What You’re Really Saying When You Talk About Lowering the Bar in Hiring

Or: The time I said the R-Word on TV

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I give a lot of interviews. And I’m getting pretty good at thinking on my feet, weaving my talking points into answers to reporters’ questions, staying positive and on message, and dropping in a few pithy phrases that might work as sound bites. But the other day, I was off my game. I was sick, and when I’m sick, my brain slows down. It was an on camera interview. The reporter asked a question, and before my brain had time to catch up, my mouth had already started moving. And that’s how I got caught on camera saying the r-word…

The reporter was asking about a sentiment I’ve heard countless times in the four years since we started CODE2040. “If there are qualified blacks/Latinos/women/etc out there, we’d love to hire them — but we’re not going to lower the bar.”

On days when I am feeling charitable, I can try to empathize with the speaker. After all, what he or she is trying to say is, “I’m not racist! I don’t care about skin color. I care about ability!” But what he or she is actually saying could not be more different.


Laura Weidman Powers was a 2016 New America CA fellow. She is the co-founder and CEO of CODE2040, a nonprofit that creates pathways to success in the innovation economy for Blacks and Latino/as.