WARNING: This post contains straight talk, simple facts and a ton of stuff that most people might consider “politically incorrect.” If you can’t handle the truth, please stop reading immediately.
Looking to be Loved: My Dixie Darlin’.
For all y’all had the pleasure of hearing my Southern come out after a night of too much wine (or beer, once in a while), it should come as no great shock that I have a personal connection with what could be considered one of the Deep South’s deepest traditions and most deeply entrenched institutions.
You see, I was – I am – a proud member of Phi Mu (#PhiMuForever), as much a rite of passage for Southern girls of countless generations as football games on Saturday or fraternity parties Saturday night. I wasn’t just any old Phi Mu, either – I was actually even an officer.
“…Being steadfast in every duty small or large.
Believing that our given word is binding.
Striving to esteem the inner man above culture, wealth or pedigree.
Being honorable, courteous, tender,
Thus being true to the womanhood of honor.” – The Phi Mu Creed
Womanhood of Honor.
Going away to school for the first time was the most nerve wracking experience I’d ever been through when I first left for school, and it was traumatic enough where it remains pretty high on my list (no easy feat). But even though it was frightening, it was also liberating, in a weird way.
I had lived my entire life in the insular, familiar, safe and completely boring world of my home and hometown, and now I was leaving for somewhere where I didn’t really know anyone, I didn’t really know my way around and I didn’t really know what the hell was going to happen – or what was possible.
It was the first time Bridget could figure out who Bridget really was, and leave behind that little girl and all the awkward moments or hurt feelings that little girl lived with when she lived at home.
Now, even though I wasn’t the most worldly or street smart new kid on campus, it didn’t take me long to figure out how college life really worked. A few days in, I had figured out that it had nothing to do with books or exams. A few weeks in, I figured out it had nothing to do with beer or parties, either. Nope.
College was all about exploring, experiencing and fully living your own life, on your own terms, and not being held back by the limitations that come with living in a small town where there’s not much to do but talk. It was a bubble I was all too eager to burst my way out of, and I binged on every moment of life on campus, having as many diverse experiences and making as many diverse friends as was humanly possible. It felt like the perfect existence.
Then, just as I was finding myself and discovering who Bridget was and was going to be, I found myself instead accepting a bid to join a predominantly white, blue blood sorority. Why would I join a sisterhood that was whiter than Miracle Whip, Macklemore or Mitt Romney when I was looking for diversity? That’s a complex question with a deceptively simple answer:
I fit in.
I didn’t fit in just because my new sisters and I shared the same color of skin. It wasn’t because we were all raised in the same sort of small towns throughout Alabama, or because almost all of us looked alike (including 5 redheads in my rush class alone) or talked alike, I swear – bless your heart, it wasn’t none of them things that made me decide I’d take that bid and become part of the Phi Mu sisterhood. It was because I identified with the bright, witty, strong women in the house who were not only outstanding students, but knew how to have a little fun while getting their education, too.
Diversity Isn’t About Race.
I know I’m Southern. I know I’m white. And I know that makes me the type of person who shouldn’t question diversity, because I’m part of the problem, not the solution. I get that. But what I don’t get is that, in both employment law and employment branding, race largely sets the stage for the larger diversity discussion.
As a result, when we see a workforce that’s predominately of a single ethnicity, we assume that company is not diverse; similarly, we look no deeper than the surface to judge the employer with the United Colors of Benetton branding as progressive and inclusive.
I’ve always felt that this misses the entire point, and might be one of the most limiting, most idiotic ways conceivable to define diversity, much less actually build a truly diverse workforce. Just because everyone looks the same doesn’t mean they think the same, and diversity, I think, is an intellectual issue, not a human capital one.
You see, my sorority sisters might have looked like we were the White House, the rich girls, the party girls, the ones who never had to worry about money or getting into trouble you couldn’t flirt your way out of. But looks can be deceiving. Because while we might have looked like the Stepford Wife sorority on the surface, if you just went even a little bit deeper, you’d see that collectively, we were so much more than we looked. Those superficial similarities, in fact, hid shockingly drastic differences when it came what truly defined us.
We weren’t dumb sorority girls. We majored in chemistry, math and finance. We studied to become teachers, nurses and lawyers. We had 30 or so different majors in our house, and we all worked our assses off for our grades – and were proud of having that work pay off. No matter if you majored in the liberal arts or the hard sciences, or whether you studied social work or sociology, everyone in the sorority was expected to excel at school, and we did.
We not only studied different subjects, but our worldviews were shaped by an equally broad range of backgrounds, mindsets and experiences. We were Christian, Jewish,Buddhist, you name the religion, we probably had at least one member – not to mention the substantial amount of those of us who were simply spiritual, agnostic or even outright atheists. Like most sorority girls, we were crazy about boys, but we also had a few members who were bisexual, homosexual, asexual, everything above and sometimes in between. None of that stuff really mattered to any of us.
Neither did the fact that despite appearances, we came from backgrounds ranging from dirt poor to dirty rich, from blue bloods to FOBs. Our political views ranged from militant leftist to staunchly conservative, from Marxist-Leninist activists to ardently free market Milton Friedman fans.
Outside the classroom, we were gifted dancers, actors and artists, world class volleyball and tennis players and were all amazingly active in pretty much every student group on campus. We were singers, we were painters, we were dreamers.
We were cancer, rape, bully and abuse survivors.
We were Phi Mu.
