Today was a good day. I coached some one to get into the Executive MBA Global program I graduated from. What does it mean to be a coach? In his words: “Every time I want to do something new, I look for someone who has done it before to guide me and make me succesful”. In practice it means that I tell him what the application process is like, the events he should attend, the people he should meet. Bottom line, I give him the opportunity to show the best version of himself to the admission committee.
This guy is French Haitian and most of the business school staff aren’t. Business school staff do their best to be objective when reviewing application and really try their best to create a diverse environment, in term of cultural background, opinions and professions. Despite their best intentions, they have unknown biases. Today I spoke to one of my former team members, and when I asked him how everything was going at work he said “I am working with this person who studied chemistry at the same college I attended. I think he automatically likes me because of that”. This is the hard truth, we like, and trust, people who resemble us. When it is not the case, you have to work harder to build rapport. This is what the guy I coached did by reaching out to me.
Some of you may think that this is not “fair”, that there is an application process, that everyone should go through in the same way and have the same chance of success. This is what I thought when I applied. I was dumb. The reality is that smart people understand that if there is a way to get a head start, you take it.
The perception of ‘fair’ differs from person to person. I argue that for people of color playing ‘fair’ is very strict. You stay between very narrow lines. That puts you at a disadvantage when you compete with people that cross the line and then ask for forgiveness. I saw it first hand when I applied to my French business school. If it was down to me I would have done it all by myself and today I would be in a very different career. But thanks to my college classmates in the wealthiest neighborhood in Paris, I joined a 2 week course that prepared me for the exam. The institution coached me to step over the line all the time. They found legal but dubious ways to accumulate the majority of the pool of questions to the competitive exam to French business schools.
All that taught me one thing: There are times when fair is unfair.