Prioritising Diversity in Recruitment

Katherine Maxwell, Head of Employment Law at Moore Blatch, makes the case for prioritising diversity and inclusion in recruiters’ hiring processes and within their own organisations.

In this article, Barclays explores the importance of prioritising diversity and inclusion in recruiters’ hiring processes.

Key issues

Diversity and inclusion are vital in all businesses, but particularly important for the recruitment sector. Recruiters need to think about not only the diversity of talent they are building for their clients, but also the makeup of their own teams.

Building diverse teams
Diversity, in the context of people and workplaces, brings to mind obvious elements such as ethnicity, age and gender. However, there’s a lot more ‘beneath the surface’ that contributes to our diversity as individuals, such as our life experiences, political views, sexuality, education and the way we think.

It’s essential that recruitment businesses create their own diverse teams in order to better connect with clients and their candidates, and that they embody diversity within their recruitment processes.

Achieving an inclusive culture
While diversity and inclusion go hand in hand, it’s important to appreciate the difference between them: to reap the benefits of diversity, an organisation must foster an inclusive culture.

Whereas diversity focuses on building a team representative of different groups of people, inclusion focuses on building an environment where everyone, irrespective of their demographics and backgrounds, is culturally and socially accepted, welcomed, and treated equally. It’s not enough to simply recruit a diverse workforce – all the individuals within the workforce need to feel like they belong.

An inclusive culture actively promotes employee engagement and helps them to feel valued. If employees feel included and part of the organisation’s vision, they’re more likely to perform at full capacity. This culture shift, which needs to be driven by senior leaders within a business, should create higher performing organisations where motivation and morale soar.

A diverse and inclusive culture is all-encompassing, and to be truly successful organisations need to ensure their recruitment processes – and the recruiters they use – embody it.

Business benefits

Building diverse teams made up of people with different backgrounds, experiences, attitudes, values and opinions creates greater opportunities for learning, innovation and creativity. These in turn should fuel performance and return on investment.

Research has shown that a diverse and inclusive workplace has a positive effect on the bottom line.

  • Gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their less diverse competitors, while ethnically diverse organisations are 35% more likely to outperform other businesses.
  • For every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior executive team, company earnings rise by 0.8%.
  • If just 10% more of a company’s employees feel valued and included in their work environment, the evidence suggests that work attendance will increase by almost one day per year per employee.

Tackling unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is one of the biggest barriers to creating diverse and inclusive teams. People naturally develop unconscious bias as a result of the environment in which they grow up and the particular experiences they have. Most people connect more easily with others from similar backgrounds and this can create often largely unintentional behaviour.

Reducing unconscious bias in recruitment
Unconscious bias affects decision making, particularly the snap decisions people often make on face value. As such, this can clearly affect recruitment decisions.

In order to create more diverse workplaces, recruiters and their clients need to think about ways to mitigate unconscious bias in their hiring processes. In one example, the Philharmonic Orchestra overcame a bias against female musicians by auditioning candidates behind a screen. As a result, the musicians were selected purely on their abilities and the orchestra now has close to a 50/50 gender split.

Unconscious bias can also lead to unintentional discrimination. Recruiters therefore need to ‘de-bias’ their hiring procedures. This may include having an objective paper trail evidencing all the decisions made throughout the hiring process, from compiling the job advertisement and choosing who to interview, through to shortlisting and final candidate selection. This reduces the risk of discrimination claims.

Discrimination versus positive action
The drive to diversify workforces and increase minority representation on boards and senior management teams could be construed as discrimination against others. However, recruiters and employers can use ‘positive action’ to create a more level playing field.

From a legal as well as a practical perspective it is perfectly possible to take positive action to recruit people who share certain characteristics, suffer a disadvantage or are disproportionately under-represented in a workforce without falling foul of discrimination claims.

Provided an organisation’s recruitment actions are proportionate in terms of what they’re trying to achieve, it should be possible to use this method to improve diversity and address any gender inequalities where required.

Key takeaways

  • Research demonstrates that diversity and inclusion is good for recruitment and good for business.
  • Diversity alone is not enough; businesses need to embed an inclusive culture.
  • Recruiters need to be aware of how unconscious bias affects hiring decisions.
  • Recruiters need to ‘de-bias’ hiring procedures and train staff on how to mitigate the risks.
  • Positive action can help create a more level playing field without resulting in discrimination.

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