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Five ways to source more diverse talent

19 Aug 2020 By Elizabeth Howlett

Experts offer advice on reassessing ‘must have’ job ad criteria, engaging specialist recruitment firms and holding suppliers and hiring managers to account

In the wake of this summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and the spotlight shone afresh on equality in all walks of life – including in the workplace – employers’ and recruiters’ responsibility to ensure they are hiring a diverse range of employees is also under fresh and urgent scrutiny.

Numerous studies have shown diversity makes an organisation more innovative, productive and successful overall. But for some, the prospect of changing deeply ingrained processes to facilitate diverse hiring can be daunting. So People Management has pooled advice from experts to help employers diversify their workforces by making lasting changes to their recruitment processes.

Reassess ‘must have’ criteria on job advertisements

Job ads are a vital part of securing the best candidate, but according to Natasha Adom, senior counsel at GQ Littler, employers need to be aware that ‘must have’ criteria can act as a deterrent for diverse applicants. “If [on employers’] ‘must haves’ is that talent must come from Oxbridge or other ‘elite’ universities, they will naturally be limiting their talent pool and excluding other good candidates,” says Adom.

Likewise, requiring candidates to have minimum grades without taking into account the applicant’s circumstances can lead to good candidates being unfairly excluded. “Is a candidate with three As from an elite school really academically superior to one with three Bs from an inner city comprehensive?” asks Adom.

Suki Sandhu, founder and chief executive of INvolve and Audeliss, says that requiring industry experience can also narrow your potential talent pool and “eliminate diverse people who may want to move into the position”. Application criteria is often based on a previous successful hire, he says. “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 when it comes to better team and business performance.”

Organisations also often stick to their essential criteria just “for the sake of it,” warns Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD. So it’s important employers regularly reassess their ‘must haves’ to ensure they are absolutely relevant to the role.

Engage in a specialist recruitment firm 

Specialist recruitment firms that understand how to embed diversity and inclusion throughout the hiring process can simplify the sourcing of more diverse talent, says Sandhu: “Engaging with specialist firms provides endless benefits in diversifying the talent pipeline. It is often the case that recruiters will have databases that are orientated towards the candidates they already work with, and this is not always inclusive of a diverse array of talent.”

He adds that these firms can also point out problem areas within the hiring process, feeding back on where a diverse candidate will be disadvantaged or where there is potential for bias.

However, while specialist firms are beneficial, “they need to be properly briefed and have a clear grasp of what the job entails [for firms] to get the most out of their services,” says McCartney. “Good communication with them during the process is key.”

Increase time to hire

There is naturally pressure on employers and recruiters to fill vacancies as quickly as possible, but Sandhu says this “allows bias and preconception to reign”. Relaxing the time-to-hire metric can yield bigger rewards for the business. 

“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.”

McCartney adds that, ultimately, employers struggling to attract a diverse range of candidates on a regular basis need to question their systems and processes. “It may be necessary to increase time to hire on the odd occasion, but organisations should really be thinking about the bigger picture and taking the time to get their processes and systems right. This will save time and effort in the long run, and will produce better results,” she says.

Change your interview practices and processes

If you are attracting diverse talent to your organisation but they are failing at the interview stage, it could be time to rethink this side of things. Adom suggests setting targets requiring a minimum percentage of diverse candidates at the interview stage, as “it’s harder to recruit diverse talent if they’re not in the room to begin with”.

Where possible, organisations should always try to have more than one person interviewing and ensure as diverse a spread of backgrounds as possible across interview panels, says Adom. “You should also give interviewers training to spot, challenge and avoid unconscious bias,” she adds. Anonymising candidates' names is a good way to avoid bias, she says, as studies have shown that even where candidates have identical CVs, those with non-English sounding names are less likely to be successful.

Job advertisements also need to be checked for bias, and “a wide range of channels should be used to advertise these roles,” says McCartney. There also needs to be rigour in the selection process, with candidates fairly compared and assessed. “Any interview tests should be relevant for the job and fit for purpose. Organisations should also ensure that staff who haven’t been directly involved in selection and interview processes can scrutinise decisions that have been made,” she says.

Hold your suppliers and hiring managers to account

Ultimately, your suppliers and hiring managers hold all the keys to progression for diverse talent. If those candidates are not getting through the door, says Sandhu, this needs to be addressed. “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,” he says.

“Unfortunately, many organisations have bias in their recruitment process they are not even aware of, meaning that creating an inclusive hiring process that provides fair and equal access for all is hindered,” says Sandhu.

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