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Do Employers give Passes to those wearing Glasses?

A recent article in the Financial Times has provoked me to start the debate as to whether wearing glasses is a hindrance or a help? Recent research shows that candidates stand a better chance of getting the job if they wear glasses…

As a glasses (and contact lenses) wearer myself, this is an issue that holds close to my heart. When I have worn my lenses to an interview has it meant that I have been missing out on jobs and opportunities for vanity’s sake? Would I have a higher level of success if I put my specs on? As far back as I can think, I have conscientiously woken up an hour earlier than necessary for interviews so that by the time the interview approaches my eyes are awake enough for me to put my contact lenses in. Not having glasses on is an immediate confidence booster and I have always felt an employer will take note of who wears glasses and who doesn’t. Now that I sit on the other side of the table I know that’s not the case!

When interviewed by the FT, Graeme Read, MD of an International Firm and a Global Executive Recruiter argued that he believes the theory has been ‘pushed by a bunch of opticians’ and that glasses or no glasses, asking intelligent questions is far more important to the average interviewer. He states that although appearances are important, actions and words speak louder. Similarly, Maggie Berry, MD of Women in Technology, a Specialist IT Recruitment firm questions whether it is a confidence booster? Wearing glasses is stereotypically associated with ‘nerds and geeks’ and clearly the image still persists! However, they don’t make you smart and they don’t change your answers.

Upon pondering the issue I have come to the conclusion that the glasses debate could arise from a number of avenues. The recent celebrity trend of wearing false glasses has sparked a craze amongst the population and an increase in sales of plain glass frames. Perhaps given this trend it has merely become more acceptable to wear a pair or spectacles? Alternatively, it could be argued that people who wear glasses look more intelligent and professional as it insinuates they have spent a lot of time reading books and studying. (A recent College of Optometrists Study has revealed that 40% of people with perfect vision would wear glasses if it would help them get a job)

The recruiter in me argues that wearing glasses doesn’t make a blind sight of difference (pardon the pun) and that preparation and personal presentation hold more weight at interview, but the glasses wearer in me can’t help but wonder whether employers subconsciously take note of spectacles, for the good or the bad!

BLT goes back to school…again

It’s not all work and no play at BLT – last week I escaped the heady heights of management consultancy to spend a day at a school in Tower Hamlets. A group of individuals from a range of businesses spend a day at an inner city school, conducting mock interviews on a one to one basis with 15 and 16 year olds.

It’s a sobering yet very rewarding experience – within walking distance of the wealth of Canary Wharf lies a very disadvantaged community. The school seemed to be a challenge in crowd control as much as anything else with teachers communicating via walkie talkies, cctv in operation, and security guards on site. The school was well equipped with a vast array of PCs in the IT room and some fantastic sports halls – but at lunchtime no one was using them …where were the lunchtime clubs I asked myself?….no teachers volunteering to run them I concluded..

The children were a mixed bunch – some were obviously struggling academically, yet still thinking about university ….why? University isn’t the right place for you if you’re struggling with GCSEs, never mind A Levels. Yet, in amongst it all, there were some good ones, and so satisfying when you see someone good who you feel with a little bit of guidance and support could aim for a better future.

Call it what you like – doing your bit for the Big Society, CSR ….I’d highly recommend it …you might just find you get as much out of it as your audience!

PwC to increase the numbers of women coming through to partnership …

As part of a wider diversity strategy, PwC in the UK is encouraging a new ‘comply or explain’ approach to the promotion of women to senior ranks in the firm.
The approach is being planned after detailed analysis examined the promotion flow of women and men in the organisation. 15% of PwC’s partners are female in the UK, and around 50% of employees overall. Leaders in the firm’s major divisions are asked to proactively consider women in their promotion rounds, or explain what the blocker to progress is, so that it can be addressed. Emphasis will fall initially on achieving proportionate promotion rates at manager and senior manager levels in the firm, to build a long term pipeline of senior female candidates for leadership levels.
In 2009 PwC was awarded the Opportunity Now innovation award for the firm’s Advisory Women’s Leadership programme, designed to build the pipeline of female partners for the firm’s Advisory division. It radically improved the leadership pipeline for the division, and was rolled out across the firm in the UK last year. Using an actuarial model to monitor and analyse women’s progression through the ranks in the firm over six years, it resulted in the creation of a programme specifically identifying and addressing the barriers to women’s progression, providing female staff with targeted development, building mentoring relationships between senior executives and female staff, and providing bias awareness training.

