They say that any publicity is good publicity – although there may be exceptions to the rule. Yesterday, small communications company Cellularsol went viral, with their "Meet the Staff" page spreading like wildfire through social networks, and eventually on Buzzfeed, where it was mocked heartily.
Why? Well – take a look for yourself. Even Guardian journalists weighed in with tweets about how this is #everydaysexism – and the unprecedented demand on the website's server (or the webmaster) meant that the site was taken down, and remains down.
It's clear, at least at a superficial level, that the company hires a very specific type of person. Young, female, attractive, and white. The smiles on the faces of senior management (all male) at the bottom of the page were clearly not intended to be as smug as some people are saying.
But you can hire who you like, can't you?
Now, you can hire who you like – up to a point. What Cellularsol have done is open themselves up to a raft of potential discrimination claims.
For instance, if you are not an attractive young female and you have recently been to an interview at Cellularsol, it's pretty likely you didn't get the job. That's just an assumption.
You may now be questioning whether the selection process was a fair one, and whether you have been discriminated against because you weren't a) young, b) female and c) attractive, or d) all of the above. You may now be wondering whether someone less skilled and less experienced than yourself has been selected on the basis of their looks.
If you are a) young, b) female and c) attractive – or all of the above – then equally, you may now be questioning (or you should already have been questioning) whether you got the job because of your skills or your looks. And that's not a fair question for someone to be asking themselves. There is every chance that every single one of these women is highly skilled and brilliant at their jobs – but now the question is being asked, and that's unfair on them.
The UK is a diverse place, and most workforces respect that diversity – Cellularsol's pattern is unnatural, and should already have raised questions. It's not just looks, it's colour – and generational competence.
How do you ensure a fair selection process?
It's not hard to ensure that candidates are selected on merit and ability, it simply involves defining the criteria required for each role, and matching the candidate against those criteria. But then, there's the un-tangible aspect of cultural fit. Will the candidate be able to fit into the team easily? Will the candidate 'get' the company culture?
Cellularsol might argue that they've hired everyone for cultural fit – but they'd have a hard time arguing that they've hired everyone on the basis of merit and ability. The odds of probability are stacked against them.
The key to a fair selection process is twofold – objectivity and careful documentation. Objectivity, in that you cannot have emotional or personal preferences for reasons beyond merit and ability, and careful documentation – in that you cannot leave yourself open to claims of discrimination after you have made your selection.
Some may argue that a diverse workforce isn't a good thing. But they come across as UKIP voters. Diversity brings different opinions, different experiences, different approaches to different situations. Diversity brings a little spice to life – and reflects modern British society. Diversity equally reflects better on your company – as Cellularsol have found out, not in a good way.
What can Cellularsol do, then?
First of all, now they've gone viral, they should brace themselves for a few discrimination claims – some opportunist, potentially, but some may be valid. They have to ensure that their recruitment process has been objective and well documented, and if not – well, they're in a spot of bother.
They may well have grounds to defend themselves. They may claim that women are better at customer service, but how many men did they turn down at interview or CV stage to make this decision? They may claim that their salary bands simply attract younger people, and they may claim that there are very few coloured candidates applying for roles at Cellularsol.
Above all, though, they should ensure that their workforce doesn't feel as if they have been positively discriminated. The first thing they need to do – right now – is sit down with every employee and ensure them that – despite their good looks – they were indeed hired on merit and ability.