And that, folks, is what diversity means to me. Diversity shouldn’t be defined by skin color, or any other superficial or societally dictated difference. It only comes down to these sweepingly oversimplified stereotypes if you yourself perpetuate the myth that diversity is something that you can spot on the surface. The real diversity, however, goes much further than skin deep.
Beautiful Girls, Football and Glitter.
By now, you’ve probably seen the University of Alabama sorority recruitment video that’s roiled social media and had fingers and talking heads alike pointing fingers at the sad state of affairs this abhorrent video represents, and what larger issues it suggests about women in society.
The widely disseminated, dissected and discussed footage features girls who seem to confirm every stereotype most people probably already have about Southern sorority women. Racially and aesthetically homogenous. Openly objectifying themselves. Rejecting feminism, embracing sexism, putting a premium on breasts over brains.
These are some of the criticisms that have been levied at Alpha Phi’s now infamous 2015 rush video, and yes, there are a ton of young, blond white girls wearing the bare minimum amount of cloth to quality as a swimsuit as they dance around, doing a little day drinking.
Yes, those are bikinis, piggyback rides, long walks down a pier while randomly waving a flag, and of course, a ton of glitter swirling all around for no apparent reason whatsoever. So what’s the problem?
Sure, this probably doesn’t paint a complete picture of this Pan-Hellenic organization, but come on – at least they weren’t featured in the middle of a game of flip cup or holding up another sister’s hair while she spews in the corner, or the underhanded compliments or outright backstabbing that are part of the politics of every sorority. They didn’t show wild unprotected sex, random people passed out in random places, or any stealing of boyfriends, no breaking of hearts or crushing of hopes. All of which I’m pretty sure still occurs at every Greek organization out there, the same as it always has, and, for better or worse, probably always will.
For me, the worst part about the way this so-called news story was covered was the widely held stance that the Alpha Phi video was the racist product of a racist organization, one that was all white and therefore, completely lacking in diversity in addition to common sense or tact.
The funny thing is that at the University of Alabama, the same chapter of Phi Mu, the very sorority I’m proud to be a part of, could probably be called out for being anti-Semitic or not inclusive of any religion outside mainstream Mainline Protestantism. Why? Because a recent recruitment video of theirs highlighted group bible study as a selling point and evidence of their style of sisterhood. But in this case, there was no outrage – only a collective yawn (God bless you).
The same goes for Wikipedia, which has a list dedicated to “African American Greek and Fraternal Organizations,” but doesn’t extend that same equal access for Greek or fraternal organizations of any other race or ethnicity. By being inclusionary, the end result seems to be exclusionary, and I for one fail to understand how that’s in any way seen as acceptable. That’s just one small example of course, but is evidence of a bigger picture that’s not about race, religion, gender or sexual preference. Rather, it’s about the imperative for creating true equality, on a truly equal playing field. Inaction on inequality seems inane.
But sadly, after it quickly racked up half a million YouTube views and thousands of nasty comments, Alpha Phi decided to delete the video while shuttering the rest of their social media accounts. They caved into the pressure and public outcry, but I, for one, wish these women would have stood their ground and stood up for themselves, no matter how much shade was thrown their way.
The Whole Truth (And Nothing But The Truth).
In marketing, broadcast advertising, social media or any other form of mass communication, any story told through any medium, from printed word to interactive images, can only be compelling when it’s unflinchingly accurate and totally transparent.
Nowhere does this fact hold more true than when it comes to employer branding and recruiting. It’s the job of every recruiting organization, and every recruiter, to publicly present an employer brand that’s an accurate representation of the company’s culture, mission, vision and values.
Convey what your company really believes – and practices – when communicating with candidates, not what you think they want to hear.
The point of recruitment marketing isn’t only to attract the right talent, it’s to turn off the wrong ones. That’s why it’s never a good idea to try to present an employment brand that’s everything to everyone – you’re not looking for everyone. You’re looking for the right one, and the right fit. So instead of speaking to the masses, speak to reality.
Make sure any potential applicant knows what it’s really like at your organization, and what work is really going to entail. Don’t try to sell work-life balance if all-nighters are the norm; if you’re a suit and tie shop, don’t feature some pictures of employees in T-Shirts and flip-flops. If you’re a conservative, old-school company, don’t try to act like you’re the coolest kid in town; if you’re a competitive, cutthroat kind of company, then own it instead of throwing out a few vague phrases about collaboration and teamwork in your careers copy.
Here’s the thing about employer branding: it’s not going to work if it’s not true. Sure, you might make a few hires over the short term, but once they see the bigger picture, they’re going to run for the hills – and drag your reputation as a recruiter – and your company’s reputation as an employer – down with them. You can sell a fake culture to candidates, but you can’t keep employees in a toxic environment, nor can you keep them from warning their network about their terrible experiences working there.
The one thing you can’t sell is buzz, which is why I think it’s OK to take a page from the Alabama playbook and create recruiting videos that aren’t afraid to stir the pot a little bit. After all, show me another recent recruiting video that made the nightly news or generated half a million YouTube views – the point of employer branding isn’t to be liked, it’s to be remembered.
Which is why what you see damn well better be what you get, or you’re going to get more than you bargained for.
About the Author: Bridget Webb is a Recruitment and Marketing enthusiast, leader, and speaker. Her specialties include Demand Generation (customers & talent), People Analytics, Employer Branding, HR Technology and homeroom mom duties.
She graduated with a degree in Design and Business Management from the University of Montevallo and currently resides in South Carolina.