Eric Shannon: Hey, there, welcome to Diversity Jobs Streetsmart Interviews. I want you to meet my good friend Andy Seth who grew up in a motel in Los Angeles for the first sixteen years of his life. Living in a motel, he saw what happens in life if you don’t hustle, which explains why he is ramping up his ninth business, having recently sold the wealth management firm he started in 2006. His newest business is called Flow, and it’s a digital marketing agency where he helps leaders build their social media presence. Needless to say, Andy has done a bit of hiring, and he has a few things to say about diversity that I want you to hear. So Andy, when you think about the corporate push for diversity, how do you feel about it?
E.S.: Andy, when you out to hire, do you go look for a white guy to balance the diversity in your own office?
A.S.: I love these…white dudes. No, I have plenty of white guys that are applying for jobs. That’s not the challenge. The challenge is to outreach into populations that are not otherwise finding and applying to these jobs. There are a couple of reasons why it is hard, I believe, to find a diverse workforce because most of the people of applicants are, in fact, white men for the kind of jobs that I look for. A couple of issues with this: number one, when you do outreach, you’ve got to have a very skills-based job description. That means that you can’t have a job description that says I need this kind of experience, and I need this kind of education because that already inherently does a couple of things: one, it has a bias to it, but more importantly, it says that you don’t know actually what you want, but you are putting out signals for what you think you want and hoping that somebody comes your way. Well, candidates are very hard on themselves, and when you think of it from a diversity standpoint, they look at this and say, well, I didn’t go to this or that school, but I might have the skill, but they are probably not going to hire me. And the truth is, you probably won’t because you don’t yet have the awareness that skills are more important than the experience and education alone.
Experience, as you know, doesn’t mean that someone is going to deliver the job. I have been burned so many times by making hires of people who had the right signals, the went to the school, they worked for this company, they should be amazing, and they weren’t. I’ve been burned by that so many times. But people that have the skills, I’ve not been burned by. I think this is one important aspect of reaching out to a diverse workforce is making sure that your job descriptions are actually skills-based.
E.S.: Alright, Andy, as entrepreneurs, we know stereotyping is not cool, but we sort of live by it. We make our living by noticing things that other people don’t, and I wonder, when you look back at all the people you have hired over the years, can you stereotype them or say, in general, what’s worked for you in terms of what type of people have performed well?
A.S.: Yeah, absolutely. I think what you are describing is a psychological term called heuristics. Heuristics basically are shortcuts; they are a way for us not to have cognitive overload, and as entrepreneurs, we are used to operating with a lack of information, so we do make shortcuts in order to make decisions. That’s good for speed, but it can also be what causes us to have problems unanticipated problems, and that certainly is one of the issues in hiring…is that we shortcut our way. So I think that yes, it is an actual problem, and I say that there are things that I’ve done well, but there are things that I absolutely not done well in terms of the hiring side.
The things that I’d say that are common amongst the people that I’ve hired who have been successful, for them, and for me because – make no mistake – while I have fired people, people have also fired me. I think that this has to be a question of who is it mutually beneficial relationship for. The people that I have hired, I have hired on skills, and I think that is a very important foundation. I have not found great success in hiring based on someone’s education, whether that was they got a diploma from this university or that university, whether they were MBA or masters, or this or that, I have actually been very unsuccessful with that approach. And that could be me, but I would say that a lot of entrepreneurs I talk to find similar things.
And I also have not been successful in finding people that have an experience that I think should translate, but it turns out it doesn’t. Or maybe there’s a change to the environment, maybe they were at a larger company, and now we’re smaller…I don’t know. There’s a host of reasons. What I do know is that experience is not translatable, and sometimes, those people are used to having a certain level of resources available to them to have the job, and when they have to go to an entrepreneurial company, they are resource-constrained in their minds. We look at it and say, be resourceful.
E.S.: Time Magazine recently posted an article that says diversity training just infuriates white men and makes it harder for the people that they manage to do their jobs. But what actually works is unconscious bias training. The idea is to raise awareness about your own biases, that is mostly for managers. Have you ever become aware of any of your own diversity or ethnic or ethnicity-related biases?
