve been some real lulus working in some of the Great Big Organisations I’ve worked in, but in fact they’ve only been lulus in comparison to their colleagues, and not actually that near the lulu end of the luluometer compared with the population as a whole.

      I don’t know if these tests are being used more than previously, or if it’s just that they are used for permanent recruitment but not for contracts.

      Good to see you here.


  4. Nope, the footnote * is after ‘sheep’.

    ‘Reuters’ incidently, is clearly there because they are notorious for trawling for stories of people… eating… sheep.

  5. I’m still intrigued by the Reuters tag suggestion. In fact, tag suggestions are my new wierdness to watch.


  6. An overt/explicit Atheist/Agnostic/Humanist could place themselves in the category of “Other”, rather than “None”, if they felt that their religious beliefs qualified as a religious belief. I think that’s a wise design: if you have checkboxes for “atheist” or “agnostic”, then there’s more room for confusion. What does an atheist Buddhist check? What does an agnostic Christian check? How about people who say “I’m not an atheist, but I don’t believe in God” – how can we support their usage of the term?

  7. You make an irritatingly reasonable point there, Martin. But I’m tired of never fitting in to any of their bloody boxes! Just once in a while I’d like to be able to check one. Please.

  8. Pingback: Whistle while you work « Thinking about it…

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