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Hidden in Plain Sight

In recent months a number of readings and discussions have centered around skills-based hiring. We have had frequent, and valid, reminders that people are not a bag of skills. Until recently I found it difficult to verbalize why this was not an accurate reflection regarding my position on skills assessment. The HBR article How Businesses Can Find Hidden Workers helped crystallize my questions surrounding the relationship between employment talent and identity:

Should conversations around skills be untangled from conversations around Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, & Belonging? If so, how? If not, how do we mitigate bias while acknowledging the ways in which a lived experience impacts access and perceptions of employment viability at every level?

The broad categories of hidden workers identified in the article by Fuller, et al are mostly (5 of 6) protected classes under federal employment law and all are covered under many state and city human rights laws. It feels reductive to celebrate and pursue these populations as “hidden” when they are been asking for opportunities all along. Why only when an organization is scaling in a competitive market that the undesirable become desirable.

Early in our Master's program I conceptualized a gap assessment and career mapping software that utilized A/B testing to evaluate employee's preferred work methods and modalities (Appendix A). Frequently an employee’s preferred way of working reflects an area in which they are highly skilled and/or face fewer barriers.


Hidden Identity: Neurodivergent

Modality: I prefer a phone call over an email

Skill Assessment (negative) : I have difficulty typing or reading.

Skill Assessment (positive): I am a good extemporaneous speaker.

This information could be mapped to key KSAs in job descriptions to support learning & development plans and internal movement. More so, it would reframe identity-based preferences or limitations by shifting assessment from “can’t” to “can” to aid in bias mitigation and give the employee agency in when, how, and what they should share with an employer.

I am not clear whether to embrace or fight my natural inclinations to think within a sociopolitical context. What is the scope of the businesses’ responsibility to recognize nontraditional talents but also to dismantle the systemic barriers that have led them to be considered nontraditional? Is the 70-20-10 rule post-hire sufficient or should education outreach and pipelining be part of long-term strategic planning?

I anchor a lot of my work discussions in a quote from Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas’s 2020 HBR article Getting Serious About Diversity: Enough Already with the Business Case, "Why should anyone need an economic rationale for affirming the agency and dignity of any group of human beings?". A cynicism within me questions if conversations about nontraditional hires are codification, a repackaging of IDBE workforce strategy in a way that is palatable to otherwise unreceptive senior leaders.

Diversity is an outcome, not a task, but what objectives are driving that outcome? The very first step of workforce planning is to set a strategic direction . That direction requires intentionality; fiscal benefit without commitment to organizational culture will not create employee sustainability. This may be feasible or even desirable for organizations with high churn or short contracts, but it will certainly be a liability for an org that values stability and retention.

It is possible that that the above reflections are of the process; that learning lies in being able to conduct an analysis within the framework of an organization’s cultural and business needs.

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