Diversity of perspective and interview breakfasts

I had the pleasure of attending the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, and I left excited for job-searching for the coming year. I submitted my resume to the conference’s resume database and received quite a few responses, several of which resulted in interviews at the conference. One company in particular invited me not only to interview with them, but also to attend their company breakfast for candidates to learn more about the company. I joined them for breakfast, and as expected I enjoyed myself thoroughly and learned more about the company.

As I left the breakfast with another candidate, I asked her what she thought of the event. She said that she enjoyed the food and conversation, but was worried that the hiring department was biased because all the people we’d spoken to had been “strong women.” When I asked her what she meant by that and why she would worry, she explained that because all the company representatives we met were charismatic, forceful women, it implied that meeker women did not make it through the hiring process, so that due to biased hiring a women had to be “strong” in order to be hired.

I really didn’t think her concern was necessary. For one thing, the company most likely chose its most enthusiastic employees to make the best impression on us as candidates. For another, we only met one or two men from the company, so we couldn’t make a comparison as to whether the women all had to be strong to be hired, but the men could have any temperament. I think the person I spoke to was just intimidated and worried she wouldn’t be able to keep up.

The question I kept wondering about afterward was whether, in the pursuit of diversity, companies are obligated to hire people with all kinds of personalities, from meek to forceful. They might do well to do so, a suggests Scott Page in a presentation called “The Power of Diversity” for the Santa Fe Institute. Page explains the value of diverse perspectives and claims that diverse group of mediocre people solve more problems than homogeneous groups of very accomplished people. If there is, as he suggests, for every problem a perspective that simplifies the problem, then someone is a diverse group is more likely to see it. There’s a great example that involves tic-tac-toe in the fifth section of the video.

If the company we interviewed for followed Page’s advice, the girl I met would be an ideal candidate for the company, because she had a perspective that the company might not yet have access to (she certainly surprised me with her impression of the breakfast). The lesson I took from this was not to be discouraged if the personality of my interviewer or the company seems to clash with mine, and to sell my personality as an asset instead.