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There was some hullabaloo yesterday about the Supreme Court ruling in the discrimination case of Ricci v. DeStefano. The mainstream media did a fine job of obfuscating facts in an attempt to breathe new life into what had become an almost dead controversy surrounding Obama’s nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Selling newspapers or advertising on cable TV news new requires shrill noises to attract the attention of a US citizenry obsessed with the antics surrounding Michael Jackson’s recent passing and reminiscing about his halcyon days twenty-five years ago.
News outlets clamored that Ms. Sotomayor’s nomination was now in jeopardy. According to left-leaning media, the Supreme Court did catastrophic damage to decades of civil rights progress and in the process spanked Sotomayor. According to right-leaning media, which has been maligning much of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, the Court finally got something right and Sotomayor was a sullied candidate.
Nonsense. The Supreme Court actually didn’t decide anything of substance yesterday. Because I have been an ardent advocate of diversity throughout my career, I actually waded through the 93 pages of opinion on this case. I wanted to see for myself what was really going on.
Justice Scalia said it best. He writes, “I join the Court’s opinion in full, but write separately to observe that its resolution of this dispute merely postpones the evil day on which the Court will have to confront the question: Whether, or to what extent, are the disparate-impact provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection? The question is not an easy one.”
Indeed it is not an easy question. The dispute in this case stems from a classic catch-22 situation: a firefighter promotion exam was conducted in New Haven-Connecticut as is the normal procedure. Because minorities on average didn’t score as well as whites on the exams, if the city used the test results to rank candidates for promotion, the city faced a discrimination case. On the other hand, not all minorities did poorly. If the city threw out the test results, they still faced a discrimination case from those who did well on the tests including whites who would claim reverse discrimination. The city threw out the tests and lawsuits were promptly filed by those who had done well on the tests.
The Supreme Court did not touch this catch-22 directly. The majority opinion simply pointed to the city’s rationale for discarding the tests and found their arguments wanting. Therefore, the city must use the test scores as originally planned – to rank the candidates for promotion based on scores. The Court did not rule on a constraint for Title VII. The Court did not resolve the inherent conflict between the Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights and Title VII’s bias toward minorities.
I have seen terrible bias every day. I have lived in Chicago, Washington DC, near Philadelphia. I have travelled all across the US. The bias against Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, and Native Americans is prevalent and even here in bland Seattle I have seen pockets of virulent bias. We may have a black president but we are very far away from a land of equal rights blind to race, creed or color. Until then, we must be willing to argue forcefully and vigilantly against bias against minorities. I for one am thrilled that Sotomayor is the nominee. The Court may yet face this ugly question squarely and when it does, I hope there is much debate and passion to preserve a balance of power among our many races, creeds, and colors in this country.
Meanwhile, Ms. Sotomayor should keep clear of this noise and wait for the next celebrity fiasco to take public attention away from meaty matters like civil rights and who gets to sit on the nation’s highest bench.
In the past 15 years living in Seattle, I have had the privilege of meeting many executives and entrepreneurs. About two or three times a year, somebody would call or email me and say, “Hey I am thinking of making a change. How about coffee to talk about what the companies are worth looking into these days.” Those were always fun conversations.
Since December 2008, at least once a week I am getting a call or email that sounds more like, “Hey I need a job. Do you know anybody hiring?”
A VC buddy of mine refers to this as nuclear winter. Yes, it’s cold. But it isn’t all doom and gloom.
While it may be the case that Microsoft, Google, Real, Amazon and just about every “large” company (with > 1000 employees) is laying off and/or curtailing new hires, hope is not lost. For example, Microsoft and others are actually hiring in areas where they are growing, in spite of the layoffs in areas where they were overstaffed.
Many smaller companies (with < 100 employees) are hunkering down as well, but only in the FTE count. Smaller companies that are still growing need executive talent more now than ever before. They just cannot afford full time execs.
This brings me to re-tooling. Of the dozen or so “out of work” execs I have seen in the past few months, only two have returned to work in a full time capacity. In both cases, it’s because they had EXACTLY the experience and specific industry and functional expertise required.
Ironically, in a down market, professionals with transferrable skills–accounting, project management, software developers–find it harder to move from one industry to the next. They have the functional chops but not the specific industry credibility.
One path to pursue in the event you are faced with this dilemma: re-tool. The many smaller companies that need senior executive talent but are unable/unwilling to pay for it may be thrilled to have you apply for a part-time gig as CxO or SVP. It might take 2 or 3 gigs like that to make ends meet, but in the process you will find that you are valued for your expertise, valued for your experience, and find that start-ups aren’t as risky or scary as they once seemed to be. Yet every time I suggest this to a newly out of work exec, they wrinkle their nose and say “gosh that sounds really on edge.”
Not so much on edge in my opinion as having a mortgage with no income. Come on in. The water is warm enough. Start swimming with those who are building the next generation of companies that will thrive after this economic hell is over.
© 2009 all rights reserved. Michael Schutzler.
If you are among the few and the proud still recruiting, then you are probably more deluged by resumes than ever before. If you have a decent job description and if you want to sort through hundreds–or thousands–of resumes and online profiles, then you need talentspring. http://www.talentspring.com/
The product is in late beta now, sorting through the millions of linkedin profiles to help you find the best match to your job description. Very soon, they will add other resume databases (monster, ATS, et al) to allow you to mingle those into the sort as well.
This early stage product is working very well now. Check it out at http://www.talentspring.com/ Free to sign up, free to experiment, and if you want to use it in earnest, then you pay a monthly fee.
Am an investor and have been on the board of this company for about a year now. It has been an amazing story to watch unfold. The founder, Bryan Starbuck, is one of the tech savviest and tenacious entrepreneurs I know. A great company to follow and a great product coming to the world of recruiting and hiring top talent.