Like most things in life, if we want to advance and achieve, we need to put our hearts, minds and bodies to the task before we start seeing progress.
Take improving our fitness, we know it’s good for us and those around us (in my case, to help me keep up with the boundless energy of two children under 5!), and we know how to do it - by moving more and making intentional food choices.
But it’s the actual doing is the hardest part – why is that? In my case, it’s because it takes time, emotional energy, and a sacrifice, I mean there is always something else I could be doing, for example writing this blog!
What is stopping us from recruiting inclusively?
The same challenge applies to inclusive recruitment.
It’s actually not that complex.
We say we want to attract more talent, and remove unnecessary barriers that maintain the status quo of largely monocultural staff and leadership teams.
We know it’s important and it will make an impact on the sustainability and ‘fitness’ of our workplaces.
But it seems that for the majority of organisations, although they know recruiting inclusively is the way forward, there is something stopping them from actually ‘doing the do’ effectively.
And with almost half of employers saying they don’t have an inclusion and diversity strategy in place (CIPD & Reed, 2022), how can we ever expect to see progress and move beyond hopes and dreams of a different future for our organisations?
The growing opportunity
I am often asked “How can we recruit a more diverse range of people?"
There is sometimes an underlying assumption that there is a lack of appropriately qualified ‘diverse talent’ for the roles on offer. This in itself is a problematic assumption worthy of reflection and challenge. Do we really understand enough about the workforce available that is currently not proactively being sought out, or is this view rooted in bias?
The new UK Census (2021) data shows us that England and Wales are more ethnically diverse than ever before (The Conversation, 2023), and that one in 5 of working age adults has a disability. The people, with all their talents, qualifications and abilities are in the population, so we need to rise to the challenge and moral and business imperative to reflect the communities we serve, and widen our gates.
What does Inclusive recruitment mean?
Inclusive recruitment essentially means “widening the gate”, to allow more talent through our recruitment processes, providing an equitable opportunity to find out about, and gain employment opportunities, and to remove any unnecessary barriers such as:
Gendered language or imagery
Failure to provide reasonable adjustments
Recruiting through our narrow networks that keep the same people of similar backgrounds, abilities, genders and ethnic groups applying for, and being successful in our recruitment campaigns.
In essence, our workplaces should be reflective of the rich tapestry of diversity that exists in society, by attracting people of all religions, genders, race and ethnicities, socioeconomic groups and ages, to name just a few.
The reasons why the majority of companies don’t reflect our communities, is in part due to traditional recruitment methods falling short of changing times, refusing to innovate our approaches, or listen to what people of different backgrounds want from their employers, and thus we continue to have the same limited talent pool.
But the good news is that there are increasingly new approaches being adopted, that we can all use to help us start to change our talent pipelines.
Step 1 – Cast the net much, much wider!
Stop relying on word of mouth, or family or friendship networks to recruit a diverse range of people. Although referrals can have their place, when part of a wider strategy, if we rely too heavily on word of mouth, it greatly restricts our ability to widen the gate, as people refer people similar to themselves, and in monocultural environments, that can have a huge impact on sustaining inequities.
I worked with an organisation once that had zero people from different ethnic or racially minoritised backgrounds in a particular department. They found out very quickly when they assessed their recruitment practices that there was an informal referrals pipeline going on, and that people from outside a limited circle would have little chance of even finding out about new opportunities within the team.
Investigate where and how roles are being advertised, collect candidate's personal data anonymously to help you understand where the major areas for improvement exist, and isolate these areas in your recruitment strategy to catalyse change by changing where you advertise.
Step 2 – Invest time in improving your job descriptions and adverts
Review what you want from the position and make it crystal clear. I have lost count of the amount of job descriptions and person specifications I have read that all merge into a big bundle of near meaningless phrases and words. This is seriously off putting to new recruits, and you should not underestimate the number of people from the very communities you want to reach that will be put off by the lack of clarity.
Review how your job postings are written, and be sure to use accessible language.
Be clear on what is desirable and what is essential.
By reducing or changing the essential criteria, you might just get a wider range of underrepresented applicants. Data shows that women are less likely to apply for a role unless they meet every single (sometimes arbitrary) essential requirement (HBR, 2014), whereas others that are more happy to "break the rules" are more likely to apply even if they don't meet them. Just think of the people that you have lost by not tightening this area up!
Step 3 – Adopt a consistent scoring approach free from biases
Develop a clear and transparent scoring system that is accompanied by training on biases, to ensure that hiring managers and HR teams are scoring people fairly.
By having clear criteria, focused on skills and experience (rather than CVs which are hot spots for all types of biases), you improve the quality of the shortlist, by not being influenced by irrelevant information, and having a consistent approach that will stand up to scrutiny.
When we are tired, over worked, or rushing for whatever reason, our concentration and approach to scoring applicants can lose consistency.
Having a template for both shortlisting and interview panels which gives examples of the types of skills and abilities that should score well. This way you are able to have a much more objective, measured and assured approach to providing a fair outcome, and recruit the best people from a range of backgrounds.
So what next?
These three steps are just a starting point in your journey, being an inclusive recruiter, and adopting the mindset, and associated actions takes time, research and energy. But as with improving your fitness, by putting in the work, and trying new approaches, you will start to see results and will build a much wider gate for the new generation of talent to walk through.
Your inclusive mindset will lead to you questioning the status quo not only during recruitment, but also progression, to ensure your new recruits want to stay.