Holding court: Leveling the hiring playing field

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In my day, I have done a lot of freelance work in the fuzzy areas of human resources, recruiting, resume/CV editing and coaching. That’s involved a lot of digging into a whole host of things that are related but not central to hiring and candidate marketability. For example, employment law, discrimination and similar topics. This has tangentially led me to a lot of material about gender inequality.

Just today I stumbled onto an article about a job ad that was so ridiculous that it has gone global in its blatant sexism. It encourages women in particular to apply for the content writing/SEO management job because the incumbent will be required to fill in for the receptionist. There’s nothing wrong, as the article points out, with wanting to bring more women into the tech sphere (as most of the job duties described would do) – but the receptionist part is… well, insulting to everyone. (Discouraging, subtly or not, women from going into tech and scientific fields is not a unique phenomenon by any meansinspiring whole white papers on the subject. But it’s far from isolated to technology disciplines. It’s everywhere.)

Much has been made in recent years about the potential benefit to job candidates of “blind applications” in which only qualifications (stripped of any mention of gender, name or other identifying detail) are presented without the applicant’s name. (This is also true in a lot of cases for any group of people – studies have been done to find out whether “name blind” applications will reduce or eliminate racial/cultural discrimination). Anonymized applications, according to IZA World of Labor, will help level the playing field but cannot eliminate all forms of discrimination (what can? There are theories on this, too, such as implementing skills-based, gamified recruiting, competitions, etc. that can also strip away bias). It’s impossible to completely eliminate discrimination when, for example, the discrimination can just be moved to a later point in the hiring process or when contextual information that remains in an application can influence bias (e.g. graduation years/dates, for example. Age discrimination, too, is real).

When I wrote that discrimination is everywhere, and is rampant in technology, check out this article from Slate about the Nancy Lieberman. If you look only at the qualifications for a potential new NBA head coach, she is head and shoulders (forgive the lameness of using that term in relation to basketball) above the others in the list, particularly if you’ve removed all mention of timeframes, gender, etc. She is experienced and decorated. I imagine there are naysayers who won’t accept comparing “women’s sports” and “men’s sports” like for like, but that’s easily negated when you consider that many head coaches have never played professionally in ANY league.

“And while this shouldn’t need saying, it unfortunately does: There would be so many reasons beyond gender to pick Lieberman. She has been committed to the game of basketball for decades. Her passion for the game and ability to convey its nuances are a gift. Lieberman has probably forgotten more about basketball than some coaches will ever know. The award that is bestowed upon the nation’s top women’s collegiate point guard annually has her name on it.

The above blind résumés offer an objective look at why it is time for more women to get opportunities in all of professional sports—they belong there and would have a chance to help teams. The myth that an NBA head co ach had to actually have played in the NBA—one of the last arguments of opponents of female NBA coaches—has long ago been dispelled. Four of the above NBA assistant coaches never played in the NBA, and all are qualified to some degree or another for a head coaching job. Almost half of the current 30 head coaches in the NBA never played in a single game in the league. Two of those coaches—Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra—have won a combined seven NBA championships.

In today’s professional climate it has generally become accepted that an applicant for an open position will be judged on merit, experience, and ability to complete a job without facing discrimination based on race, gender, religious beliefs, or inclusion in any other protected class.”

 

Farewell – ПРОЩАНИЕ

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Goodbye
Bella Akhmadulina
And in conclusion I’ll say –
Goodbye. Don’t commit yourself to love.
I’m breaking down. Or going up
to a high degree of madness.

How did you love? – you tasted
disasters. That’s not the question.
How did you love? – you ruined,
but you ruined so clumsily.

The cruelty of a mistake, oh, for
you there’s no forgiveness. My body’s alive
and wanders, sees the world,
but everything’s gone out of me.

My head still manages a little work.
But my hands fall slack,
and in a flock, obliquely,
my senses leave me.