A.S.: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I remember very specifically I was doing a turnaround of a manufacturing company, and I had a number of job openings, and I had some applicants come in, and the applicants’ names were clearly identifiable as being something that wasn’t your standard Anglo-Saxon type of a name. Their names were something like Starlina and Eureka, and I remember reading Malcolm Gladwell—one of his books—it might’ve been ‘Outliers,’ but he said that people with kind of odd names isn’t an indication of them and their personality and what they are like; it’s an indication of their parents who named them. And I thought you know what…that’s so obvious and yet so unconsciously biased of me when I hear a weird name or an unusual name, I projected that as judgment or evaluation on that person, but they didn’t even name themselves. And this is coming from a kid who has a weird name -my birth name is Andalib. I was named after a poet. That has like zero bearing in America. In India, ok, yeah, they get it, but in America, I’m Andy.
E.S.: It’s a good thing it’s becoming illegal, too. That way, we don’t fall into the temptation, right? It’s like you don’t want the temptation either.
A.S.: Yeah. I support that, totally.
E.S.: Andy, have you ever been treated poorly in a work situation because of the color of your skin?
A.S.: I can’t say that I’ve been treated poorly based on my skin color because I think that’s a pretty explicit and overt act, and I know it happens to some people. It’s just not happened to me. What I do think has likely happened is that there has been an unconscious bias that has occurred, and there might be reasons why opportunities weren’t available to me, or doors weren’t opened, or I that might’ve been devalued or even judged differently than somebody else who didn’t necessarily have my skin color. But I wouldn’t necessarily know that, and I don’t want to make the conclusion that that has occurred in a specific situation because I think that there are a lot of factors that can work into why maybe an opportunity didn’t occur, and I look more to myself on that than I do other people. That said, I know that it exists, and so many people have faced it, but it has not been a bother for me that way.
E.S.: Good to hear. When I hire, I would say the biggest problem I have with ninety-nine percent of the applications regardless of the ethnicity or diversity—white and every other color does the same thing—everybody talks about their needs when they apply for a job. Those resumes go right in the trash, right, when they say ‘me’, ‘me’, ‘me’…I’m looking for someplace where I can…etc. So that’s my advice for candidates, what do you tell candidates? What would you recommend to diverse talent?
When you start to talk about here is my job experience, my work experience, and here’s my education, those have signals that are quite clear as to what kind of biases somebody may have against you. And so I think it’s important to strip those things out to the best of your ability. And the way to do this is to take a real inventory of the things that you have done—the work experience you have, the education you have—and translate that into skills.
Here is what that does. One, it removes the information that may trigger biases. Two, it helps an employer know…can you do the job I need? Because now you’ve identified…self-identified…these are the skills I have.
E.S.: Absolutely. Andy, right now we’re in kind of dark time in America for people who feel prejudice or fear of deportation. Have you witnessed any of the Trump-effect yourself?
A.S.: Yeah…where do you want me to begin? Give me a lens to focus this on because the answer is ‘absolutely.’ But what do you want me to focus on?
E.S.: Carolina has had some instances where she was treated very badly by people who knew that she was a native-Spanish speaker, right? They knew she was Latina through her voice on the phone, and these are things that in twenty years of marriage I never heard about…but like never happened before.
A.S.: Oh, yeah, for sure. Am I allowed to cuss?
A.S.: Ok, because I’ll tell you the real deal. Yeah, absolutely…there are so many actual examples. I’ll give you one, and you can tell me if you want more. This has never happened to me, so I have been a part of what is called ‘passing’. Have you ever heard of passing? Passing is when someone doesn’t know what ethnicity you are, and you get a pass as one race, and they make fun of whatever and don’t realize that, like, you know, you have a problem with what they just said. I get passed all the time. I remember the first time in college that I got passed on. Actually, it was in high school. Being Indian, I’m not black, and I’m not Mexican, and those are the two racial groups in America that have the most prejudice against them, just flat out. And so being an Indian, I am actually viewed as kind of a ‘model minority’. Indians have a very high income; I think it’s the highest in the United States. We are viewed as educated now, but you take it back a little bit, and we were motel and 7/11 owners, and taxi drivers, right? And that’s what I grew up in. So I have the experience with the before Y2K and post-Y2K world of being Indian.
