Arab College Graduates - Wasted Talent?

In recent years the corporate world has been undergoing an attitude change. More and more companies are considering how to cast themselves as entities that promote universal social goals - and not just to generate profits. In the past many companies met their obligations by donating money to needy causes. Later there was a growing sense this was not enough and they would have to do more, i.e. demonstrate active involvement in community projects. Managers and businessmen were found who didn't merely donate money, but also took part in the public administration of organizations working for the sake of the community and the public good. This caught on to such an extent that managers and businessmen stood out as anomalies if they were unable to point to any community enterprise.

Not Just Monetary Contributions
But this wasn't enough either, because in many cases a moral or ethical contradiction emerged between acting for the sake of the community and the organization's regular endeavors. Many organizations that contributed extensively to the community and even boasted about their hallowed deeds, acted in unsavory ways to promote their businesses: harming the environment, working with contractors in developing nations that exploit their workers shamelessly, paying bribes and misappropriating company funds. These were just a few salient examples that drew press coverage. In major Western markets there was a growing sense that a commercial organization cannot contribute to the community while continuing to operate inappropriately and claiming innocence. Gradually commercial organizations had to not only contribute to the community, but also maintain upstanding standards of conduct.
This demand was further boosted by a series of managerial catastrophes in the US, most notably the Enron scandal. 

A new concept began to become widespread in recent years in the corporate world - corporate responsibility. This includes the demand from companies whose influence is on the rise, in part due to globalization, to conduct themselves as good citizens of the world by not taking advantage of their power but giving of it, not just for generating profits, but for the good of all.
Companies that have become strongly committed to this matter understand that proper conduct may require bigger efforts by management, but in the long run the effort is worthwhile because in many cases enhancing the company's reputation is good for business and management in general. Take the area of organizational conduct, for instance. Many studies indicate it's easier for a company that operates appropriately to recruit new employees and retain good ones.

Discrimination Not Always Deliberate
Proper conduct also extends to upholding human rights in the company's lateral structure. This can come across not just from an unwillingness to forge ties with subcontractors in China who exploit children, but also in the obligation to prevent hiring discrimination or upholding the Work and Employee Dignity Law.

In Israel, one of the most noteworthy segments of the population suffering from built-in discrimination of this type is college graduates from the Arab sector. Reducing the extent of this problem is doubly important not just from a moral-universal perspective, but also because it has the potential to strengthen ties between the Arab and Jewish populations and diminish the level of frustration among Arab college graduates, who form an important building block in the social elite of the Arab sector in Israel.

In order to help work toward solving this problem an organization called Kav Mashveh was recently formed as "a coalition of employers for equality for Arab college graduates." The director of the center is a well-known public figure, Israel Prize laureate Dov Lautman, an industrialist who founded and for many years managed Delta Textiles.

Worthwhile From a Commercial Standpoint, Too
A conference held by Kav Mashveh for human resources managers and recruitment managers featured a long lineup of speakers who explained that creating equality is not just a social goal, but also a moral goal that offers numerous benefits from a business standpoint.

Adi Bilder, former human resources director of HP Israel and currently vice president of human resources at ECI Telecom, said many high-tech companies have a very homogeneous worker profile of "people who served in certain units in the army and earned their degree from well-known universities and faculties. Recruiting employees at companies like this typically involves turning to and responding to this sector," he says.
Bilder talks about hiring Arab professionals for moral reasons as well as sound economics. "It's worthwhile for a commercial enterprise to vary its human capital," he contends. "A development team that's too homogeneous won't go far. Studies conducted in other parts of the world indicate that work teams made up of a greater range of personnel achieve greater success commercially."

A staff made up of people from a range of cultural backgrounds can invariably raise additional ideas and unconventional work methods because the thought patterns of the staff members weren't formed in the same melting pot. Furthermore, working on a varied staff creates openness and acceptance of others, their approaches and their views. This approach also has ramifications for working with figures outside of the staff
itself - employees in other departments, clients, providers and other people of interest to the organization.