Original

ПРОЩАНИЕ
-Bella Akhmadulina
А напоследок я скажу:
прощай, любить не обязуйся.
С ума схожу. Иль восхожу
к высокой степени безумства.
Как ты любил? Ты пригубил
погибели. Не в этом дело.
Как ты любил? Ты погубил,
но погубил так неумело.
Жестокость промаха … О, нет
тебе прощенья. Живо тело,
и бродит, видит белый свет,
но тело мое опустело.
Работу малую висок
eще вершит. Но пали руки.
И стайкою, наискосок,
уходят запахи и звуки.

Up in smoke: Lessons from Tinder

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I am not in the market for a relationship or a hookup or anything else. I’ve been burned, twisted, chilled and disturbed by the grind and the hell of relationships – or rather by the ruptured “trust” experienced with the people in my life, particularly in the last few years, and feel more than ever that the only important relationship is the one I have with myself. I realized as this year winds to its close that I have actually neglected the real relationship with myself and have focused on all the wrong things, distracting things, because I did not want to face various things. And it’s time for that to stop.

That said, comfortably ensconced in this insular, individual cocoon, I had become curious about different dating platforms after reading a lot of articles about the on-demand nature of dating apps like Tinder and sites like OkCupid, so I decided to do a limited-run test of some of my suppositions.

Nothing scientific or controlled about my trial. I have no controls for geography or generation (I’m old, and assume most people who match with me are also older or have ulterior motives – but that’s my hangup, which is also something I cannot account for in this uncontrolled trial) … really for anything. I only wanted to test whether Tinder especially was an instant hookup tool. As in, someone messages you and immediately tries to hook up and/or gives you very little information about him/herself. From everything I had read, and this may only apply to the target youth/millennial demographic, it is like an online smorgasbord of impersonal and reactive potential hookups that shift quickly into meeting and hooking up and then… who knows? (I have read other articles that indicate that it is not being used only or primarily for semi-anonymous hookups… but I guess it does not matter where reality is.) My curiosity drove me to check it out for myself.

A few weeks ago, then, I set up a profile, had a few very brief exchanges with people in the UK, Sweden, Norway and a few others in Europe. Most led nowhere, but also did not lead to any kind of lurid discussion or casual suggestions. I got a lot of info about people’s ugly divorces, concert-going plans, music tastes, career aspirations and business, people’s children and just normal person stuff. I have gotten to know one person outside of the app, which has been really surprising and cool, but unexpected and probably anomalous. I met no one in reality/in-person and had no desire to do so, other than the one, anomalous case (and deleted the profile recently when I went to the US and started getting all these “super like” notifications out of nowhere once my geography had changed).

The funny thing is, though, that I was hanging around with my brother, and he explained “how men use Tinder” and promptly swiped “right” on every single girl that popped up and explained the odds game and how he can always disconnect with someone if he does not like them after they’ve matched with him. So yeah in that sense, which I naively had not even considered, it can be a cynical numbers game. I found that I was the opposite. I swiped “left” on almost every single person I saw (again, this might be motivated by the fact that I had no desire to meet anyone). To me, the “accept everyone and go from there” approach seems ludicrous (especially since I am a wee bit of an antisocial hermit and workaholic who doesn’t have the time for this kind of time-wasting nonsense), but I can see how it could work in at least someone’s favor.

My curiosity is satisfied, even if I did not learn anything valuable. “Love is a bourgeois construct.”

Online shopping, reality and speed – what is important in the customer experience?

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E-commerce opportunities have revolutionized modern life. We don’t have to go anywhere or actively search for anything, going from store to store seeking out the one needed, elusive item. And rarities? Forget it. You can find it online with a little bit of attentive searching. The time-consuming hunt, the trying to find something out-of-print or a song with just a lyric like we did in the old days – it’s nothing now. And maybe we lose that sense of accomplishment and the appreciation of having something simply because of the work we had to do to get it. (The same principles were at work in my early refusal to get email – I wanted my paper-and-pen penfriend world to remain the same… rare, personal and full of anticipation.)

