France – Recruiting Beyond the Beautiful People

A few months ago, I mentioned the, as I saw it, lamentable lack of human diversity in French industry to some friends of mine who work for other big French industrial groups. These industrial groups sign conventions and charts about “mixité” [“mixité” meaning mostly gender diversity, but without the leadership part – my personal interpretation] that can be found on their websites under various headers such as “gender diversity” or “equality”. But sometimes it looks more as if the message is “We are equality certified so let’s get on with it”, than anything else.

Still, I felt as if there was not much encouraging diversity in general (gender or other) on the French industrial scene. A few conventions don’t change much unless there is a real commitment and active leadership in their wake. I also had the impression that the recruitment process very quickly focuses on the “young and beautiful”, “ready packaged with the perfectly matching CV”, and preferably “they have done all this before so they know what they are doing”, and “from the best schools only” candidates (more about that here).

I was looked for tangible efforts other than discussion forums on “mixité“. I looked for something beyond groups constituted of mainly white French women who get together to talk and have canapés with some random man as a token speaker. I’d rather munch my canapés at an art exhibition with a diverse crowd, and including men… (Note, this was in a smaller city, Paris may be different.)

Then, one of my friends mentioned Eve Le Blog, saying it was “something” about women and equality. I went looking. First reaction: It’s all PINK! Why do things linked to women have to be pink? I’m still convinced this puts men off and adds to prejudice about “girls’ only” knitting circles and cupcake parties. But, as you have to go beyond the looks of the package, I started reading. It really is good. It is an initiative for female leadership in France supported by L’Oréal, Danone, Crédit Agricole, KPMG, SNCF, Orange, and Caisse des Dépôts. Women and men in leading positions are interviewed on their view on diversity and related questions, and there are international projects for female leadership under the EveLeBlog umbrella.

So, why I am saying all this? It’s not because I want to promote EveLeBlog in particular, although it is really worth looking at. It is because I stumbled over two interviews that struck a chord when it comes to recruiting in a diversified manner. Daring to break out of traditional recruitment patterns is as much about leadership as climbing the career ladder is.

Many who read this this may already know that tall persons and those considered as good looking (including slim) have it easier in their professional lives compared to short, “ugly” or obese persons. Then there are people are perceived by recruiters as coming from a different place or culture, which the recruiters don’t know about and therefore perceive as “foreign” in all senses of the word. Then there are women, and people who have reached a certain age. All these factors add to the difficulty to get hired, get well paid, and climb the corporate ladder. I don’t want to imagine how hard it must be to get a job for someone who is short, “ugly”, obese, over 50, with a background which the recruiter perceives as foreign, who in addition is a woman or someone who has taken a few years off to mind his or her (statistically it will mostly be “her”) children.

After a little check around my network, here is the typical outcome of a CV scan: Most of those who recruit tend to quickly favour a certain type of candidates, even for regular positions (below 30, punchy presentations, all smiles and “by the book” experiences), and bin others.  Those who end up in the bin are often from less prestigious schools or with “atypical” backgrounds (ie, who have made a turn in their education plan, or who have first had small jobs followed by a late university degree, or those with a longer break presumably to mind children, or why not, “she must have followed her husband” when someone has moved abroad and then worked for a couple of years with something outside of her original career path – men are clearly underrepresented in this category). It also appears that jokes about pictures or sneakily racist comments are not unusual – here is a video to show the level of humour that circles around the internet on this topic.  

With this return of experience in hand, I was particularly happy to be able to influence a recruitment process to add at least one atypical profile to the team I was working in, and with a high satisfaction rate from the management and colleagues down the line.

However, this is also where people like Ingrid Bianchi come in, and can do a lot of good. Ingrid is the co-founder of the French Association of Managers of Diversity [author’s translation], and General Director of a consultancy firm called Diversity Source Manager. She was interviewed by EveLeBlog, and spoke about “atypical’ recruitment. For example, putting forward women who had taken time off to mind their children, and then looking to re-integrate the workforce. She talks about the value of all talents, whatever the differences, and how she makes a point of proposing all types of people to her clients, including those with a less conventional profile.

On EveLeBlog there is also an interview with Jean-Claude Le Grand, who is Director of International HR Development and Corporate Diversity Director at L’Oréal. He talks about  L’Oréal’s approach to recruitment, and believes that the role of a big company is also to be at the service of society to promote fundamental human values. These are beautiful words, and something that more companies should strive to do. In addition to the beautiful words, L’Oréal has turned around statistics when it comes to gender representation in their management committees.

This shows that conscious employers can make a difference during the recruitment process, in addition to the professional development of their staff. We are not talking about quotas, which I personally dislike, only a general awareness and consciousness which will help build up diversity within companies, starting with the recruitment. Looking at the L’Oréal example there is a positive evolution to statistics when it comes to female representation for example. If you draw this further, it must be possible to apply the same principles to other under represented groups in the corporate environment.

Greater diversity generally favours greater yield for companies in terms of work environment, dynamics, and down the line revenue. So what’s stopping big industrialists in France from taking a clear lead in that direction through more visible actions in terms of recruitment? France’s demographics may not be as diversified as those in the US, but there is definitely enough to get started with. There are talents out there hiding beyond the Beautiful People. Go get them.

 

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