Oct 19, 2022
by Alex McDougall

Diversity cannot be achieved without Inclusion: why starting at the finish line could be harmful to employee safeguarding

As recruiters we are frequently asked by our clients to support their D&I strategies. All too often however this takes just one form; a request for a “diverse shortlist”. Thrown into the ether with no qualification, it hangs heavy in the air as the hiring manager or talent partner then ticks it off their list of role requirements. Job done. We’ve done our part.

Of course, a desire to hire external talent from underrepresented backgrounds is admirable and undeniably an important tool to tackle inequality. It cannot and must not however be the only tool deployed by a business in the drive to make their teams more diverse and equal. As recruiters we need to be really mindful that we aren’t placing candidates into organisations and teams that will be hostile or unconducive to their development and fulfilment.

If organisational inequality is only addressed through the prism of external recruitment – adding headcount to ‘even the scales’ – it will fail to address deeper, structural issues. It’s too simple a solution to a complex and deep-rooted problem.

Too often businesses will only begin their efforts at what should really be the final step. By thinking that hiring candidates from minority groups addresses all of their D&I problems, businesses run the risk of parachuting applicants from underrepresented backgrounds into environments that will not nurture them, support them, or facilitate their success.

What any business must do first is be introspective. By being frank and honest with themselves a business can address difficult realities internally that are too often ignored. It is vital that a business cultivates a supportive and inclusive environment for all employees before they seek to apply their D&I goals to recruitment. Here are a few examples of questions a business should be able to answer before they build an inclusive external hiring strategy:

  • Why is D&I important to us? What are we looking to achieve?
  • Why are certain groups underrepresented across the business? What is the business currently doing about that? Do we understand our current employee demographic?
  • Do we understand how inclusive our organisation is currently?
  • How does the business currently support the development of EVERYONE across the organisation? For example with:

     - Commitment to pay equality?

     - Career path & promotions process?

     - Family building benefits (maternity, paternity, time off to attend appointments)?

     - Flexible & remote working?

     - Individualised health benefits?

     - How diverse is the interview panel? Is our interview process inclusive and accessible?

  • Are we willing to review our hiring requirements to make us more accessible to diverse talent?
  • If the business hires someone from an underrepresented background, can you realistically set them up for success?
  • How will you safeguard diverse talent coming in to your business? Do you have a policy and approach to discrimination within your business?
  • Has talent from underrepresented groups left your business recently and do you know why?
  • Are there people internally (or external partners) that can help you address these issues?

This list is far from exhaustive, but it does help to illuminate a few blind spots that are often missed.

The key actions I want to flesh out in this article though focus on knowledge gathering and employee engagement; allowing staff to drive these changes within the business. Building a D&I agenda is no easy task, particularly when HR functions and leadership teams who tend to construct them, are often slightly removed (by design in HR’s case) from the everyday employee experience. For this reason the knowledge gathering process is vital to getting a representative picture of how things currently are. Here are a few things your business can do:

  • Inclusion surveys, reviews of internal processes, accessibility assessments and exit interviews can all provide useful information. Ensure you understand your current demographic. Doing an employee demographic survey is a good starting point, but this should be coupled with inclusion conversations with every department in your business – how included do people feel who work for you? This may sound scary, and you may hear things you don't want to hear, but this is the only real way to drive genuine change within your business. No one starts from a position of ‘perfect’, it's about making a first step.
  • Use this data to establish employee led groups that can foster allyship that spans the breadth of the organisation, ameliorate inclusivity and enable that everyone can succeed regardless of their background.
  • Make sure you ask employees for help with this, don’t nominate people! It is not the responsibility of underrepresented groups within the business to do the heavy lifting on D&I, that sits with those that set the culture. Leaders need to lead on D&I, but the ideas should come from across the business.
  • Educate! Encourage education across the business about different diversity groups. This can done by an external consultant or could also be driven by affinity groups set up within your organisation. Education and awareness is a key step in driving inclusion within a workforce.
  • Review your hiring practices. Is the current interview process inclusive and accessible? If for example you are looking for female talent, it is not a great idea to have all six of the stakeholders she meets be men! If a candidate needs wheelchair access or any other accommodations, can you facilitate that practically and in a manner that protects the dignity of the candidate?

Unless a business can foster an inclusive environment where employees have a genuine voice, makes data-led decisions to inform changes to hiring processes, and everyone can succeed, an external recruitment strategy will never be more than a sticking plaster. In our role as recruitment partners we are well placed to help identify underrepresented talent and can help you to design recruitment processes to make them more inclusive and accessible. If you are looking for ways to secure more diverse talent for your business, let us know and we will be happy to help!