Businesses are beginning to recognise their shortcomings around diversity, particularly with respect to Black employees. A combination of factors such as the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement’s upsurge in 2020, means the responsibility to create companies where Black employees can thrive is critical.
Companies have responded to the call for action, but is enough being done? Specifically, in relation to diversifying senior leadership and executive level teams by eradicating barriers that may be holding Black talent from reaching the top.
Despite some genuine progress, the picture remains bleak with less than 1.5 per cent of management roles in UK companies being held by Black individuals. While diversity in business as a whole may be increasing, there seems to be a Black ‘glass ceiling’, as Black talent is not progressing past a certain level. We are still seeing Black talent being bottlenecked at a senior management level (at best) within businesses. Given that half of Black women alone believe they are being overlooked for promotions, companies must focus on hiring Black candidates who possess the right skillset into leadership roles, alongside ensuring those in junior positions are given the resources and opportunity to succeed. To be clear, the idea is not to ask businesses to lower their expectations when hiring Black talent into the business – the mere thought of this sends the wrong message about the quality of Black talent. The key is to widen the gate, not lower the bar, thus identifying the objectives that need to be achieved and rethinking what specific skills are required from an individual to succeed in a role.
If an organisation is serious about moving the needle when it comes to recruiting Black employees into senior levels, they should practice inclusive recruitment and must have a clear awareness of the nature of the role that needs to be filled, its value within the organisation, and the expectations of the candidate. Through focusing more deeply on the hiring process and the actual skills required of the candidate, inclusive recruitment can give more of an opportunity to those who may have been previously overlooked due to factors that are irrelevant to their ability to perform in the role. Creating a clear candidate prospectus can be a great way to move away from the old one-dimensional role descriptions. These tend to ask for experience as the be-all-and-end-all, considering whether a prospective candidate would be a good fit for the company, its culture, or the role itself.
Companies must move past the ‘old boys’ club’ attitudes within senior leadership that lead to a consistent replication of the same type of candidate. Specific, non-negotiable skills necessary for the role should be considered front and centre and experience should take a back seat. If we take aspects like a university degree, Black candidates are immediately put at a disadvantage: while 72.6 per cent of people in undergraduate study are white, only 8.7 per cent are Black. Often, university education in itself isn’t necessary for a role, and many skills can be learned through on-the-job training.
Inclusive recruitment has a positive impact on the executive search process, enabling the appointment of more Black people into positions with genuine responsibility. It maximises the chance of hiring diverse candidates through casting a wider net and breaking the boundaries of traditional hiring procedures. Companies must begin to hold their executive search firms accountable for tapping into their networks of high-credibility, high-level diverse talent.
But it doesn’t stop there. Diverse candidates are highly sought after and if they don’t get the impression during the hiring process that they will be supported at an organisation, they will jump ship to a more forward-thinking employer. One way companies can exemplify their support for Black employees from the outset is to eradicate bias in their interview process. Firstly, interview panels should include a diverse range of stakeholders to demonstrate both the company’s willingness to welcome wide-ranging views and the possibility for career progression for diverse talent. This can also ensure hiring managers are not expressing preference for candidates that have similar traits to themselves (the ‘affinity’ bias), or disregarding candidates because of a perceived ‘negative’ quality they possess (the ‘horns’ bias), usually derived from a stereotype.
Whilst these are positive steps companies can take to ensure Black individuals are being hired into leadership roles, the work being done on DEI shouldn’t stop once new employees sign their contract. The momentum must be maintained throughout the onboarding process and beyond. If onboarding is inclusive and successful, employees should quickly gain a sense of belonging in the workplace and feel as though they are able to perform at their best.
Inclusive recruitment leads to more diverse, more empowered, and more confident employees, which will in turn produce better work and progress in their careers. This provides them with the opportunity to use their skills and lived experience to implement policies and encourage systemic change within companies to ensure the work on DEI continues.
Rachel Huggins is head of race representation at Audeliss