Quarter of firms not trying to attract more diverse senior hires, report shows

Research also finds only a minority go beyond the legal minimum in terms of how those with protected characteristics are treated during recruitment

A quarter of employers (24 per cent) are not making any effort to attract and recruit more diverse candidates to top-level jobs, according to research.

A poll of 600 businesses has found just one in seven (15 per cent) described their organisation’s efforts to recruit more diverse candidates at board level as ‘slightly active’, while a further 28 per cent admitted they were only ‘moderately active’ in this area.

Just 23 per cent described themselves as being ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ active in their efforts.

The research was conducted by the CIPD and Omni Resource Management Solutions as part of their Resourcing and talent planning survey 2020, and revealed a wider lack of effort to improve diversity. 

It found fewer than a quarter of companies (23 per cent) had policies that went beyond the legal minimum in terms of how people with protected characteristics were treated in recruitment and selection processes. And barely half (52 per cent) had a formal diversity strategy.

Suki Sandhu, founder and chief executive of INvolve, said it was “unacceptable to see” so many organisations failing to take action to improve boardroom diversity. “The boardroom needs to lead by example when it comes to creating a company that reflects the employees and also the customers they serve,” he said, warning: “Change will only happen when it comes from the top and businesses that continue to fall behind on diversity will miss out on the many benefits it brings.”

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Sophie Wingfield, interim director of policy and campaigns at REC, added that it was “hugely disappointing” to see so few employers going beyond the basic legislative requirements on diversity. “Organisations must take action at each stage of the recruitment process – this could mean actively reaching out to a wider, more diverse pool of candidates; anonymising CVs to avoid unconscious bias; and judging all candidates against an impartial, skills-based selection criteria,” she said.

Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said the report’s findings suggested any improvements in workforce diversity had “happened by accident rather than design”. Employers needed to work on diversity with “much more rigour, consistency and challenge in their recruitment and selection processes”, she said, adding that achieving change at the top of organisations would have “maximum impact” as this would provide “role models for future talent”.

“We could be making quicker and considerable progress with a more strategic approach,” said McCartney.

Public sector organisations were most likely to have a formal diversity strategy, at 79 per cent, compared to 54 per cent of non-profit organisations and just 45 per cent of private sector firms.

“Most could improve the inclusivity of their recruitment processes through a more comprehensive approach that includes measures to eliminate bias,” the report said, recommending that employers think about how they could change the brands and cultures of their organisations to boost diversity.

Companies needed to target their recruitment efforts at people with underrepresented characteristics, it suggested. Their approaches to recruitment needed to be reassessed to see which were most effective at broadening talent pools, it said.

Sandra Kerr, race director at Business in the Community, said employers also needed to insist on diverse candidate shortlists: “It’s important that employers ensure there isn’t any bias in their recruitment, selection and promotion processes once they get diverse candidates through their doors – be the doors virtual or otherwise.”

But, said Louise Shaw, director of resourcing transformation at Omni RMS, recruiting diverse talent was only the start of the process: “Organisations need to be reporting externally on their true effectiveness by measuring inclusive engagement, retention and career development. This is what will give organisations full visibility of what is and isn’t working so they can make informed changes and realise the business benefits."

The lack of action on diversity was highlighted earlier this year, when the Parker review, established to improve ethnic diversity on the boards of UK-listed companies, found 37 per cent of FTSE 100 firms still had no non-white members on their boards. The situation was even worse within FTSE 250 companies, where 69 per cent had no ethnic diversity on their boards.

Separately, a report by Cranfield School of Management and EY, released last month, revealed that women accounted for just 13.2 per cent of executive director roles in FTSE 100 firms, and just 5 per cent of chief executive roles.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, the government’s equality watchdog, called for more action to improve diversity at senior levels. “Having a board that reflects the diversity of our society is in any business’s best interest. Clearly not enough has been done in the past and more steps need to be taken now,” a spokesperson said.

“Businesses should want to attract the widest possible talent and there are many ways that organisations can improve diversity including tackling unconscious bias in recruitment and publishing ethnicity pay gap data.”