However, Bilder is also aware of the difficulty that lies in this approach among managers and workers. Therefore, he says, efforts should be made to get company directors to make a commitment to this issue. He said at Indigo (which was later acquired by HP) this commitment brought results in the form of Arab recruits. He also notes the human resources department must create awareness among unit managers at the organization.

He also says it should be taken into account that the Arab student in line for a job offers a series of advantages that do not appear in his resume. For instance, the very fact he went to college and now is seeking work in fields that are not traditionally pursued in the society he comes from indicate he has a pioneering spirit. Bilder notes that studies conducted in the US indicate immigrants are more motivated to succeed for reasons similar to those found among Arab college graduates.

From the employers' perspective it seems established recruiting and screening patterns lie at the heart of the matter. Conference participants raised the issue of cultural gaps between recruiters and Arab job candidates. Dr. Lihu Weissberg of the Adam Milo Screening Institute tried to illustrate this phenomenon by citing academic parlance. He noted that in entrance tests for psychology faculties, interviewers ask prospective Arab students questions on their relationship with their father. A Jewish candidate would readily answer the question whereas an Arab candidate could see the discussion as an insult to his father. His response could lead the interviewer to assume the candidate is unsuited to study psychology. Other speakers at the conference agreed that the Arab job candidate might have a lower chance of getting hired merely because of cultural gaps between him and the non-Arab interviewer. "An Arab student," said Halad Abu Asba, CEO of the Messer Institute, "has a chance of getting hired only if his grades are significantly above average."

Bilder noted that employee referral programs, which are rightfully considered successful, are anti-variety by nature. People tend to bring in friends who resemble them. Such a method would only contribute to varying the staff after a breakthrough is made by bringing in an Arab employee who would recommend his friends.

Speaking at the conference Anat Nissan, human resources director at PWC's Keselman and Keselman Accountants, said variety and multiculturalism is a way of life at international firms, where multiculturalism is built into their organizational culture. The natural expectation of workers employed at such a firm is to function in a multicultural environment. Her company has workers from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopians, Arabs and chareidim.
"Multiculturalism comes across in the company's day-to-day operations, too," she notes. "The company acknowledges not only Hanukah, but also Christmas and Eid al-Adha."

Summing up the discussion Arna Segal, CEO of Manpower Israel, said, "Organizations should overtly encourage openness toward the other, toward those who differ from the mainstream. This means activating managerial flexibility that allows inclusion of difference rather than trying to change those who are different to resemble us."

What Creates the Difference?
Kav Mashveh promotional materials point to a series of factors responsible for the problem of employment for Arab college graduates, particularly in relation to the job testing process.
According to people from the organization one of the main obstacles is the language barrier. "The Hebrew language, which is not the candidates' mother tongue, is considered a primary obstacle that prevents the interviewee from expressing himself in a manner that reflects his abilities and sends the message he wants to convey. The pressure that the interview atmosphere creates further confounds his language abilities."
Another difficulty is the Arab graduate's weakness in marketing himself. The Jewish graduate's ability to market himself is far more developed, having been acquired in the army, related courses, etc. In the Arab graduate these skills are not adequately developed, so the "package," as Kav Mashveh puts it, is liable to mislead the observer.

In conclusion, awareness of this issue has risen recently as greater importance gets attached to social responsibility increases due to the desire to point to the organization's openness to recruit additional segments of the population to its ranks, the understanding that Israel has a professional workforce whose contribution can be utilized and the rising pressure in the field applied by a growing number of Arab college graduates seeking to enter the job market in a wider range of industries. All of these factors are having an effect as evidenced by the formation of an organization like Kav Mashveh.

A newspaper report appearing the day after the conference said, "Dozens of Arab employees are slated to be hired at the Electric Corporation's 103 hotline." According to the article, which was published in Ha'aretz, "Bringing minorities into the Electric Corporation has gone into practice in recent days. Among 65 employee hired to work at the company's phone lines, ten are young Arabs. This group was selected from among 300 Arab applicants after the company placed ads in the Arab press as well. The move is based on instructions by the board of directors to include minorities in every personnel recruitment drive."


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