How to increase diversity during the hiring process

Employers

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Businesses are more aware of diversity and inclusion than ever before. Social media allows employees to share experiences easily - whether good and bad, and recent events in the wider world have positioned inequality squarely on our radar. Companies are waking up to the need for an inclusive and representative workforce, both from an equality perspective, and from a business perspective. One Silicon Valley company has even gone so far as to hire tennis superstar Serena Williams to help diversify their workforce. As with all delicate subjects, there’s also potential for errors, whether that’s during the hiring process or once companies have successfully diversified their teams. This whitepaper guides you through diversity in the workplace, and how your company can integrate inclusive policies.   

What does ‘diversity’ include?

The first step in building a more inclusive workforce is to understand the different types of diversity. Some companies naturally attract certain people - startups, for example, typically attract young people who are drawn in by the fast-paced energy and new technologies. In 2016, the average age of Facebook employees was 28, and the average age of Yahoo employees was just 27. But most companies will want to attract a broad range of employees, and it’s important to understand the factors you should be taking into account. 

Age: Age diversity means hiring employees of a wide range of ages, from Gen Z and Millennials, to Boomers at the other end of the spectrum. 

Sexuality: While less obviously apparent, this type of discrimination focuses on people of a non-heterosexual sexual identity. 

Gender: Gender discrimination typically affects women of ‘childbearing’ age, and is usually skewed in favour of hiring men over women. 

Race: Racial discrimination occurs when someone of a non-white background, such as Asian or Black, is treated unfairly on this basis.

Cultural: Cultural discrimination focuses on an employee or applicant’s nationality. Religion may also play a part in cultural discrimination. 

Why is diversity important?

Companies should reflect society as much as possible in their employee makeup. Hiring employees of all backgrounds, genders and ethnicities ensures a broad range of perspectives and opinions are heard within your company. The moral argument for inclusive and diverse teams - that everyone deserves equal opportunities to grow and progress at work and in life - is naturally the number one driver behind diverse hiring practices. 

And beyond the moral arguments for inclusive teams, which we assume as a given, a diverse workforce has a positive impact on your company’s bottom line. Many studies demonstrate the link between diverse companies and better performance. Putting in the effort to hire a broader range of people can benefit your company in a business sense, too. A British study by McKinsey demonstrated that gender-diverse companies perform 15% better than their competitors, while ethnically-diverse companies perform 35% better.       

The reasons for this are complex, but can be distilled to three core points.

  1. Happy employees perform better

McKinsey reports that minority employees are happier at work when they are represented by at least 15% of the workforce. And when employees are happy, they perform better. Teams work more cohesively both internally and with other teams. Diversity improves collaboration and loyalty, meaning companies retain their best performers, and the workforce works efficiently. This time saving directly translates to a better bottom line, helping to explain why diverse companies have a competitive advantage.  

  1. Consumers favour diverse companies

Younger generations are increasingly ‘voting with their dollars’, choosing to spend money at companies who share their values, whether environmental, racial, or anything in between. McKinsey points out that women and minority groups are key decision makers when it comes to spending money: in the United Kingdom, women make 80% of household shopping decisions, while the average income of gay households is over double the national average. So a diverse workforce can help your company appeal to consumers, meaning they’ll choose to shop with you over your competitors. 

  1. Your company attracts the best talent

Why should highly qualified candidates want to work for your company? If research is to be believed, diversity has a lot to do with their decision to hit ‘apply’, especially amongst minority candidates themselves. Representation matters, and it’s even more powerful if amongst senior leadership. In the ‘war for talent’, a diverse workforce means that the best of the best applicants want to work for you.  

How can companies ensure they’re focusing on D&I in the recruitment process?

Building a more diverse workforce starts with recruitment. Diversity is not an overnight process: inequality is ingrained in society, and economic and racial discrimination can already affect school-aged children. But the good news is that with a few tweaks, your company can start attracting a more diverse pool of talent.

Start with an audit of your current processes

The best way to make a positive change is to identify how your company is currently performing when it comes to hiring diverse talent. You might have data on the number of applicants for a certain role, and a breakdown by gender. If not, consider informal conversations with your hiring managers to identify patterns. Once you know where you’re missing the mark, you can start to make adjustments. 

Consider language in job descriptions

Often, we are not aware of our own inherent biases. A job description can be written with the best of intentions, only for you to find that 85% of applicants are male. Consider whether language might play a part in this. Our experience shows that words like “aggressive” and “dominant” tend to appeal more to male candidates, so it’s a good idea to be mindful of the adjectives you’re including in the job post. It’s also been proven that women only apply for a job if they match 100% of the requirements listed, while men are happy to apply if they meet 60% of criteria. 

Consider screening applications without names or photos

Research shows that candidates with ‘non-white’ sounding names are less likely to be invited for job interviews than their white counterparts. According to a study by an Australian university, people with Asian names had to submit 68% more applications before securing an interview, while people with Middle Eastern names had to submit 64% more applications. To counteract this bias, consider blind CV screening. This involves screening CVs without photos, nationalities or names, so the candidate is considered purely for their experience and skill set. 

