I normally write from the perspective of teaching how business owners need to think about leveraging social media to drive branding, sales and ultimately revenue. I want to switch that up a little and tackle another aspect of social media usage: how businesses use, or maybe shouldn't use social media with respect to their employees and potential employees.
Social Media's Role in the Employment Process
It's been fairly common, and there have been a number of articles recently on employees being fired or suspended (including this one from Norton Healthcare) due to social media posting, but I am particularly thinking about social media as it applies to employment practices. What prompted the thought was a LinkedIn article I read on Title IX by Bill Wagner after hearing from a friend looking for work.
Title IX is a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 and most commonly referenced with regard to its role in providing equal opportunities for women athletes in high schools and colleges. It was originally written to prevent gender discrimination in and educational programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. While gender couldn't be used to discriminate in hiring practices, Bill mentioned in his article "It is generally accepted that a college education leads to a better paying career and more consistent employment." The thought being that without the education (The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not cover gender discrimination with respect to education) women simply would be less qualified and therefore not hired on that basis, not their gender. Title IX, whether you agree or not that it has been successful or even positive, has been a critical cog, just as Affirmative Action has been, in driving workforce equality.
So how does this apply to social media? Social media and modern technology have the ability to undermine the workforce equality created by Title IX, Affirmative Action and similar laws. Prior to the rise of social networking sites employers had limited access to your personal information. Employers are restricted from asking a number of questions on an application or an interview. At least in the initial decision-making process, the most they could gather would be gender (unless you had an androgynous name) and possible age based on school graduation dates. The initial selection process came down to your experience and credentials.
The interview phase would reveal more but the risk for a discrimination suit becomes more likely depending on the number of candidates in the interview pool. By then the right skill set might override a personal mindset anyway. If you fall in love with an idea and then find a few flaws, you're likely to overlook those flaws. See the flaws first and the idea dies immediately.
Social media and technology now provide employers the ability to see the flaws first. It should be common knowledge that what we post and how we respond affects our reputation. Many employers will admit to screening online profiles as part of an application process (and even after you've been hired). What they're typically looking for is activity that would impact their reputation or yours (assuming you weren't truthful on that resume). Most do a good job of keeping private details private - there have been plenty of lessons posted on what happens when you don't.
While checking out your Facebook profile may not seem discriminatory in the employment process, what you have posted, especially with respect to Instagram, now the second place major social network, where all images are public by default, can be used to discriminate. These posts and images reveal far more than just our gender. They can help better pinpoint our age (especially for those of us getting older), our ethnicity, our sexual preferences, whether we have a family or are starting one, our religion, our financial status....all small pieces that can enter into a first impression and a hiring decision even before seeing our qualifications.
I'll add another thought to ponder. Video is a great way to stand out in a crowd of applicants. I have known individuals who submitted resumes online with links to a video on why they should be hired as well as YouTube videos tagging prospective employers. I think this is a great use of technology and social networking BUT....what if the employer requests, or in the case of a recent job announcement I saw, strongly recommend a video be sent to secure that interview?
While I fully believe the employer's motive was to find the best person (public presentation was part of the job description and what better tool to weed out those that couldn't present than a video) the underlying thought - a video reveals even more than the photograph. Now your dialect and several other factors are presented. That makes video applications more open to affect hiring decisions on a basis other than qualifications.
Does social media affect employment decisions and workforce equality? Maybe. Maybe not. But it's worth a discussion. What's your take?
Thanks again to Bill Wagner for the inspiration and collaboration.