Of Orchids and Men – Unconscious Bias in Recruiting

I used to once tell my colleagues that I sometimes feel that I am like an orchid. I would only blossom in the right environment and when I get a lot of love from the people working with me. As a creative person, I also need to feel safe and accepted and this is the hardest part because we often make connections between items that others will not connect. Also, connect people with each other who would not necessarily see why they should be connected. 

On the weekend I attended a short workshop in a monastery of a Dominican sisterhood in Ilanz. There in the loving eyes of those sisters, I immediately understood why I would like my clients to come to our RockMeRetreat: It’s because my heart is my compass. I only trust my heart and sometimes I also listen to my brain. However, we are taught in our society to not trust our heart anymore and that is why many of us are unwell and feel stuck. At the RockMeRetreat I will give you all the love that you need to blossom like an orchid again. You will learn to trust your heart again. Feel invited and welcome. You can still join us in 2020. I’m accepting applications now.

Our project and event manager, Monika Fischer, a veteran of cross-disciplinary fields including global mobility, cleverly alternates between allegory and candid self-reflection of her own extensive career to outline some forms of biases that can be observed in professional spaces and how to handle them. You can read her full essay below:

I have never had a green thumb, that is until I lived in Singapore for ten years and got used to being surrounded by blossoming orchids. They look very pretty and colorful, come in many shapes, shades and sizes. Through the sophisticated ability to have so many faces, some people think that all orchids are extremely demanding. Are they though?

People use shortcuts, also called biases, unconsciously. Research shows that this filtering ability of our brain basically saves it from exploding due to too many impressions and data shooting into it any second. Over the evolution of humanity, our brain learned to generalize myriads of known circumstances, create patterns and suggest immediate solutions. We are not even aware of this process, hence unconscious.

Roche research showed (as addressed by Kristen Pressner at a TED talk in Basel in 2016) that people award different attributes to male and female personalities. Whereas men are connected with characteristics like leadership, providing, assertiveness, strength, and drive, female counterparts usually get attributes like supportive, emotional, helpful, sensitive and fragile.

For our everyday life, it might be too strong a requirement to change how we speak. In a business setting, however, I argue that one should step back from time to time, reflect and think again: when I say a manager or a CEO, do I use a “he” in the next sentence? What if I used a “she”, how would it change my perspective? What if I think of my male colleague as being supportive, emotional, helpful, sensitive and fragile? A female leader behaving assertively, driven and strong, is she a great leader or a “bitch”? There is no one-size-fits-all, even though our brain suggests easy readings.

My personal experience in the past several years in Switzerland when looking for new professional challenges for the age of 50+ (I turned 60 this year) uncovered several biases. Common in recruitment, in job ads and in the reasons for rejection. The general understanding says that older candidates are expensive, out of touch with technology, unwilling to learn, not mobile or flexible. There is also the perception that senior workers will be sick more often and take advantage of the pension fund and other statutory benefits. 

That may be applicable to some or even most of them, I do not know. What I do know is that my life took me through several countries, forced me into various professional fields and in different career levels. I mastered all situations, brought up three millennials who now have excellent jobs, I even built a new successful business in a foreign culture. 

Every 2-3 years I get a new certification or vocational training in something that interests me. 

Yet, no wonder, I do not fit in a neat list of requirements that are expected from a regular job candidate in Switzerland. Basically, a linear resume with a field of study that I would work a number of years in. I ask myself, who is it that lacks flexibility? Am I really expensive? Maybe a potential employer needs a person skilled in overseeing a vast field of challenges without losing the focus. Quick assessment of risks in early stages is more effective than problem solving later. Maybe I do not want to work full-time and my income is not the most important parameter for a job, maybe I wish to have a role with a purpose. Sounds familiar? You probably connect these expectations with young generations.

So, I am now an orchid lover. As mentioned above, some people never want to hear about having orchids at home. They are too sensitive, demanding, need too much care. Do they really? 

Those who know and love orchids will tell you that they are easy to care for, blossom for months, return to bloom for years when you give them basic care. In the past, I would buy a blooming plant that would lose the blossoms within days and then turn into a “salad”, a green-only something. Very often, I would soon discover some busy leaf bugs or mites and throw the plant away. 

My orchids do not get leaf bugs.

However, one day I found out that one of my orchids had tiny, white bugs around the submerged roots. Another day, I realized that another orchid was not only getting wrinkly leaves, but it had also not blossomed for a long time.

Did I change my mind about orchids then? Did I throw them all away? I didn’t. Did I say: All of them get bugs and wrinkles? I didn’t. 

I have 13 orchids, so I know that the majority of them behave differently. Let some of them be unhappy, inflexible, in a bad mood. After all, they are just living beings. Give them a chance to show what they can do for you. 

Imagine! One of my oldest orchids even rewarded me with a soft fragrance over several months this summer (I know, these species are not supposed to scent, yet it did). Be open-minded and you will meet wonderful orchids – and people. They may not be easy to read at first, but they will reward you along the way.

About the Author

Monika Fischer is an experienced international professional in relocation and global mobility, a versatile client and account relationship manager. She is also well-versed in sales, real estate marketing, office, and project management and skilled in effective communication in international teams. 

Monika still has capacity outside her current commitments with us. She can help you on a contract or part-time basis.  You can contact her through LinkedIn mentioning GPT or email her for further contact at abcd.mf@gmail.com

 



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