In this blog post, diversity and inclusion expert (and 2019 MBE) Joanna Abeyie discusses 5 practical ways to attract diverse talent to your business.
Whether your organisation is in the creative, public, construction, financial services or retail sector, there are similar stories and challenges for businesses everywhere.
What do we mean here by attraction? In a nutshell, it’s about attracting a diverse range of candidates to apply for roles at your business. It’s an essential first step in the recruitment process and lays the foundations for embedding inclusivity in the workplace.
To effectively attract a diverse range of candidates, it’s important to understand what appeals to a candidate, as well as considering where you can reach them. A common scene that gets played out in offices is an exasperated recruiter reviewing a list of candidates that offers very little diversity. It may feel like a catch 22 scenario that’s out of their hands, but if you start to break it down, you see trends emerge.
Why am I finding it hard to attract diverse talent?
- The same recruitment agency is used
- The same job description is used
- The reactive need to fill a role quickly
- An over-stretched and under-resourced HR team
How to attract diverse talent as part of your recruitment process
These five steps form a crucial part of the recruitment process, and play a vital role in increasing diversity in the modern workplace.
1. ‘Where will I find candidates relevant for my business?’
Broadening your search is the biggest way you can make a difference to attracting a diverse talent pool. It’s important to proactively look for talent all year round, as this process takes time and doesn’t suit a reactive approach to recruitment.
This means connecting and engaging with groups of people that provide the diversity you’re looking for. So how do you approach this?
To start thinking differently about where your talent pools could be reached, put yourself in their shoes. Consider these questions:
- What skills are required for the role?
- What are the membership bodies specific to that profession?
- Are there charities that support that particular talent pool?
- Are there any awards in this talent pool?
- What events (try Eventbrite.co.uk if you’re in the UK) can you discover in that field?
- What networks, online groups or social media could they be involved in?
- Where would I get qualifications from?
- If I couldn’t afford those qualifications, what other courses are available?
- What communities have careers and interests in your business area?
- Where would their interests, enthusiasm and skills lead them?
2. Search intelligently and avoid stereotypes
You’ll notice that these suggestions focus on finding candidates who have the experience and backgrounds that match the role you’re looking for. If you’re looking to recruit certain ethnicities, the places that you advertise job roles may reach demographics with targeted ethnicities, but does it mean they will have the background that suits the role?
Yes, the Voice Newspaper may have created a reputation of being the mouthpiece for the black community, but advertising your opportunities there isn’t the only place you will reach black audiences. Likewise the Asian Awards isn’t the only website that Asian people will visit.
And be prepared to dig deep. For example, if you’re looking to attract staff in the technology sector, start by searching for events online. Once you’ve found an event, you can see who’s organising the events, how often they hold events and who their target market is. By doing this, you start to build up a profile of the talent pool for this particular market.
Some of these resources will also be surprisingly open – you just may not have thought to look there. The Financial Times and other national papers regularly release shortlists of talent into the public domain, such as ‘Top 100 black and ethnic minority leaders in technology’13 and their various awards alumni lists.
3. Take the time to nurture relationships
Once you’ve identified charities, awards or membership bodies that represent the diversity you’re looking for, then building relationships is crucial. Simply sending a job description won’t be enough – you need to nurture a relationship with them.
Contacting these organisations as a recruiter can open doors that may otherwise have been shut. They may have direct suggestions for candidates and if so, these candidates have likely reached out to actively look for support in gaining employment. A young person with disabilities may be more likely to go to a charity that runs employment programmes, especially if they’ve had little joy through conventional careers advice centres.
4. Be open to different backgrounds
When it comes to attraction, there are often talent pools that are completely overlooked, such as those with criminal records. The stereotype is that people will be from a rough part of town with poor education, which in itself shouldn’t be influencing your decision. Often, they may have made a bad decision that has had long-reaching consequences.
They may well have previously had a high-flying career in the industry or role that you’re recruiting for. The point is you don’t know and we mustn’t assume things about people without giving them an opportunity to talk us through their skills and experiences.
They may be short of confidence and made to feel that they have little to offer but could, in fact, be perfect for the role you need to fill. That’s not to say that this candidate may not require extra encouragement and support. In many cases, I have placed talent who once had a criminal conviction into a role and their level of loyalty, commitment and passion is huge, because they’re so pleased to be back doing what they’re good at and skilled in.
5. Challenge your recruitment agency
If you use recruitment agencies and find that you’re not getting a diverse range of candidates on their shortlists, be prepared to push back and challenge them. Ask them to evidence where they looked. Open up the conversation with them about what options are available to increase the diversity of where they’re looking.
Even if there’s initial pushback, persisting with this type of request can help it become the norm and encourage them to realise that this interest in all talent is genuine and not just another hoop for them to jump through.
There are many recruitment agencies who are passionate about diversifying their talent pools but aren’t supported enough by the companies themselves. Ensure that when a diverse shortlist is sent to you, it has been matched with bias training to ensure that managers are open to all talent and not just talent that looks like them.
A short-term, tick-box approach won’t change your culture
A word of warning! While it’s possible to broaden your appeal at the attraction stage, the end goal is all-important. If it’s a tick-box exercise, then you may get people through the door but you’re unlikely to retain them. It’ll be a pointless activity and you’ll lose faith in the people that you’re trying to reach, and they will lose faith in you.
One of the challenges with inclusivity is how to embed behaviours and habits into a business. It’s about moving it away from seeing diversity and inclusion simply as ‘nice to haves’, to making it central to the company’s culture. It has to go hand in hand with diversity to make it work.
Hiring a ‘Diversity & Inclusion Officer’ and then expecting that to be enough is a common scenario. You can attract and recruit diverse staff through appearing to show the right attitude, but if the culture isn’t right – if it’s not intrinsic across the business – then those staff will leave. And then culture doesn’t change.
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Many thanks to Joanna Abeyie for sharing her insights and expertise.