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Don’t just strive for a diverse workforce, change attitudes through doing instead of talking

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Now more than ever, organisations need to employ a diverse team. You need to enlarge the toolbox at your disposal to help solve challenges. So when it comes to recruitment, instead of hiring more brilliant (but similar) people, you need to actively look for difference.

Recruitment, and especially diversity, can no longer be simply a ‘department’. Every recruiter, and every employee, should be responsible for fostering diversity within the company.

I’ve put together five actions you can take from the ‘demand’ side of recruitment, i.e. the employer demand for candidates. I suggest starting with this, because people have to want and believe in diversity, as these expectations shape behaviours that determine outcomes. To create a diverse team, you have to convince people you are serious about it, because otherwise they won’t listen, let alone apply.

Create a plan

A strategic workforce plan (SWP) is a prerequisite for inclusive recruitment. It’s about putting a great deal of forethought into which people you purposefully and deliberately want to hire in the future.

Professor Nick Kemsley of Henley Business School defines a SWP as “identifying the people and organisational capability needs of, and risks to, the business strategy… translating them to the workforce, and putting in place… plans to deliver what’s needed, when it’s needed.” In other words, having a forward recruitment plan for the next one to three years, rather than responding to panicked calls from line managers to ‘find someone’ in the next one to three months.

Modernise your selection criteria

The publisher Penguin Random House redesignedits recruitment to assess creativity, as opposed to experience, and opened it to everyone including school leavers (aged 16-19), university graduates and those already working. No CVs were requested and instead it evaluated applicants against seven criteria including curiosity, ideas and being social media savvy. The business received more than 800 applications.

The results? Significantly a more diverse team; a cake business owner and mother of one, a Canadian history graduate, a sixth-form student and a former software sales executive are now on an 18 month programme.

Decrease unconscious bias

To do this, we actually have to acknowledge we are biased. We can then decrease bias in two ways – through conscious leadership (self-awareness) and through unconscious system adjustments (nudges).

Unconscious bias training typically includes tests to illustrate a person’s prejudices. It’s important to point out that this is an observation, not an accusation – we all have bias whether we like it or not. And nudges are designed interventions to change decision-making at the point decisions are made. These are practical interventions designed to mitigate bias by gently pushing a recruiter in the direction of inclusive behaviour often without them even realising it. One example is framing or anchoring questions that lead to an issue being perceived in a different way.

Have a balanced interview panel

A formal process of mixed panel members (mixed in terms of gender but also in terms of department or function) and balanced slates can bring more cognitive rigour to bear, saving vast amounts of time and money all round. Goldman Sachs, Lloyds Bank and KPMG now insist on at least one female executive in any panel when interviewing prospective candidates for senior level recruitment.

Mixed panels can bring transparency and better decision-making to selection. To maximise their effectiveness, have individual panel members come together only after they have individually reviewed the candidates. This will decrease the risk of groupthink and increase insights from different perspectives.

Hire teams, not individuals

Supermarkets discount bulk packs of similar chocolate bars (‘family packs’) but mark up ‘selection boxes’ of different sweets. We pay a premium for diversity, because we value it more. The same applies to having a diverse team. If we apply this analogy to the recruitment process, we should hire in groups as opposed to a one to one basis, to reduce unconscious bias.

Following the usual one-to-one style there is every likelihood that the candidates will be partly judged on dud criteria, such as attractiveness. And on a one-to-one basis we select candidates individually, unaware of the bigger picture that we keep recruiting similar people. But if they are interviewed at the same time then the evaluation is more likely to be based on their skills and performance. Even if the interviewers are highly sceptical of diversity they’re still unlikely to put through five of the same people – they will prefer a selection box to a family pack.

Once you’ve applied these measures to the demand side and demonstrated your intent, you can then progress to supply side measures to credibly articulate your position in the marketplace and widen the pool of talent you hire from. The goal is not only achieving a diverse workforce, but also changing attitudes through doing rather than talking.

Stephen Frost is the founder of Frost Included, a consultancy dedicated to helping people understand diversity and inclusion. His latest book, Inclusive Talent Management – How business can thrive in an age of diversity, is out now, published by Kogan Page.

Image: Shutterstock

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