When I say I’m passionate about diversity, I may not mean what you think.
Recruitment consultancies generally champion diversity because we are trying to find the ideal candidate for any given role. The challenge for a company like Healy Hunt is that our talent pool of mid to senior level candidates has already been filtered by the socioeconomic factors that present barriers to achievement earlier in people’s lives. So, is there anything a company like ours can do to promote diversity and is diversity definitely a good idea anyway? The answer is yes in both cases.
What is Employee Diversity?
The most obvious diversity categories are gender, race and various classes of ableness. I sometimes feel the gender topic has become a little overdone in recent industry commentary but maybe I’m over-exposed to this topic due to my own broad female network. It doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. By the same tenet, I’m not exposed to quite so much commentary about race or ableness issues that clearly persist, although no company would ever knowingly adopt a policy that discriminated on these grounds.
Something I am passionate about is the unfairness and missed opportunities for employers and candidates that arise from background diversity. Unlike straightforward diversity targets on grounds of gender and race, you will find hiring managers who subconsciously discriminate on background criteria as a matter of routine. Background diversity affects people early and removes them from the accessible talent pool. For the ones who succeed despite their starts in life, there are still barriers. Some companies look back behind experience and degrees all the way to GCSEs. Were there blemishes on the straight A*s? Was there any extracurricular activity, how about a Duke of Edinburgh Award? In some circumstances, even for the ablest individual, five solid GCSE passes is the genuine equivalent of eleven A*s for someone whose early years were more fortunate. If the employer is using algorithmic software to prepare shortlists then valuable talent can be missed or excluded right from the start of the process
Other background issues that can affect people’s career chances are time spent in the armed forces, raising children and providing or receiving care. When looked at through the right lens, people who have lived through any of these scenarios are likely to bring real-world skills to a role that people who have experienced a smoother ride may not.
Is Diversity Worth It?
Cultural Fit is an evergreen recruitment phrase that is still relevant. It refers to people’s values. Research shows that value diversity has a negative impact on a group’s performance. So, recruiting managers are justified in seeking to achieve cultural fit but this by no means excludes accepting other dimensions of diversity. Acquired Diversity which includes people’s different approaches to problem-solving, will tend to make a department or a company more successful. The latest research is built on long-established concepts such as the Belbin Team Roles analysis which showed that the most successful teams were made up of a diverse mix of behaviours and styles. Proactively recruiting for diversity by gender, race, ableness, nationality and background can not only uncover otherwise unavailable talent but it also tends to drive up levels of valuable acquired diversity and thus generate that range of styles and behaviours. Based on the evidence, this will tend to improve team performance. Provided there is cultural fit to bring cohesion, the various categories of acquired diversity, including background, can all have a positive impact on team performance and the bottom line. So, yes, diversity is worth it.
How Can We Help?
Candidates who have demonstrated their aptitude and ambition by acquiring the necessary skills and qualifications can be helped directly by recruitment consultants. If the skills and passion are there, the rest can be worked on. When demand for new talent is high, we should have more licence to look for transferable skills or to help justify the gaps in people’s experience. Let me be clear, this absolutely does not mean providing lower standards of candidate but rather those with different profiles.
We can also help by preparing job ads that avoid the unconscious filters that inadvertently deter minority candidates. This approach includes using neutral language, encouraging candidates with most of the requirements to apply, creating trust and focusing on positives. This does not work in isolation; upstream, the employer’s talent attraction campaigns must be consistent and this should flow through into the recruitment process with inclusivity for successful candidates in their eventual roles.
A company like Healy Hunt can’t directly affect what happens early in people’s careers in its normal sphere of operations but I support employers and other organisations that help to overcome the challenges of diversity and there are exemplary companies out there who show us the way. Unpaid work experience and especially internships can present a huge barrier to entry and quite rightly we have recently seen a backlash against this practice.
I have been speaking to the Tower Hamlets Education Business Partnership, (a charity set up to work with employers and schools to increase social mobility by building young people’s confidence, improving their skills and raising aspirations for the future) and a number of schools in the areas surrounding The City about finding opportunities with our clients to support young people from less fortunate backgrounds. We hope to offer week-long work experience placements to students who would normally struggle to find opportunities like this as they don’t have the benefit of family networks or connections. We will also offer financial support to some of the candidates, if required, in the form of travel costs, a small subsistence allowance (to make sure they are fed whilst in ‘our care’) and even suitable clothing required to fit in. This is my small step towards helping less advantaged, but no less able, individuals get a better start. The aim is not just to help them but to help the businesses involved. To me it seems like a ‘win win’ situation.
If anyone is interested in supporting me and Healy Hunt with this plan please reach out for a conversation and more detail.