And while online shopping has certainly made my life richer (as stupid as that sounds), I recognize that the in-person, “instant gratification” retail shopping experience also is not going away. People want to feel, see, taste, touch, hear everything and experience something tactile, particularly in trying on clothes and the like, but at the same time, online shopping means you’re no longer limited to what you can find in a local shop or the mall or something. And that’s why I love it – I hate shopping in person.

How are some of the biggest e-commerce giants tapping into massive troves of data on shoppers’ habits and preferences to tailor and curate in-store shopping experiences and in turn, at the same time, drive shoppers back to the e-commerce platform?

Amazon.com’s new flagship store experiment is a case study in doing exactly this. When I read the Vox article about this store I was as perplexed as the writer initially had been. Why would the entity that pretty much singlehandedly made e-commerce a thing move back to brick-and-mortar? I never in a million years imagined that I would see this dubious store for myself, and yet the very same day as I read the article, I ended up at University Village in Seattle and went in the store. Nothing impressive, nothing that would make me want to go back. And I don’t need in-person employees to offer to help me, only to tell me, “Well, you can buy that online… on Amazon.” DUH! It seems like a really expensive experience to create that can only benefit a limited number of people, if it really “benefits” anyone at all.

I recently watched Aziz Ansari’s Netflix sitcom Master of None, and he lamented the horror of going online to try to replace a beloved pair of shoes only to find that they were out of stock – so he had to (insert exasperated tone here) actually go out to find and buy them in person. “Who has time for that?”

Precisely.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Master of None

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Where can you hear Townes van Zandt, Bobby McFerrin, Lou Reed, “Cool It Now” from New Edition, Father John Misty, a Chinese song “Yue yuan hua hao“, Bollywood “Jap Chaye” and about a thousand other eclectic, off-the-wall, past and present hits and obscurities? Including “Africa” by Toto, which seems to be the anthem of millennial bar-goers – they freaking go nuts over this song (on TV and in real). Hmm.

Aziz Ansari‘s ace Master of None on Netflix. I am not sure I have ever experienced such a diverse and rich soundtrack in any TV show. Who is responsible for this magic?

And maybe the only TV show I’ve watched in which they mention boba/bubble tea! Haha.

I could ramble about how the show is slightly genius in its random observations and is also really funny, sweet and pleasant. I’ve loved it, even down to the background music.

baubles, babble, bubbles and liquidation

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Another early-to-bed, who-knows-when-to-rise Friday sliding into Saturday. Finally watching the accumulated episodes of season 2 of Fargo. I’m liking it, but every season has its actor who needs more time and training with a dialect coach (this time it’s Jeffrey Donovan and Kirsten Dunst, who are both overdoing it, and last year it was Martin Freeman, at least the first few episodes. For him, there was a better excuse).

The day was full of work and phone calls and annoying things like the engine on my not-old-enough-to-give-out treadmill blowing out, which also tripped the breaker for the entire house. Disappointing, and worthy of complaint.

But there were nice things, even if they weren’t earth shattering. Chains of events that unfolded in a funny way… I saw a recipe that is basically a “nest” of julienned sweet potato hashbrowns into which you break eggs and let them cook, sent it to Mr Firewall (who is obsessed with sweet potatoes), and when he joked that he’d need a bigger pan (paraphrasing Chief Brody, of course) I realized I could use this unused Tesco voucher to get him a new pan. When I signed in on Tesco’s website, I found that I had even more vouchers than I thought. And then was able to double the value with some kind of voucher “boosts” and got 10 GBP off and ended up spending a total of 10 GBP for 60 GBP worth of merchandise).

Topping off the good stuff, I had good news that my intervention/assistance led to someone getting an unexpected job interview. If anything, that turned my day around. Just in time for bed.