Ask the right questions in interviews

Some companies still ask candidates personal questions in job interviews such as “Are you married?” and “Do you plan to have children?” - and these questions are almost exclusively directed at female candidates. Ensure that your interview questions are not accidentally excluding certain groups of people. It’s a good idea to use structured interviews with a standard set of questions that every candidate is asked.   

Get feedback from former candidates on your recruitment process

One of the best ways to find out whether you’re recruiting in the right way is simply to ask former candidates for their views. Questions you could ask include: Was the recruitment process accessible? Were the job requirements restrictive? How did the organisation come across (both online and in person)?

Outreach on other platforms / organisations

If you feel that the candidates applying for roles at your company are all similar and not very diverse, this could be because you’re not looking in the right places. Most recruiters will post roles on LinkedIn and a few job boards, but not reach out beyond that and therefore miss out on other talented and possibly more diverse candidates. Try reaching out to special business associations, community groups, or local colleges to attract a different kind of talent.

Consider whether a university degree is really necessary

In the Netherlands, it is very common that companies require a specific Master’s degree in order to be considered for a role. However, in practice most skills will need to be learned on the job, and the academic knowledge they have obtained at university is often entirely irrelevant to the role. Consider whether a specific Master’s degree is really vital to be able to carry out the job. Remember that with such a specific requirement, you could be missing out on highly skilled candidates who have benefited from 5+ years of work experience instead. Leaving out a university or Master’s degree as a requirement will ensure you get a broader range of applications, and that you judge candidates on their skills and experience rather than a piece of paper.

Make sure recruitment panel is diverse

If you’re not recruiting diverse candidates, this could also be because your recruitment panel itself is not diverse, leading to unconscious bias and choosing candidates who are similar in background or views to those in the panel. In addition, if candidates with more diverse backgrounds apply for a role and are faced with an all white, all male panel, for example, they might get the impression that the organisation itself is not diverse and not want to work at your company. Aim for a cross-section of people on your recruitment panel to ensure your hiring process is as fair as possible.

Be flexible

Some companies insist that candidates are native speakers of a particular language, from an exact region or country. An example would be requiring native French speakers from France only, instead of Switzerland or Morocco. Consider whether this is justified at a business level, for example if you need someone who understands cultural quirks from a specific region, or whether you would be able to be flexible.

Beyond recruitment: making staff feel included

Once you’ve hired a diverse team, you need to continue to work to ensure you retain your talent. Making sure everybody feels included is a large part of this. Here are some ideas to consider.

  1. Set up a working group or committee to discuss diversity

Include employees of all backgrounds, and make sure everyone gets a voice. The committee could address diversity and inclusion challenges within your company, provide feedback to senior management, and hold you accountable to ensure your diversity policies are being carried out.

  1. Organise events and discussions about diversity

This is important both internally and externally. Aim to push employees and clients to actively and critically think about issues of diversity, creating a safe space for all people,  and promoting allyship.

  1. Ensure leadership takes a stand 

For diversity politics to really take off internally, you need buy-in from the top. Encourage senior management to participate in events and committees, and to provide statements supporting your company’s diversity efforts. This will lead to a trickle-down effect through your company, helping to enact positive change. 

  1. Provide unconscious bias training

Often, a lack of diversity stems from unconscious bias, rather than conscious racism. Training can help make people aware of their internal bias and work to dismantle it, improving the effectiveness of your diversity policies. 

  1. Offer online and offline resources

Dismantling systemic inequality is a long journey, not something that can be solved overnight. Make budget available for resources that help educate staff on the importance of diversity, such as films, documentaries and articles from thought leaders. Encourage staff to use these resources to become better allies.  

The challenge of diversity & inclusion working remotely

The global pandemic is far from over, and employees may still find themselves working from home for some time. Working from home provides unique challenges for diversity and inclusion, including employees feeling isolated and lacking team spirit. Depending on their home conditions and whether they live alone or have children, for example, some employees might be more negatively impacted than others, hindering their performance in their job. Here are some suggestions for ensuring your employees feel supported from a diversity perspective, even when they’re not physically in the office. 

  • Have virtual coffees to promote social interaction between members of different teams on a regular basis

  • Host online social events like a pub quiz to bring staff together and ensure cohesion

  • Set up a buddy system to make sure everyone - and in particular newcomers - have someone they can talk to about anything good or bad they are currently facing at work / at home, helping everyone to feel included

  • If you’re a manager, check in regularly with employees so make sure you understand their home circumstances

  • Look out for employee wellbeing, as this can be an extremely stressful time for certain staff who might be caring for vulnerable family members, or who are single parents. Ensure everyone feels included and supported within your company.

Looking to the future

Diversity is the buzzword of the moment, both within companies and in the wider world. People from marginalised backgrounds are speaking out about their experiences, and the world is listening. We are on the path towards equality, but it will take time. Companies are bound to make mistakes and errors of judgement as they set out and implement their diversity policies. Through the process, the most important thing is to continue to seek feedback from candidates and employees, and keep improving based on the feedback.

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