I’ve written previously about how I disagree with quotas and the approach above would seem to be more sensible. What is the impact of this in practical terms for PwC in the UK? The figures would suggest a successful programme – in 2007/8, 20% of partner admissions were women; in 2008/9, 25% of partner admissions were women; …….this compares with no internal female partner admissions prior to the programme.

Can you put a price on education?

The subject of education is one that lies close to people’s hearts. Whether it be that people themselves are within education or their child is making decisions regarding their future, it’s a hot and sensitive topic.

Today, there is much talk about ‘the value of education’. Given the imminent rise in university tuition fees, the price of a degree is set to hit £25,000, (and that’s before even the cost of living is taken into consideration) which leads many to ask whether a university degree is still worth it. The recent riots we’ve seen across London have shown us just how much of a priority an affordable education is. But it also leads us to ask whether there is an equally valuable, cost friendly alternative. Do candidates with professional qualifications and diplomas rank as highly as those with a university degree when it comes to employability? And how much does hands-on experience count for when it’s pitched against an education?

Undoubtedly, top firms still look for degree-educated candidates and generally, won’t consider individuals who haven’t attended a ‘top’ university. But what is a ‘top’ university? We all know that Oxford and Cambridge will stand you in good stead and there are a handful of other names that spring to mind when we think of good universities – namely the Russell Group universities. But what about the others?

Are some candidates getting overlooked because they don’t have specific university names on their CVs? It’s not as simple as to say ‘we’ll only take people from a top 20 university.’ One doesn’t immediately think of Bournemouth as a great university, yet it’s the number 3 university for Engineering, according to the Guardian Subject University Guide (2011). Likewise, Buckingham and Reading come up at the top for Business & Management studies whilst Essex is in the top 5 for Philosophy.

Clearly then there is a dichotomy between name and subject which leads us to wonder how large an impact this has. Would a candidate from a more reputable university be placed ahead of one who has studied the same course at a lower tier establishment, even if their grades were the same? Similarly, an issue arises when we look at the subject studied at university. How would a traditional degree qualification such as Law or Business Studies fair against a more practical qualification? And would it matter which university the degree was from?

As an academic, it is easy to argue that education is a must and that a strong degree qualification will be of interest to anyone. It provides you with transferrable skills as well as a logical approach to issues, no matter what you have read. However, as a Recruitment Consultant, it is arguable that experience is a must and those who start early and work their way up have far more commercial experience and business acumen than those who have theoretical knowledge.

Amol Rajan recently wrote in the Independent that “Far too many young people are wasting precious years in a university system taken hostage by the cult of egalitarianism” and I think to some this may hold true. Do the costs of education balance out the benefits in later years or is the price of learning too high?

Women on the Board

The European Commission is drawing up proposals which will require all publicly listed companies to have at least 40% of their Board comprised of women. Given that only 12.5% of Board positions in FTSE 100 companies are currently occupied by women, this would obviously cause a huge upheaval in many boardrooms. Apparently, the intention is for a voluntary code to be launched in April, with the threat that this will become compulsory if companies fail to sign up by the end of this year.

Is this a good idea? There is no doubt the UK lags behind many other countries in terms of our representation of women on the Board – 12% in the UK compared to 32% in Norway, 27% in Sweden and 15% in France. However, I’m not sure a quota is the solution. For a whole host of reasons, women in Board positions is a good move – but we should be there on merit, not as the result of a quota. The responsibility of a Board level position is too great to be handed out to someone to “make up the numbers” and undermines the achievements of women who’ve made it to the top on their own merits.

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