Why A CEO Pledge to Not Discriminate Against The Unemployed in Hiring is Weak…

Most of you probably didn't hear about this one, because it came out during Super Bowl week and let's face it, we're just not that deep as a nation.  

But...Last Friday, President Obama convinced 21 CEOs from some big companies to pledge that their hiring practices won't "intentionally or inadvertently disadvantage individuals from being considered for a Pledgejob based solely on their unemployment status."  Sounds great on the surface, let's get some more details from the LA Times before we break it down:

"Chief executives from 21 companies gathered at the White House on Friday, bringing with them a pledge not to unfairly weed out the long-term unemployed in their hiring process.

About 300 businesses — including Apple Inc., EBay Inc., Gap Inc., Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., 21st Century Fox Inc.Walt Disney Co. and Magic Johnson Enterprises — signed the document, which promises not to discriminate against job applicants solely because they have been out of work for extended stretches.

The companies also agreed to ensure that their hiring practices don't "intentionally or inadvertently disadvantage individuals from being considered for a job based solely on their unemployment status," according to the pledge."

Arguing against that is like arguing against Mom, apple pie and the national anthem, right?  Not so fast.  I think the talented people who have been impacted by the economy and found themselves jobless for long periods of time deserve better.  First, let's talk about the realities of this pledge:

1. The CEOs control nothing.  They're making the pledge and are going to push down the general requirement for a "good faith effort" out of their organization.  That's all they can do - or will do.

2. The only way to get more than that is for the CEOs to force quotas in hiring of the unemployed, and let's face it - that's not going to happen.

3. The real problem in hiring bias in any organization has nothing to do with the CEO - it comes down to the quality of managers, recruiters, HR pros and the openness of their minds - in this case, to the unemployed.

4. While many, many high quality individuals find themselves unemployed through no fault of their own, the term "unemployed" also includes people who are fired or the first out of a company during layoffs because they simply aren't as good as other people.  This fact puts any organization that wants to do better on hiring great unemployed people in a tough spot, because most organizations are gong to have a hard time figuring out who among the unemployed are great and which ones are awful - so the default is to generally never hire an unemployed person if the bias exists.

This is a classic PR spot for the Obama administration and the CEOs who elected to sign the pledge.  Change doens't happen in this area until the recruiter or HR pro in question has the capability to either a) strong-arm a manager into hiring a great unemployed candidate (when the manager doesn't want to) or 2) line managers change their attitude to the long-term unemployed, which is directly linked to the issue outlined in #4 above.

The real answer?  Recruiters and HR Pros have to do a better job at segmenting the unemployed into two classes of candidates - the A-player victims and the walking dead.  The A-player victims are the candidates who have had great careers and due to a lot of factors - salary level, experience, age, etc - have found themselves impacted by the economy and are struggling.  The walking dead are people that have had employment issues of varying kinds throughout their careers.  They are different people.

Having a platform and language in place in your company to split the unemployed into those two classes is the answer, then you force managers to consider candidate with the A-player stamp - with CEO support.  But, we won't do it as companies because it's hard and leads to other types of legal risk.

And the Obama administration wouldn't support that type of real-world classification either.  Which is why the pledge is PR that won't change anything.  

The result is that we'll keep talking and nothing will happen.

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