Abercrombie and Fitch, a leading retail clothing chain, recently entered into a consent decree, or settlement, to resolve a set of three race discrimination charges challenging the company’s recruitment and hiring practices. Although there have been several large, well-publicized class action discrimination lawsuits in the last few years (e.g., Dukes v. Wal-Mart), what is unique about the Abercrombie and Fitch case is that it focused on recruitment and hiring practices, unlike many other recent employment discrimination class actions, which have focused on disparities in pay and employee promotions. There are a number of lessons we can and should take away from this settlement; here are just a few. 1. Make sure all marketing materials, including those for your product or service, reflect diversity. Your branding efforts as a company affect more than just your customers; they may also affect whom you hire. One leading plaintiffs’ attorney was quoted as referring to the Abercrombie and Fitch lawsuit as “image discrimination,” in that product marketing seemed to emphasize whites to the exclusion of minorities. You should carefully review your organization’s entire product branding efforts, with the goal of ensuring that all features reflect diversity. Websites, product catalogs, and all other company material should be examined to determine whether diversity is reflected in the images, names, and other elements of your organization’s materials. 2. Create a vice president of diversity position. The Abercrombie and Fitch settlement creates a position called the vice president of diversity, who reports directly to the CEO or COO. The VP of diversity is responsible for implementing and monitoring diversity initiatives in the organization. The VP of diversity plays a critical role in achieving a diverse organization. To understand the importance of this position, I refer you to an article by Irwin Speizer (“Diversity on the Menu“) regarding the transformation of Denny’s from an institution that was characterized by racism (in 1996, 48% of African-Americans equated Denny’s with discrimination) to an institution that is viewed today as one that is highly supportive of minorities (in the second quarter of 2004, only 14% of African-Americans viewed Denny’s as equated with discrimination). According to Speizer, the VP of diversity plays a major role in changing an organization’s diversity climate. One of the advantages of having a VP of diversity who reports to the CEO is that other managers know that if they exhibit resistance to the initiatives, or fail to meet their goals, the VP of diversity will be able to leverage his or her power with the CEO to reprimand or even terminate them. Who is responsible for diversity efforts in your organization? Is there a VP of diversity who reports directly to the CEO? Does that individual have sufficient credibility and authority to make sure that diversity efforts are really implemented? 3. Incorporate diversity initiatives in recruitment programs. In the consent decree, Abercrombie and Fitch agreed to develop and use extensive diversity initiatives in their recruitment programs. This includes hiring recruiters based in major metropolitan areas who will focus on diversity recruitment. The settlement calls for the diversity recruiters to reflect diversity in their own composition and states that the company will use a variety of media in developing applicant pools, including relevant periodicals and websites, that focus on diverse populations. Ask yourself the following questions: Do your current recruitment efforts sufficiently address diversity? Do your recruiters reflect diversity? Does your company include recruiting efforts in urban areas where there are large minority populations? If there is a college recruitment program? Is there sufficient effort aimed at historically black colleges and universities or campuses where there are diverse student populations? If Internet recruitment is used, is attention paid to using minority-oriented internet recruitment sites? Do non-Internet recruitment campaigns use minority-oriented media? 4. Create job-related hiring processes. The Abercrombie and Fitch consent decree describes some of the kinds of tools and systems to be put in place to ensure good hiring practices. An industrial psychologist, for example, will be retained to develop written job analyses in order to ensure a clear, systematic, and objective basis for making hiring decisions. The consent decree also specifies that structured interviews, which incorporate behavioral questions, will be used. These kinds of interviews help to create a selection process that is clear, systematic, and objective. The Abercrombie and Fitch settlement also indicates what factors are not to be considered in hiring decisions. Specifically, hiring factors such as enrollment in a target college, participation in particular athletic activities, and involvement in particular fraternities or sororities are to be excluded when making hiring decisions. The implication for your organization is that you should consider developing and implementing systematic and objective hiring processes. Do you have written, systematic job analyses that are used to determine your hiring criteria? Are your minimum qualifications tied to such job analyses? How about your interview questions and employment tests? Have you considered whether certain hiring requirements may either directly, or even indirectly, negatively impact minority applicants? You should also make sure that all minimum qualifications, interview questions, and tests are tied to job-related factors and are properly validated. 5. Evaluate managers on diversity. It is almost a cliche to say that what is measured is valued. Under the consent decree, Abercrombie and Fitch agreed to modify its managerial performance evaluation forms to include several measures of diversity performance, including compliance with the company’s EEO policies, recruitment and management of diversity, and efforts to meet various metrics outlined in the settlement. Furthermore, the settlement states that the ratings on these dimensions will have a meaningful impact on the compensation of managers. If you want managers to help attract and retain a diverse workforce, it is imperative that they be evaluated on how well they attain diversity objectives and rewarded for achieving the established goals. Does your organization’s managerial performance evaluation form specifically ask for ratings on diversity performance? Are the appropriate behaviors and rating criteria clearly defined? How does your organization reward managers who meet the required levels on diversity performance? How does your organization deal with managers who fail to meet the diversity standards? 6. Use metrics to measure diversity. The Abercrombie and Fitch settlement lists in detail the various metrics that will be used in determining whether the company is meeting its diversity goals, including the numbers and percentages of applicants who are African American, Asian, and Hispanic, and the numbers and the percentages of African-American, Asian, and Hispanic applicants who should ultimately be hired. Of course, there are legal implications of developing diversity goals, so organizations need to be careful when establishing such metrics. In the last few years, recruitment metrics have received a great deal of attention and much has been written about them. An article written in 2003 for ERE, by John Sullivan, provides some useful thoughts about diversity metrics. Metrics are also useful for assessing whether there are particular barriers to diversity recruitment and pinpointing where those barriers occur. What metrics are used in your organization to monitor diversity efforts? Are these metrics used to identify potential barriers to diversity? Who looks at these metrics? Are these metrics examined at top levels of the organization? What about at lower levels of the organization? The more widely these metrics are viewed throughout the organization, the greater importance they will be granted. Although there is no foolproof system to avoiding lawsuits, these tactics, if properly designed and implemented, should be helpful both in protecting your organization from legal issues and in encouraging an effective diversity recruitment and hiring program ó which is a great benefit in its own right.
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