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How can you ensure your workforce is diverse?

I was recently asked to speak at a meet-up for internal recruiters and HR practitioners about diversity. This is certainly a topic that a lot of employers are talking about and the business case for a diverse workforce is compelling, so what’s really getting in the way of progress?

My message to employers: if your workforce currently lacks diversity, the only way you’re going to get a more diverse workforce is to recruit one! And it makes sense to engage a trusted recruitment partner to help you on your journey.

So as a specialist recruiter, how can you ensure your recruitment and sourcing processes are conducive to finding the candidates you are looking for? Let’s take a look at some practical ways in which recruiters are ensuring candidate diversity through each step of the talent funnel from employment branding, sourcing, candidate experience, assessment and selection.

Managing employer expectations

One of the most common concerns that I hear from employers is: “We want to hire for diversity, but we don’t want to lower the bar”. Well most applicants don’t want the bar lowered either – they want to be hired on merit, instead of being a token hire. But if your wish list doesn’t currently exist, throwing diversity into the mix isn’t going to make it any easier so what will employers give up in return for the diversity they desire? Look at what’s truly relevant to the job specifications, and challenge the criteria before you begin to design the process.

If employers are truly serious about diversity in recruitment, how are they helping their recruitment partners to bring diverse talent to the table? And when they have diverse talent in the recruitment process, where are they dropping out? And once they’ve hired differently, will new hires want to stick around? Are their current diversity initiatives enough to bring about meaningful change in the workplace or are they simply there to ensure compliance and quota boxes can be ticked off?

Getting an idea of where companies are currently at on their path towards diversity and inclusion can better aid you in your approach, as well as position your value.

Many recruitment companies unwittingly make the mistake of concentrating on refining their recruitment processes to ensure they are meeting diversity targets when they would be better served investing some of that time in developing and expanding their sourcing strategy.

Tactics that get results

Share your culture and commitment to diversity and inclusion consistently in external communications. Does your website have stories and blogs about your incredibly diverse workforce? What about the cultural morning teas you hold, how your team is getting involved in Maori Language Week or how you’ve become an accessible workplace? Even if you’re only just beginning your journey, the important part is that you’re being visible and authentic about your efforts.

Ask yourself, what messages are you sending, subliminally, with your job advertisements and job descriptions? Candidates are often on high alert for any words in job ads which suggest they may not be a fit (we’re not talking about serial appliers!). If you are using language which unconsciously shows a preference for a particular demographic profile, you are doing yourself and your client an enormous disservice. Neutral language sends a very clear signal to candidates that they will be assessed only on their ability to do the job and not whether they are male or female, whether they went to an elite school or where they were born. Words like adaptable, curious, plans for the future are seen as inclusive, whereas words like ambitious, takes risks and ninja are seen as problematic and skewed to resonate more highly with males.

While there is still debate about whether the process of blind CVs work, they’re often a step towards ensuring diversity because they remove information which recruiters many have an unconscious bias of - and that’s the key. We are not all aware of our own biases, which is why being presented with CVs which remove identifiers which may trigger unconscious bias is important including a person’s gender, ethnic background, where they were educated and their age.

It is also important to speak with clients you have identified unconscious bias in and speak with them about the benefits of casting a broader net to catch the talent they are looking for. Bring the conversation back to the problems they’re trying to solve in hiring, rather than what the ideal hire “looks like”.

Are clients’ interview panels composed of a diverse range of their workforce or are they all middle-aged and looking to fill a junior tech position they perhaps don’t fully understand? Would your client benefit from joining one of our unconscious bias webinars to get a greater understanding of how they can help secure diverse talent, once you deliver it?

Wildcard applicants

Recruitment is about mitigating employment risks, but to make real impact in diversity hiring you need to take purpose-inspired risks too.

Never underestimate the value of a wildcard application. As the squeeze for talent across many sectors continues to tighten, recruiters are tapping into a wide range of talent pools. And I’m not just talking about online social media communities, but meet-ups, sports clubs and community groups too. Growing a talent pipeline takes time and resources, so make sure clients are aware and prepared to support you in this.

Through the process of interviews and pre-hire assessments you will be able to quickly weed out candidates who are too far off the mark and rule in those with transferable skills.

Keep an open mind and you never know how you (and the client) may be pleasantly surprised. It helps to prepare your client for this too, so they don’t push back when you present a left-field candidate, but instead trust you to have spotted their potential.

Closing comments

In recruitment we have to move fast. But slowing down to speed up will give you the greatest success in diversity hiring. Don’t set and forget anything in your recruitment process. Question everything, then test, iterate, improve. The greatest gains to be had are in removing bias from process, not just focusing on bias in people.

Diversity in the workforce is something more and more companies are actively striving for and all efforts towards this should be widely applauded. For those who are not seeking diversity in your workforce, it is time to realise you are lagging behind and run the very real risk of not being able to tap into limited talent pools. It is as simple as that.

So here’s a question for clients: “If you’re really serious about hiring differently how are you working with your recruitment partners to give them both time and trust to deliver a comprehensive sourcing and selection solution”?

And here’s a question for us all as an industry: “If we’re really serious about leading with diversity, how are we engaging with and bringing diverse talent into our own profession”?

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