IT recruiting, intolerance and employee surveillance
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Tolerating intolerance – and what it means for your next IT job

Tolerating intolerance – and what it means for your next IT job

Posted on 23rd July 2018

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employee surveillance

It may be a function of getting older, and/or having a growing family, but given that our business is centred on getting people into work, it’s becoming increasingly interesting and at times a little concerning to read of the way in which some employers engage with both their customers and their employees.

As a general rule, in the UK we import a lot of our social mores and attitudes from the USA.   The rise of the so-called snowflake generation, the imposition of safe spaces and a reluctance to speak about or tackle any subject that might offend, coupled with the threat of a storm of abuse on Twitter if you say or write anything that doesn’t conform to someone’s else’s prejudices and worldview, makes it increasingly difficult for candidates to speak as they find and express their own thoughts.  This leads to a fear of being blackballed and rejected at an early stage in the recruitment process or, once employed, being monitored and evaluated by tech systems.

Now, let’s get this in perspective. The vast majority of firms are sensible, tolerant, dare I say, small ‘c’ conservative when it comes to their recruitment.  However, the increasing tide of what you might call tolerance and inclusion does seem to be creating waves of discontent, not to mention intolerance, in some quarters. As yet, we’re not seeing this affecting the IT world particularly, but the industry is fully involved in developing the tech that allows much of the surveillance of employees and the direction of travel is obvious, and in some people’s opinions, ominous.

Take for example Walmart’s patent for an audio surveillance system that would, if they choose to deploy it, allow them to “eavesdrop” on workers and then use the resulting data to evaluate them. If I was one of the 150,000 people Wamart employs in Britain through Asda I would be concerned. 

This patent stuff is catching. You may have heard about Amazon’s patent for a wristband that monitors staff as they travel around a warehouse.  In a similar vein, the Chinese government is working openly to develop and improve facial recognition technology to monitor all its citizens. On the other side, so to speak, it’s good to see Microsoft president Brad Smith calling for governments to regulate facial-recognition technology.

Then there is recent report of WeWork’s attempts to influence its employees’ choice of food.  WeWork is an American company that will no longer pay expenses if employees buy meals that include meat.  We also saw Google fire someone for sending round an email suggesting why more men than women work in the company: an issue of free speech vs company policy where free speech, supposedly entrenched in the First Amendment of the US constitution, lost.  Add in the NHS’s seemingly soon to be enforced requirement to ask all patients what is their sexuality – a move that the civil servants expected to manage this are not too keen on themselves – and you can see the aforementioned direction of travel. How many IT candidates would like to be asked about their sexuality by Be-IT or another recruiter?  Not many I suspect.

All this surveillance may be regarded by some as a good thing. The old canard, “if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear” still gets trotted out. Increasingly, the problem is that you may have done nothing wrong, but a rising tide of intolerance means that a potential employer might not agree with you. And while it’s generally regarded as unethical to research candidates’ background on Facebook (and Be-IT does not do it), the other forms of monitoring and evaluation make checking someone out on Facebook seem almost superfluous at times. Just to re-emphasise the point, into my inbox today dropped a mailer about uncovering ‘subconscious latent potential’, which sounds sort-of OK until you read that “Developers also say that the test can identify mental health problems.”  The temptation for employers to reject people they suspect might bring mental health issues will, I am sure, be too strong to resist for some recruiters…

Finally, in the old days of press adverts, our marketing team tells me that the councils in England almost competed to include the most inclusive ‘equal opps statement.’ For example, “we welcome applications regardless of sexuality, disability, ethnicity, race, gender, etc.”  The problem was that the longer the list the more the advert cost, so most councils reverted to the legal requirement “we are an equal opportunities employer.”  That’s what the law requires and it’s where we should all start – and finish – when it comes to assessing candidates.  What they want to keep private should be kept private (so long as it’s not illegal), what they eat is their business and the occasional chat around the water cooler is not going to bring the company to its knees.  Sadly, I fear the path we’re going on has not reached its illogical conclusion. 

Nikola Kelly, MD, Be-IT

Posted in News, Opinion, Recruitment News

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