Now, I will say it also happens to my face. I remember…it’s probably a year and a half ago now, I think I might’ve told you about this, but I’ll tell you the story once again. I was at a basketball game in this suite, and we were talking about how Trump had just been elected…and a guy says to me…I remember, he says he’s voting for…he wants this person to win governor of Colorado…we were just getting the process started. I am involved with the gubernatorial campaign here in supporting and actively campaigning for a democrat. He told me, “You know what I think they should do? I think they should just put you all in a boat and get you out of here. He said that. To. My. Face. And there is a choice you have. You can answer that like a gentleman, or we can get into some gangster shit. I chose gangster… because that kind of vile language requires a very forceful, for me, reaction. Talking about it civilized is horseshit at that point. So I told him, “You can go fuck yourself!” Straight up, just like that, and that is when his friend pulled him away and said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa..let’s just chill out.” I don’t need to chill out. He needs to chill the fuck out. And the guy left, and I understand. I acted up to show him, hey, I’m not changing your mind. So because I’m not going to change your mind, I will fuck you up for it, though. If we need to get into some gangster shit, we will. Trust me on that one.
So I think that boldness, which is cowardice, has emerged in this environment where people that believe that the dirty vitriol they contain inside themselves is now permissible. Well, I’m here to tell you it’s not only not permissible, but it’s stupid. You are so dumb that you would say that in front of somebody, anybody, and believe that. You don’t know who I even am, and I’m not saying I’m somebody important. I’m saying, I might have been a great customer for you. I might’ve helped you. I might’ve been able to do something for you, and you just totally blew it, and you might be cool with it. That might be the case, but you are also now a living asshole. And you have to deal with that fact, and I’ve let you know. Now you got me all heated up!
E.S.: I hear you. So this was not a Gandhi situation for you…
A.S.: [laughs] Nah. I’ll tell you what…There were two sides to the freedom movement in India. There were Gandhi and a guy most people around the world don’t know about, but all Indians know. His name is Bhagat Singh. Bhagat Singh was a freedom fighter. Bhagat Singh in India is highly respected, to most people, more respected than Gandhi because Bhagat Singh fought. Bhagat Singh died because of Gandhi’s movement. He died in prison because Gandhi would not give up his fast, and people in India have not forgotten Bhagat Singh. If you Google Bhagat Singh, you will see there are movies from Indians made because he stood up and fought. I think its time to fight, not to sit back and try to have a dialogue. Fuck dialogue. We know what dialogue got us. Dude…you probably can’t publish any of this.
E.S.: I’m going to learn about him for sure. How do we get back on track in the U.S.? Don’t hold back here…
A.S.: Yeah, how do we get back on track? Well, what we know to be true is that we have more in common than not. We know that to be true. What we have as a problem is polarization. The polarization has occurred for a few reasons, but namely that we are getting positive reinforcement on our own biases. If you think about the Google effect where, when you search for news, you’re going to get fed back, based on the algorithm of what you are most likely to click, which is based on the history of what you have read. And so you are starting to see that there’s an absolute polarization that is occurring.
What I think has to happen is that people have to be reminded of the fact that we have more in common than we don’t. And how is that going to happen? That is actually the challenge of our leadership. Leadership has to be the one that unites people and shows us what is in common. And what is in common is that we can all acknowledge the problems we have. We all have to know that there are certain problems we want to solve for society. Let’s just take, for example, poverty. No one says, “I’m cool with poverty. I’m cool with the fact that people are poor.” No one says that. This is not a partisan situation. So we can identify problems, bring great people – leaders who have great ideas – and work on solutions. When we have a problem solution-based political system, we can unite. When we have an ideological political system, we are going to be polarized.
E.S.: Well, I’m worried we could wait a long time for that, but November is not too far away.
A.S.: Entrepreneurs need to step up. That, to me, is ultimately still where it’s at. Entrepreneurs have the gift of being able to identify problems and come up with creative solutions to them, and they monetize that. That is what we do for a living. Yet entrepreneurs sit back on these social issues. They are not standing up on societal issues. They are not taking these pieces of advice, these types of interviews that are so valuable, and say “You know, I’m going to change my actions; I’m going to change my behaviors. Does this make sense to you?” And we have to put ourselves on the table. It’s no longer acceptable to say, well, it’s the government’s job to do this, and it’s the education system’s job to train my labor force. You know that’s not true. We can’t sit out anymore. We have to be a part of this. And there is a huge ROI to that.
The problem is we see this far. When we have a short-term view, of course, you are just going to focus on how do I make this revenue. But that’s all you got? You’re a one-trick pony? All you’re doing is trying how to make more money? That’s easy. Try to solve some societal problems and make money. Now let’s talk.
E.S.: I love it, Andy. And I couldn’t agree with you more, and I really want to thank you for your time; it’s been great talking with you.
A.S.: You go it, bud.
E.S.: I hope we can do it again.
A.S. You got it. We’ll talk soon. Take care.
E.S.: Thanks, Andy