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What black holes can teach us about diversity in recruitment

28 May 2019 By Nick Shaw

The story of a history-making female scientist shows why it’s more important than ever to hire the best person for the job, says Nick Shaw

It’s not too much of a stretch to say that careers in science have traditionally been dominated by men. Even now, women make up less than a quarter of those working in STEM fields. 

Thankfully, we’re moving into an era where this is changing. Recently, Katie Bouman, a female grad student from MIT, took the world by storm when it emerged she was the lead scientist in the creation of the algorithm needed to take the first-ever picture of a black hole. Along with the excitement surrounding the discovery itself, this is a fantastic example of why it’s important for companies to focus on bringing in the best talent – without giving in to any bias. 

Bouman is a highly skilled scientist; her appointment had nothing to do with her age or gender. She was hired simply because she was the best person for the role. Other organisations would be wise to take this same approach, as building a diverse team simply for diversity’s sake is not the way forward.

Many companies are doing their best to eliminate unfair processes when it comes to recruitment. However, what they really need is to create a culture that encourages the widest possible range of candidates to apply. Gaining a better understanding of each candidate will help to achieve this goal, as this will not only allow HR to assess their suitability for the job, but also to gauge wider factors such as culture fit. 

Previous experience and training are clearly still important, but it’s also vital to consider less tangible factors as well. Ambition, motivation and preferable ways of working are just as important as experience, for example. No matter how skilled a recruit is, if they don’t fit into the team, or don’t feel motivated by the office culture, they’re unlikely to be successful in the role – and may even have a negative impact on the business.

By implementing a more structured recruitment process, companies can eliminate any unconscious bias, assess a candidate’s skills and expertise, and determine the likelihood of them thriving in the team. 

Knowing how existing employees have fared in a particular role is an important part of this. If the company can identify the specific attributes that successful employees share, they will be much better equipped to spot the same qualities in potential candidates – or find alternative attributes that complement these characteristics. 

This method will ultimately lead to better recruitment processes. Measuring candidates against a baseline in this way will lead to more focused conversations and less generic interview questions and will also allow businesses to weigh an applicant’s skills against the priorities of the business. 

Put together, this is the best way to encourage greater diversity in the business, without seeing it as just another box to tick. Finding the right people for the team through objective insight is the best way to create the inclusive culture needed to help the business grow and succeed. By removing factors like gender, race and background from the hiring process, the business is bringing on the most capable people for the role and diversity – and the strength that comes with it – will occur naturally. 

Nick Shaw is managing director of 10x Psychology

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