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Does Your Company Help You Discriminate?

The ongoing class action lawsuit between Walmart and female workers, the largest civil rights class action in history, is one every hiring manager should be following. And not only for the obvious reason that the outcome may change how and whom you hire.

It should have you thinking about the role that your company's corporate culture might play in influencing your hiring decisions, and not in a good way.

In essence, the case charges that Walmart discriminated against female workers in how it awarded compensation and promotions.To my point, however, the action argues that individual managers discriminated because of attitudes about women predominant in the company's unstated corporate culture.

Think about that a moment. The dispute isn't that individual managers were biased, but rather that the company culture influenced hiring and pay decisions of managers who were free to act with relative autonomy.

"Our contention is that the company expected managers to follow its corporate culture," Joseph Sellers, who is on the team bringing suit against the retailer, told an audience at Harvard Law School recently. "That culture included gender stereotypes, so the managers exercised discretion often in a way that is consistent with those stereotypes."

As a hiring manager myself, that comment caused me pause. I like to think that when I hire someone, it is a decision based on the candidate's qualifications, accomplishments, and personality fit with the organization.

But what if I am also subconsciously folding into my hiring assessment a recent internal memo that raised concerns by my CEO at Ajax Co. that the company needs more red-headed go getters -- would I discriminate against brunettes? What if I'm also thinking about a recent promotion list where it was obvious that many more men than women were moving up the ladder. Would I lean towards hiring a man, because he would more likely be promoted and that would reflect well on my management abilities?

All to say that we all should be self-aware about what influences our decisions, and be prepared to fight the good fight if those influences include an "accepted way of doing things" that should not really be accepted at all.

Does your own corporate culture shape your hiring decisions in a way you would rather not acknowledge?

(Photo by Flickr user aprilzosia, CC 2.0)