A few days ago there was this news story where a man in Illinois offered to give two 13-year old girls a ride somewhere. They declined, but took down his license plate and called the police, who arrested him three days later and charged him with disorderly conduct. This is a married man with 3 daughters who was trying to do something nice during a snowstorm.

The reason the girls reported him and that he was arrested? Because he looked "creepy". That's it; he didn't say anything untoward, he didn't act in an inappropriate manner, but in their eyes he looked creepy.

It's a much different world we live in now that we used to. I remember the days when people would pull over for someone who had their thumb out looking to hitch a ride somewhere. I also remember one night having two young ladies ask me if I'd give them a ride down the street, as I was buying a sandwich from Subway, my agreeing to it and doing it, then having the riot act read to me by my wife because she said I could have been accused of anything, even if the people at Subway heard the girls ask me for a ride. I couldn't see it then but I definitely understand it now.

The world has always judged others by how they look. In some ways there's nothing wrong with that because it's one way that we keep ourselves safe. In other ways it's unfair because not everyone has the same thoughts on how they should dress based on how they grew up. It's also unfair because it has a great impact on employment. I know someone's going to try to say that there's no effect on unemployment based on race, but when the country's unemployment rate is around 9% and the unemployment rate for black people is around 17%, even higher once a view is taken of other demographics,what other reason is there?

So it's unfair. But there's also a bit of logic behind it. Think of it this way. If you've been convicted of murder and you didn't commit it, are you going to hire the guy who looks like he's successful or are you going for the guy wearing the plaid shirt, jeans and boots, especially if you don't know either of them? If you're in dire pain and you know you're going to need an operation, even knowing that physicians have to clean up before they perform surgery, are you going to request the guy who looks like a doctor or a guy who looks like he just finished surfing and is wearing orange shorts and nothing else?

How people present themselves is how we tend to see them. I often go off the mantra that there are two types of presentations with each person. There's the presentation that no one has control over, or little control over. This entails race, gender, hair or no hair, weight (I know, people can have some control over weight, but not everyone), ethnicity, accent, etc. Then there's the presentation that everyone has control over; how you're dressed, hair style if you have hair, visible tattoos, piercings, scent, etc.

The fairness in judging the book by its cover starts with these things. When I was hiring people, I went off two things. One was how much knowledge the candidate might have in what we needed. The other was if a person was at least pleasant. I wasn't looking for gorgeous, but every position I hired was one where the potential was great that they'd be interacting with our customers, and since I had no control over their perception I always wanted to know that a person cared enough about others to at least dress professionally.

I didn't care about anything else, the things people can't control, because it wasn't germain to the discussion. If a customer was bothered because a person of color was who they had to interact with, well, that was their problem; look at me. I didn't care about hair styles as long as it was neat. I didn't care about piercings, although I have to admit that back when I was a hiring manager some of the types of piercings I see today didn't exist.

I remember on one consulting assignment there was a young man working in an area I was responsible for that I was going to recommend for a leadership position. I also remember that he looked "hot", as in overdressed and slightly uncomfortable. One day I asked him about it and he said that he had a lot of tattoos and decided that once he wanted a "real" job that he'd dress to cover them up because he knew they disturbed some people. I thought that was an adult thing to do. I also thought that it was too bad that he felt he had to go to those extremes, but not knowing what kind of tattoos he had I couldn't even begin to comment on it.

I tend to think about topics like this often because I see things that others say they don't see, but they do. It's always easy for most people to dismiss diversity issues that don't involve them. I never feel I have that luxury, so I'm watching out for everyone.

Do you consider yourself perceptive enough to overcome these types of issues? Do you wish others were more or less cognizant of them?