Wanted: Weirdos and misfits

The Prime Minister’s Chief Special Adviser, Dominic Cummings, hit the news earlier this month for a blogpost in which he said he was looking to hire “super-talented weirdos” and “misfits”. The blogpost is refreshingly honest in some ways, but an employment lawyer’s nightmare in others.


Although many people have considered the blogpost to be a job advert, the Guardian reports that the Prime Minister’s spokesman has said that civil servants will continue to be appointed through normal procedures, and the blogpost is only seeking “expressions of interest”. But what if the blogpost was a job advert?


Eyes wide open


It’s fair to say that the wording of the blogpost is unconventional – the language is stark, and it focuses as much on what Mr Cummings does not want (not more “Oxbridge humanities graduates”, says Oxford-educated humanities graduate, Mr Cummings), as what he does want (“genuine cognitive diversity”).


Mr Cummings is open about what he expects from applicants, both in terms of role-specific requirements (“Those applying must watch Bret Victor’s talks and study Dynamic Land. If this excites you, then apply; if not, then don’t.”) and the commitment they are expected to show (You will not have weekday date nights, you will sacrifice many weekends — frankly it will hard having a boy/girlfriend at all.).


Many will see this straight-to-the-point approach as refreshingly honest. Working in a high-performance environment is demanding, and any applicants would certainly be going in with their eyes wide open. New employees often become disgruntled when the reality of a new job does not align with the dream they were promised; a report from 2012 found that only 51% of new hires were very confident in their decision to accept their new job. On that basis, the transparency and openness would set any relationship between employer and employee off on the right foot, with expectations from each side very clear. His threat to get rid of those who engage in office politics might also resonate with many.


Nevertheless, potential applicants might be concerned with talk of “binning” people who “don’t fit in”, which seems at odds with someone who on the other hand champions “genuine cognitive diversity” (i.e. people who think differently). Others might also be put off by Mr Cummings railing against the “drivel” from those “… babbling about ‘gender identity diversity blah blah blah’” (particularly where women are still under-represented at the most senior levels of the Civil Service).


And for all the blogpost’s straight-talking, it contains some classic insider talk and management speak, with repeated references to “SW1” (presumably shorthand for the Civil Service and government), “low-hanging fruit”, and various things being at the “intersection” of other things. Some things never change.


The young and the restless


If the blogpost was intended to be a job advert, employment tribunals might be interested in it for several reasons:



  • “We want to hire some VERY clever young people …”. A job advert which specifies an age or age group is likely to be prima facie directly discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010 on the grounds of age, and would be unlawful unless the employer could show that there was a genuine occupational requirement to have “younger” people in the role, or that the discrimination could be objectively justified. Similar concerns are raised in respect of the PA role: “… you will be involved in things at the age of ~21 that most people never see”.


  • “We are looking to hire some recent graduates in economics.” This seemingly innocuous requirement could be indirect age discrimination. If a high proportion of “recent” economics graduates are young, this requirement could be a provision, criterion or practice which puts older workers at a disadvantage (and may be unlawful if, for example, it cannot be shown that the need to have recent (and therefore, most likely, young) economics graduates can be objectively justified).


Individuals involved in hiring decisions can find themselves in hot water – not only could claims for discrimination be brought against them personally, but they might be in breach of their own obligations in relation to equality and diversity, e.g. under their employment agreements, their employer’s policies, or other regulatory rules (such as the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers).


And with employers focussed on the importance of flexible working to help attract and retain talent, the reference to “sacrificing” weekends and weekday evenings is also unlikely to appeal to those with caring responsibilities or who want to work part time. Perhaps Mr Cummings was not aware of the Civil Service’s commitment on flexible working, which recognises its benefits in improving work-life balance and supporting health and wellbeing, as well as the crucial role it plays for parents and carers.


It would be surprising if a recruitment professional (or employment lawyer) had reviewed the blogpost; although perhaps not that surprising, given Mr Cummings’ parting shot at the “… horrors of ‘Human Resources’ (which also obviously need a bonfire)”.