Job ads for women: A cynic’s alternative

We all know job ads are like real estate ads: you have to master the skill to read between the jubilant lines. At best, job ads paint just a slightly rosy picture of an organization and the advertised role. At worst, the current job holders don’t recognize their daily reality at all in the job ad.

For women this is even more true. After a while we learn that the reality in many organizations is not only different from the job ad, it is also different from what our male colleagues experience.

To demonstrate, here are some cynical (but more realistic) alternatives for job ads aimed at female candidates.

Okay, there are many organizations where not all of the above apply. Still, in almost every organization a few of these are happening every day.

Let’s have a good laugh about this exaggerated job ad – then get to work to identify what still is true in our daily environment, and work together towards a truly equal workplace.

Choose your HR person wisely

I love being in HR. For me, it is the sweetest spot in an organization. Okay, sometimes I am a tiny bit cynical about all we encounter on a daily basis, but still, I wouldn’t want to be in any other profession. Every day you work with people: the most intriguing, the most varied, the most flexible and the most important resources an organization has.

You might say: I don’t feel like the most valued resource when I talk to my HR person. I realize many people have mixed experiences with HR. But I’d like you to think of HR as the person(s) in the best position to help you move on in your career. Yes, also when you didn’t get that promotion, or that training you desired.

A good HR person broadens your view of the world. For example when you feel misunderstood, by your boss, or by headquarters, or by your subordinates. HR can share with you a holistic view of how other people see you. There’s an enormous value in hearing that kind of feedback. Don’t be afraid of it, don’t see it as criticism. Often your HR person is the messenger, who summarizes the broad base of information she has access to. By clarifying how others perceive you, you can see the causality of your intentions, your behavior, and the effect it ultimately has on your surroundings. This can help you improve, and achieve the impact you want to have on others.

A good HR person feels the responsibility for co-creating the foundation of a good environment for all employees. They hope to see someone developing greatly after finding them a suitable training. Or to witness a troublesome team turning into a tightknit focused team after a good intervention.

If you happen to be in the position to be able to choose an HR person, you want someone who helps you with all HR issues that come up. That involves a lot of routine tasks, for which knowledge and experience is important. But to choose the right person, that’s not enough. In fact, there is just one thing you really need to know. What is their motivation? You know you have the right person when you see they are genuinely interested in people, and feel rewarded in seeing other people develop.

Some choose HR for other reasons: they thought it would get them the quickest career; their girlfriend, brother or parent was in HR as well and it seemed an okay job; or they tried other areas of business for a while and now want an “easy” job. I’ve heard all of these for real. Usually from HR people that weren’t successful, and that had very little credit in their organization. This group isn’t genuinely interested in people. They won’t deliver the same results as the people who see HR as a calling.

So next time you recruit for HR, make sure you find out whether they are really interested in people. If not, they won’t give you the added value that HR can be.

To audit or not to audit

For weeks we had prepared frantically. We were incredibly eager to ensure making a great impression. We worked hard to bring everything to near-perfection. Our pride, being convinced we were generally doing a good job, was mixed with apprehension, out of fear to fail the test. On D-Day, we were all dressed up, groomed, assembled in the boardroom early. Amused, I noticed three out of seven colleagues had a fresh haircut. Admittedly, I had also taken extra care to look my best. We were all nervous, but ready to face scrutiny. This was an extremely important audit for us, carried out by people close to the highest person in charge, who was about to make an important decision for the future of our location.

At 9 am the auditors casually walked in, joking among each other, giddy about getting out of their normal meeting room environment. They reminded me of a school class on a field trip. The contrast with our seriousness and apprehensive tension couldn’t have been bigger.

It went well, very well. We had answers to all their questions. Sometimes we even surprised them by giving interesting additional information they hadn’t thought to ask. We backed each other up, had a cooperative interaction, and laughed together; coming across as a well-oiled team. At the end of the day, the auditors praised us, within a week followed by a very nice, positive report submitted to the CEO.

I agreed with the outcome. We had been working hard for years to make important improvements. We did work fairly well together as a team. And our polished presentation was based on solid facts and results. Without doubt, we deserved that positive report.

Still, the process emphasized to me that audits can have random outcomes. The actual performance is often less important than the perception people manage to create. I’ve experienced cases where a smooth presentation hid structural flaws, and an undeserved positive audit report was given. But also cases where good people in a good organization came across as underperforming, because they rather spent time on their actual work instead of taking weeks to prep for a group of visitors happy to have their semi-annual trip abroad. The resulting critical audit report can unfairly damage the reputation of that particular part of the organization for years.

Audits seldom give a fully realistic picture. Nonetheless, they seem immensely popular. In addition to mandatory external audits, many organizations carry out internal audits. Sometimes these are more or less mandatory as well, because external bodies (like the government, trade or industry associations) request internal checks. Other internal audit structures aim to ensure the organization follows its own rules, or whether existing situations are still in line with changed requirements. In itself, audits can be useful for certain purposes. However, as with most organizational concepts, the devil is in the execution details.

I am convinced many audits do not give an answer to the question. Sometimes because an audit wasn’t the right tool, sometimes because an audit is not carried out well. When considering an audit (structure), first ask the following questions:

  1. Why an audit? What is the purpose, what does the organization want to achieve? Is an audit really the best way?
  2. What is the desired result an audit (structure) should provide? Do you want to have a general overview? Or do you want to deep dive in one or more area’s?
  3. What is the time and effort justified? How long should the audit take? A few hours, days or even weeks? How much do you want people to prepare? Not just the auditors, but also the people who are audited. Estimate the time needed for everyone involved. Is the cost really worth it?
  4. Who are the best people to do the audit? For example, in case you need subject matter experts, make sure you rotate them from their normal jobs, or appoint them for a maximum of three years. After being out of their field for more than a few years, they are not subject matter experts anymore. Or maybe you need peers to audit their colleagues? If so, how do you ensure they aren’t too mild (“they will audit us in a few months from now, so let’s be reasonable”), nor too harsh (for they will experience backlash from their own colleagues). Or do you want a permanent internal audit organization? If so, where should it reside in the organizational chart? How do you embed an audit structure politically in the organization? For example to minimize the political power fights that will inevitably happen?
  5. What is the best form of this particular audit? You can only audit what you see or hear. For example, if you don’t do 1-on-1 interviews, you will never know what individual people think (because in a group they will adjust their answer). If you want to know how certain managers are doing, ask several people around them (their bosses, subordinates, peers). Equally important, don’t only rely on results and numbers, as they can be skewed and won’t show the real underlying issues.
  6. What should the status of the internal audit structure be? Can they give a final verdict, or do they have an advisory role? Do the auditees have to agree with the report? Or can they attach their response to it? Or is the report completely independent of the auditees opinion?

These are the most important questions to answer before carrying out an audit. If one or more of the above items can’t be addressed properly, there’s a high chance an audit won’t give the desired outcome. In that case, ditch the idea of an audit and find another way to achieve the purpose the audit was meant for.