Diversity Issues in Assessment Centres and The Human Factor Project in Nuclear Facilities

Yes long time no post, but I was busy with finishing my Master’s thesis and looking for an internship. Both a success because my thesis has been approved by the Graduate Studies Office of the University of Waterloo (if anyone cares, a copy can be found here: http://hdl.handle.net/10012/6016), and I’m now an intern at the Talent Development Service of GDF SUEZ in Paris, France!

I’ll do a “What I’ve learned from my internship” post at the end of my internship in October, but I learned 2 things today that is quite relevant to the IO field that I thought I really should post.

1) Diversity Issues in Assessment Centres

GDF SUEZ is a large, multinational company and hires external consultants for assessment centres (AC). Although my team mainly focuses on developing the talent after they have already been identified as such, my bosses still attend the AC sometimes or at least meet the candidates beforehand. The interesting practice GDF SUEZ does is that they give AC to different groups based on nationalities. For example, Northern Europeans (mainly Scandinavians or Dutch, etc.) would all be in one AC session while an American would only have interviews because if they put the American in the Northern European group and they have to do the AC in English, there is unfair advantage for the American person. So on the one hand, I think it makes sense with the language issue (the Northern Europeans also get to do the AC in French I believe) but the weird thing is, if the American person does pass the test and starts working for the Group, he/she will be working in a culturally diverse (but mainly French) company, so his/her experience with only English interviews do not reflect the real work environment, whereas the Northern Europeans would’ve had been tested in a situation that has higher fidelity to the real working environment. So there could still be an issue of fairness there. For example, if the Northern European in the group AC did poorly, could they argue that they were not given a fair opportunity because an American got “private” treatment for the selection process?

Side funny European cultural thing: if there is one French person in the Northern European AC, the Northern European complains because the French person (from the “South”) would talk too much. LOL.

The weirder/even funnier thing is regarding gender diversity. They try to set up 50% males and females in the group AC. However, there was a particular incident that 2 of the males did not show up. Turns out one male complained that he couldn’t perform well because there were too many females! Now that is a first (for me). My reaction when I heard this was, “Wow, so we know who’s not making it far in [the working] life.” Reality is that there are some industries or departments or teams with more or less males/females and one would just have to adapt to that. But on the other hand, if a female were to complain that there were too many males and she can’t perform well, perhaps that would be viewed differently, for example, “Yes, she has a point, we need to be fair to the woman.” So perhaps this is my own personal bias and that males have the right to complain that way, but it’s still strange to use that as an excuse for one’s poor performance in an AC.

2) The Human Factor Project in Nuclear Facilities

One of my bosses got sent a video that she couldn’t view and because I’m more tech savvy (it’s funny because I’ve helped 2 people with “how to watch a video that was sent to me” already!) I figured out how to watch it (I’m actually surprised at how quick I can solve these problems, too, because I’ve never encountered watching a video through a security-enabled ftp site before). Anyway, the video was about safety at a nuclear power plant in Russia. The video started with “errare humanum est” (“to err is human”) and they talk about how people make mistakes, but with a culture of punishment from management, employees would hide their mistakes and it could lead to disastrous consequences, especially in a nuclear power plant. So this particular plant started implementing a Human Factors Project (originating in Belgium) where they want to change the culture of the organization so that employees would report their mistakes and there would be an investigation board to help prevent the problem in the future and not punish or blame the individual who made mistakes. The point was that progress could not be made if people keep hiding mistakes. Someone in the video was saying that this was a difficult shift for the mindset of some Russians because it’s a culture with high authority and employees are used to being “scared” of management. They had to work to get the employees to trust the management so that the would actually report the mistakes…a “progressive change of mentality.”

They even had psychologists on the team (yay, representing!) and this one lady talked about how when someone makes a mistake, they tend to blame the machine because they feel guilt and shame. So they had to find ways to work around that to, again, build trust and, although they didn’t use these words (I’m sure this is the same point), psychological safety.

The concept of “transparency” also came up in the video and although I don’t study that at all, I’ve heard of it more now because GDF SUEZ’s policy is also one of transparency. So to me, I thought that was the norm for companies, but apparently being “transparent” is an “innovative” thing that companies that want to be leaders are trying to do and promote. My response, “Well, duh.”

So many things I’m learning here, I’m so glad I got this internship! πŸ™‚



Filed under Culture, Diversity, I/O Psychology

4 responses to “Diversity Issues in Assessment Centres and The Human Factor Project in Nuclear Facilities

  1. Terry Minken

    Great post. Do note there’s only one “t” in “facilities”.

    – Terry L. Minken

  2. Poor Russians dropping vulgar, humiliating Latin into their videos. They should elucidate upon failed ventures in glorious Cyrillic text; glory and honour bestowed upon the Politburo and the like.

    It’d be difficult to bridge disparate cultures into a singularly cohesive unit. Applause are an order for the process in which you’re arriving at that conclusion.

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