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Diverse recruitment requires diverse thinking

13th April

Klara Dalli-Thornton

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The drive towards genuinely diverse recruitment is, of course, as crucially important to our businesses as it is to society in general.  How we get there is much less clear.

Take Anita.

She’s looking for a management role in renewable energy.  She’s incredibly bright, self-made and a born innovator.  She is of Afro-Caribbean descent and left school at 16.  She spent six years working in a care home, climbing her way up to a management position.  She then took a big leap into the corporate world and successfully applied for a job in energy.  She worked in the sector for five years, earning rave reviews from her colleagues. She’s now returning from a period away from work.  She took a two year career break when her baby was born, so this is a fresh start. 

Now take Ben.

He runs the recruitment for a big company that develops solar energy solutions for clients around the world.  He calls a recruitment agency and explains exactly what his requirements are for the role:

We want someone who is well qualified.  They need five to ten years work experience, and they need to come from a management position in another international form.

Fair enough.  We can do that.

Then he adds “And we are absolutely committed to a more diverse workforce, so we’d like to speak to as many candidates from ethnic minorities, and also to as many females as possible.

He asks us to confirm that we have been trained in ways to avoid sub-conscious bias in our processes (which we have) and that we will ensure that all CVs are viewed ‘blind’ in the first instance (which we do).  So we have no idea what the gender, age or name of any candidate might be.

Our initial search brings up 5,000 names.  As you would expect, we have a well-honed process to whittle this down. Eventually, we present Ben with twenty CVs.  And after speaking to each of them, we find that none are from ethnic minorities.  Only three are female.  Which leaves Ben feeling frustrated.  

So is Anita.  She’s not made the cut for a role for which she’d have been perfectly suited.

You can see the problem. 

It’s no secret that 72% of all workers in the ‘baby boomer’ generation were white.  Nor that a tiny 1.5 per cent of top management roles in the UK private sector are filled by black people.

So if we stick to the traditional means of selecting a short-list, we will end up with a traditional list.  Recruiting existing managers means we will end up with more of the same.  Recruiting people without gaps on their CV rules out anyone who has taken a break from the workplace – which creates an instant bias against women.

It’s the ultimate Catch 22.  Companies understandably ask for ‘the best’.  They also want diversity.

Fortunately, we are yet to come across a business that doesn’t want to become more diverse.  And yet getting there isn’t as simple as blinding a CV.  Ironically, covering-up a name ensures that selection is based on criteria that can create a less diverse short-list.

On the basis that greater diversity must be a given, there’s only one answer.  And that’s a shift in the definition of ‘the best’.

We believe it’s time to broaden that definition.  ‘Best’ doesn’t have to equate to an Oxbridge degree, straight As at ‘A’ level or experience in a similar company carrying-out a similar role.  These are narrow criteria and they don’t necessarily attract candidates who can offer something truly different.  Candidates prepared to ask difficult questions; to challenge the status quo; to offer insights from a completely new perspective.

If we always fish in the same water, we’ll always catch the same type of fish.  The future of recruitment needs to be more diverse and that means fishing in new places and in new ways.

Otherwise, Anita will never get the role she deserves, and Ben will continue to receive short-lists that don’t quite get his business where it needs to be.

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