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Diversity Diva

Diversity's "Digital Divide"

Michelle T. Johnson
Contributor: Michelle T. Johnson
Posted: 06/26/2011

I have a close friend-- I’ll call him Kevin-- who could be the poster child of stable, long-term employability.

Kevin, in his early 50s, has the good looks of a seasoned Tom Cruise, three kids with his wife of more than 25 years, and is currently in-house legal counsel of a major company by way of back-to-back long stints at well-respected law firms in his community.

He’s in the dominant demographic of every category you can think of, except for one little thing.

Kevin is illiterate. Well, social media illiterate, that is.

He knows what Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites are. He has an academic grasp of his company’s social media policy. His wife is fairly savvy in ways of social media. His children are savvy, even the one who hasn’t hit junior high school yet.

But Kevin himself doesn’t know a tweet from a post, a connection from a poke. It all seems like a silly waste of time to him that distracts from work and from his virtual socializing (also known as "fun with friends and family").

And as long as Kevin stays happily, comfortably and gainfully employed in his chosen profession until he sails into retirement many years from now, he can stay above the buzz and noise of Social Media World.

Kevin hasn’t hunted for a job since law school in the 1980s, and even then, he got picked off the vine by on-campus recruiters.

If Kevin were to suddenly be thrust into the employment market, looking for a job compared to 30 years ago would be like the difference between programming your DVR to record a show from hundreds of channels and fiddling with the aluminum foil on your rabbit ears to watch one of three.

(Cue the music for"A Whole New World"…)

Today’s sophisticated job-seeker not only needs access to a computer and the ability to upload a resume, but she or he must know how to be found by recruiters, who don’t necessarily rely on old fashioned word-of-mouth anymore.

According to a survey done in 2010 by recruitment platform Jobvite, 83 percent of respondents use or planned to use social networks for recruiting that year, with LinkedIn (78%), Facebook (55%) and Twitter (45%) leading the way.

The same survey said that social networks (as opposed to socializing networks done at happy hours, conferences and breakfast "meet-and-greets") were the top recruiting channels that employers planned to invest in.

Recently on a HRIQ podcast I participated in, the experts on technology had great comments on the sophisticated software and technology, including social media, being developed to better attract, categorize and screen candidates.

While technology and social media are undeniable they way things are and the way they will continue to be, I pointed out my concern about the diversity issue starting with the divide between the technologically proficient and the technologically obtuse.

Why should my friend Kevin, for example, if suddenly forced to go big game hunting for a job, be at a disadvantage because he doesn’t have a Facebook newsfeed or a Twitter timeline?

Why should someone with superior interpersonal skills but weak experience in technology or social media (for a job that has nothing to do with either) get placed way down an potential candidate list in favor of someone who can quickly find every open job in the country, but couldn’t demonstrate the maturity to supervise a crystal paperweight?

And what about the kind of diversity that most people think of when they think of workplace diversity – the visible diversity of race, gender, age, physical disabilities? Is recruiting by social media and computer website leveling the playing field or is it creating yet another barrier to employers choosing the best candidate from among a diverse pool?

I’m not anti-technology or social media by any means. (Both "Kevin" and a couple of other close friends, for example, disdainfully view my Facebook and Twitter activities as termites nibbling away at the foundation of my valuable time.) And I’m not saying that grown people don’t have the responsibility to play catch up on whatever crucial changes have occurred since the last time in their lives they looked for a job.

What I am pointing out is that reliance on social media as a primary recruiting strategy has to be looked at from the lens of diversity – starting with the differences between the techno-comfortable compared to the experienced industry leaders and professionals who haven’t documented their lives by status updates, and don’t plan to.

Companies need to make sure that people are doing the legwork of going to job fairs, schools, recruiting events, conferences, etc. and actually meeting the kind of people face-to-face that they want to attract to their organizations.

HR professionals in charge of recruiting need to also spot check what their computers spit out as the most "qualified" candidates. For example, for every job where their system gives them resumes based on "keywords" that have been searched, someone needs to physically go in and pull out random resumes to get an idea of what their system is not catching.

In other words, even with an ocean of candidates applying for every open job these days, it’s important companies don’t let social media sites and technology let them surrender good judgment and human instinct on the altar of technological innovation and social media glitter.

There are no perfect solutions or alternatives in a rapidly expanding universe of technological improvements and social media popularity. But face time needs to be a supplement to Facebook, not be put in storage with eight-tracks and cassette tapes.

Michelle T. Johnson
Contributor: Michelle T. Johnson
Posted: 06/26/2011