Lunchtable TV Talk: You’re the Worst – Don’t Give Up

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Surprised by the first season of You’re the Worst, in which two unpleasant people – but still somehow, sometimes, likable in their vulnerability – fall in love, I looked forward to the second season. It began a few weeks ago, and at first, I was a bit disappointed. There were episodes that seemed to try too hard, in which things were neither funny nor thoughtful. The only thread that seemed to be woven, subtly, through the season was Gretchen’s increasingly irregular behavior. This is revealed to be a downward spiral into clinical depression, and this is where the story came together once again. Oddly, the seemingly disconnected nature of the story to the point that Gretchen’s behavior was explained all led somewhere – but so subtly.

The most recent week’s episode, in which Gretchen starts stalking a couple that looks perfect and idyllic to her from the outside, and insinuates herself into their life, only to discover that she’d bought into an illusion, was sublime. Gretchen is almost manic in her shift from elation at witnessing this couple and connecting with them (she seems to find a naive hope in what she perceives as their happiness) to being visibly crestfallen when the man in the couple (played by an always amazing Justin Kirk) starts confessing – spewing, even – his discontent. The look on Gretchen’s face, expressing this dawning and deepening disappointment, is bewitching in its reality and relatability. As Gretchen and Jimmy leave, Jimmy totally oblivious, rambling in his careless and carefree way, he does not even notice as Gretchen silently falls apart.

It was unbelievably touching in the sense that… well, I think we’ve all been there if we’ve ever found ourselves depressed on any level. And as much as I don’t like Gretchen most of the time, she made me feel for her.

Back to mixed basics: Chocolate chip peanut butter oatmeal cookies

Chocolate chip peanut butter oatmeal cookies
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I had some oats and some peanut butter I wanted to finish. Instead of making different cookies, I whipped them all together in one cookie – the chocolate chip peanut butter oatmeal cookie.

You can make some too.

Recipe
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup butter
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups chocolate chips
1 1/2 cup oats

Preheat the oven to 180C. Form dough into small balls and place on a baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes.

Latest bake recipes and feedback

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Although I provided links to the original source and inspiration for the recipes with which I experimented in my latest bake, I decided I ought to post the recipes including modifications as well as the feedback I received.

Pumpkin cupcakes with gingersnap crust, Rolo/Center candy center and spiced apple cider icing

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin

Package of gingersnaps or pepparkakor cookies

24 Rolo, Smil or Center chocolate caramel candies

Directions/cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line 24 muffin cups.
Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.
Beat 1/2 cup of butter and sugars. Add the eggs one at a time, allowing each egg to be fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the milk and pumpkin. Stir in the dry mixture, mixing until just incorporated.

Place a thin gingersnap or gingerbread (pepparkakor) in the bottom of a cupcake paper. Put cupcake batter over the top of the gingersnaps and fill to about two-thirds full. Press a Rolo into the center of the batter.

Bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

Spiced apple cider frosting
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Two or three packets spiced apple cider

Mix the egg white and the sugar over a double boiler. The sugar should be completely dissolved when you remove it from heat. Pour the mixture into a large bowl (preferably the mixing bowl of a stand mixer — Swiss meringue is mixing intensive, so a stand mixer works best). Whisk on high speed until stiff but still wet peaks form. Continue to beat for about five or six minutes after these peaks form.

Switch to the paddle attachment and turn the speed to medium low. Add the butter in one or two tablespoons/pieces at a time. The mixture might start to look lumpy and curdled. Don’t worry. Keep mixing. When things start to come together, beat in the flavoring (in this case, the apple cider powder) and keep beating for another two minutes. It might take some time to get to the right texture. You will know when it comes together in a solid, fluffy, frosting-like consistency.

Among the feedback on these – which were giant (I double the recipe and baked them in double-sized cupcake papers) – were statements like, “I have a new favorite. The pumpkin cupcakes are like a meal! And then a caramel surprise in the middle. I loved it!” And, “That pumpkin cake was amazing! The balance with the icing was perfect… and then a toffee middle! Was it ginger and cinnamon in the sponge or just cinnamon? Was it lemon in the icing? I loved it … definitely made my morning.”

