Continuing the Conversation: Hello?! Is This Thing On?

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By Karen Daly, Mountain Plains Regional Director, ICMA

Hello?!  Is this thing on?

“Wow!  I didn’t realize you had so much experience.  You did a great job responding to the questions from the Council,” said the executive recruiter after my interview with the City Council.  Oh no!  Had I just become the token female who was interviewed to prove they had a diverse candidate pool?!  Did I really not have a shot at the job?  That was certainly the feeling I had when I left that interview. It caused me to reflect on my experiences with executive recruiters (who by some universal coincidence have all been males).  

While that backhanded compliment from the recruiter might have appeared as a positive on the surface, it really should have come as no surprise that someone with 25 years of experience really might be qualified to become the city manager.  (I’m sure he said it to all of the other candidates who were women as well.  Oh, wait!  I was the only female finalist that time.)

My other definitive encounter was from a recruiter who actually told me that he hoped “so and so” got the job because HE really needed it.  It never crossed his mind that as the breadwinner for my family, that I might actually need the job as well.  He made some dreadful assumptions based on his lifestyle and the fact the other candidate was his contemporary and looked more like him than I did.  It made me ask the question, “With recruiters promoting their contemporaries to hiring Councils, what fair chance do the other candidates have? And how often does implicit bias impact the hiring decision?”

I believe this is a true barrier for getting more women in the top job in a city.  Women continue to be discriminated against in the interview/hiring process.  I can guarantee you that many female city manager candidates have experienced similar situations during the interviewing phase (and are nodding right now). I don’t have the magic pill to fix this, but I think two things need to occur.  The first real change will have to come from elected officials who won’t allow this under-the-table selective screening to occur and who will also hold the contracted recruitment firm accountable to bring in a diverse set of candidates for consideration.

The second change is something I was guilty of doing.  I found myself looking at potential job opportunities and then looking to see who was doing the recruitment.  If it was one of those male recruiters with whom I’d had a negative experience, I simply wouldn’t consider the job.  I know I’m not the only female who does this, but how many opportunities have women let go by because of this?  So to all my female colleagues – APPLY!  Don’t let that recruiter keep you from seeking what could be an ideal match between you and that city.

Folks in power positions should be more aware of the implicit biases that they have and the negative impact that can have on the candidate pool.  When it comes to this type of discrimination, it often just stays between the lines.  Candidates aren’t in a position to complain less they not be considered in the future so it’s incumbent on recruiters to be more self-aware and elected officials to think broadly about their candidate pool.  Gender balance won’t occur over night but it certainly won’t happen if we are not applicants.  Stay thirsty, mis amigas!