Long reads

Skills HR will need in 2021: Finding diverse talent

10 Dec 2020 By Elizabeth Howlett

The Black Lives Matter protests have added extra urgency to equality at work. People Management offers 10 practical steps to hiring a range of employees

1. Look to your employer brand 

An organisation’s employer brand can be a powerful tool, but it can also “put people off”, according to Cynthia V Davis, founder of BAME Recruitment. “If candidates with different, marginalised backgrounds look at your organisation and don’t see themselves represented, it can be a problem – because representation is everything,” she says. “If you are not attracting the people you want you need to look at what you are putting out there. You need to change your communication style and the avenues you are directing that engagement to.” 

2. Share your diversity initiatives 

“The congruence between what businesses are saying around D&I to attract people and what they are actually doing is key,” says Louise Weston, managing psychologist at Pearn Kandola. “It’s not enough to say you are a diverse organisation, you must be able to demonstrate that.” Bailey Bell, research psychologist at Pearn Kandola, adds: “Commonly organisations will share their policy but not the work they are doing internally. Use tools like social media to share what it would look like to work within your organisation.”

3. Be honest about your I&D journey 

According to Jamie Forrester, founder and director at Diverse Talent Search, many FTSE 100 companies are now sharing their diversity figures each year. “They are tracking these against the Hampton-Alexander and EY diversity reports, and publishing their suggestions to improve,” he says. The most important thing is to “talk about it and explain why you are going on this journey”, says Davis. “If you are transparent then people will know what they are walking into and are less likely to have expectations that won’t be met.”

4. Increase time to hire

There is naturally pressure on employers and recruiters to fill vacancies as quickly as possible. But Suki Sandhu, founder and chief executive of INvolve and Audeliss, says this “allows bias and preconception to reign”. “Investing more time in understanding candidates has the potential to actually lead to finding more diverse talent, as hiring managers often don’t have an instant affinity or understanding of what diverse candidates can bring to the business – especially if they are not an instant fit,” says Sandhu. “Therefore more time is often needed to see and assess the potential a ‘different’ choice can make.”

5. Engage a specialist recruitment firm 

Specialist firms with access to untapped, more diverse pools of talent than the average recruiter will be key, says Sandhu: “Recruiters often have databases orientated towards the candidates they already work with, and this is not always inclusive of a diverse array of talent.” He adds these firms can also point out problem areas within the hiring process, feeding back on where a diverse candidate will be disadvantaged. Specialist firms “need to be properly briefed about an organisation’s D&I aims and have a clear grasp of what the job entails [for companies] to get the most out of their services”, advises Claire McCartney, 
senior resourcing and inclusion adviser 
at the CIPD.

6. Change how and where you advertise

Changing the language used in job ads could attract a wider pool of talent, says Weston: “We know some terms are aligned more closely with stereotypically male attributes than female… Online language checkers are available if you’re unsure.” Davis explains where you advertise is also crucial: “You need to look at what job boards you are posting to and how diverse they are. There are specialist boards out there.” How you interact with an applicant is also key, says Forrester: “Some people may not be right for the role but, as long as you communicate with them in the right way, you can approach them for different opportunities later down the line.”

7. Revise ‘must have’ criteria 

‘Must have’ criteria can be the enemy of diversity, advises Natasha Adom, senior counsel at GQ Littler. “If a must-have is that talent comes from Oxbridge or other ‘elite’ universities, [the employer] will naturally be excluding other good candidates,” she says. “And is a candidate with three As from an elite school really academically superior to one with three Bs from an inner-city comprehensive?” Sandhu says requiring industry experience can also narrow your potential talent pool. Application criteria is often based on a previous successful hire, he adds. “But organisations need to recognise that having near identical people within a team doesn’t bring diversity of thought, innovation or a better understanding of customer requirements – and this is business critical.”

8. Change your interview process

If you are attracting diverse talent but they are failing at or even before interview, it could be time to rethink this side of things. Adom suggests setting targets requiring a minimum percentage of diverse candidates at interview stage, as “it’s harder to recruit diverse talent if they’re not in the room to begin with”. Where possible, organisations should have more than one person interviewing and ensure as diverse a spread of backgrounds as possible across panels, she adds. “You should also give interviewers training to spot, challenge and avoid unconscious bias,” she says. Anonymising candidates’ names is a good step, as studies show that, even where candidates have identical CVs, those with non-English sounding names are less likely to succeed.

9. Collect and act on data 

Data collection is vital, says Davis. “Candidates with diverse backgrounds could be applying but not getting through to the interview stage or shortlisting, or not moving any further,” she explains. “Data will help identify if a pattern is forming; without data you are fumbling in the dark trying to fix things.” Without data collection, all other actions will be a waste of time, Weston agrees: “You can go to great lengths to attract lots of diverse candidates but if your recruitment process is unfair... then all of that work goes to pot.” 

10. Hold suppliers and managers to account

Ultimately, your suppliers and hiring managers hold all the keys to applicant success and progression. “If you are using external suppliers to support the recruitment process, then you must make them answerable around diversity at all stages of the process. Equally, hiring managers need to be held accountable for ensuring diversity within their teams,” says Sandhu. “Unfortunately, many organisations have bias in their recruitment process they are not even aware of, meaning creating an inclusive hiring process that provides fair and equal access for all is hindered.”


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