(And to answer those questions… yes, ginger and cinnamon in the sponge along with cloves, nutmeg and allspice! That’s a LOAD of spices! And no, no lemon in the icing!)

About the “fauxstess” Hostess cupcakes

Chocolate cupcake
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, you can quickly make some by adding 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice for each cup of milk you’d like to “sour” – or use “súrmjólk” or “filmjölk”)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Beat sugar and vegetable oil until fluffy. Add eggs, beat well. Add vanilla. Mix. Sift all dry ingredients together and add in thirds alternately with the buttermilk.

Preheat oven to 175C.

Put batter into prepared cupcake papers, fill to about two-thirds full. Bake 20-24 minutes. Let cool in pan for five minutes and then remove to cooling racks. Let completely cool before filling.

Fauxstess vanilla filling
The original, suggested filing recipe was too heavy and thick for me to use but you can find it on the lovely Lemon Sugar blog site.

My filling recipe is the same as I use for Swiss meringue buttercream frosting
4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla bean powder, a teaspoon or so of liquid vanilla (to taste)

Mix the egg white and the sugar over a double boiler. The sugar should be completely dissolved when you remove it from heat. Pour the mixture into a large bowl (preferably the mixing bowl of a stand mixer — Swiss meringue is mixing intensive, so a stand mixer works best). Whisk on high speed until stiff but still wet peaks form. Continue to beat for about five or six minutes after these peaks form.

Switch to the paddle attachment and turn the speed to medium low. Add the butter in one or two tablespoons/pieces at a time. The mixture might start to look lumpy and curdled. Don’t worry. Keep mixing. When things start to come together, beat in the flavoring (in this case, the vanilla) and keep beating for another two minutes. It might take some time to get to the right texture. You will know when it comes together in a solid, fluffy, frosting-like consistency.

Add to a piping bag and use a piping/frosting tip that can be poked into the tops of the cupcakes to fill them. Gently squeeze piping bag to fill the cupcakes with filling, being careful not to let the cupcake explode. If using the original filling recipe, you are supposed to set aside a cup of the filling to make the white icing curlicue on top of the cupcakes, but because I did not do that I used some store-bought white-writing icing.

Chocolate ganache topping

5 ounces chocolate
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Over a double boiler filled with boiling water, heat cream in the top until steaming. Remove from heat and add chocolate, stir until smooth. Cool completely. When cool, dip the filled cupcakes into the ganache (or spread them with the ganache). Set in fridge at least 30 minutes to let harden/solidify.

Use the icing “pen” to make squiggles on top. Refrigerate the cupcakes so everything sets nicely.

People were truly bowled over by these, no matter how ugly they turned out. I mean, heck yeah, it’s chocolate. But they didn’t turn out looking like their namesake and processed “inspiration”, the Hostess cupcake. I guess they don’t have to look exactly the same to taste even better.

The most effusive feedback came from the only other American person (someone who actually knows the real Hostess cupcakes) to try these out. The exuberance and all-caps are hers (she emailed her feedback): “WHATEVER ON EARTH WAS IN YOUR CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES?!!?!?! IT WAS SO GODDAMN SPANKING GOOD! IT REMINDED ME OF THE JOY OF A DING DONG AS A CHILD – BUT THIS WAS BETTER! IT WAS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO LIGHT… I’m like….. in heaven… It was AMAZING! PERFECT! You have to make those again!!” When I responded with a thanks, she answered, “IT WAS TOTALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLY A HOSTESS!!! TOTALLY! TOTALLY! TOTALLY!! !%&”!%”#@!”

Lemon raspberry bars

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I don’t know what it is but every time I make any form of lemon bar, it always turns out differently. This time, I think the raspberry filling with not thick enough or something, but the bars in the middle of the pan did not firm up and ended up being a big, gooey mess in the middle of the pan, while the edges were perfect. Alas, some of this attempt at lemon raspberry bars could be salvaged.

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