Status Quo

Sadly (or thankfully for those of you who have heard my not so dulcet tones), I’m not about to burst into a mid 70’s rock classic… because on this week’s topic I don’t like, I don’t like it, I don’t like it. This week I’ll be talking about recruitment and the challenges and opportunities open to us to lead for change and move away from the status quo.

Status Quo – Rocking All Over The World Photo: Universal Music Group

As I have mentioned in previous blogs I am a big fan of achieving diversity through inclusion. However, there are some processes and diversity focused actions that are important. Recruitment is one of them. I believe there are three important components to think about:

  1. Entry level recruitment
  2. Progression pathways and development opportunities
  3. Senior level appointments

Where I feel some organisations get it wrong is a solitary focus on the first element. Whilst it’s important to think about having more open and inclusive entry routes, on their own they are far from enough. The real challenge when we think about demographic diversity of a workforce is not in lower graded roles but in senior management. I believe you address this through rebalancing the support and development you provide to under represented groups to create more equitable opportunities to progress (more on this in a future post). Alongside this organisations and senior level hiring managers must start challenging themselves on how they attract and recruit into the top jobs.

It is at this point that an underlying desire to preserve the status quo kicks in. The primary cause? Affinity bias brilliantly explained in the video below. How many times have we heard phrases like “We need someone who will hit the ground running” or “I am looking for someone who will gel with the team”? In interviews how often do we attempt to ease someone into the conversation by checking their knowledge, understanding or affinity with the business we are in? This is especially prevalent within charities where we place an additional emphasis on a candidates affiliation to the cause. My view on this is that this is an unhelpful hindrance to more equitable and inclusive recruitment. Unless the role you are recruiting for is chief organisational cheerleader surely we should be more interested in whether someone has the skills and attributes to perform the primary function of the role. In asking this question you have a predetermined view of your preferred answer. Candidates who provide the response we expect are already more favourable and those that don’t will feel a mood change in the room that not only kicks things off on the wrong foot but may even throw them off their game for the rest of the conversation. If you want an gentle opening question ask them what interests them most or excites them about their field of specialism or proposed area of work.

Helen Turnbull delivers a great TEDx Talk on Affinity Bias

It isn’t of course as simple as our opening question. Far too often hiring managers will assume the magic bullet to solving the diversity question is placing the advert on more diverse job boards. In reality the process of change starts before you’ve even realised you have a vacancy. Is there an honest recognition within the organisation that there is a systemic problem, a host of long held barriers to diversifying your workforce through recruitment? We need to move beyond CV and covering letter. We need to consider the language we use in our advertisements and job specifications. There are tools that exist that will let you know if your wording is less appealing or engaging for a particular audience. What subliminal messages is your recruitment campaign sending? In this instance words matter more than a few token images of a diverse range of staff. Does the new post holder really need a degree? If so why? How will you test their capability? What reasonable adjustments do you offer candidates and how do you advertise these? Moving beyond “let us know if you need any adjustments” and instead including a sentence such as “we really want you to perform at your best in this process, we have the following adjustments in place <insert list> but if you need us to make any additional reasonable adjustments please let us know”. The latter sentence sends a much more powerful signal. Ask yourself is your process really two ticks or actually two fingers?

The irony is that the evidence tells us that more diverse organisations perform better. I covered the perils of group think in a post a few weeks ago and it is clear that it is in the interest of your organisation to get more diversity of thought throughout your structure. Don’t take my word for it there is a wide range of research that proves this – here’s a link to a video of Professor Katherine Phillips reflecting on over 20 years of research on this subject. (If you are short on time skip to 5mins and watch a couple of mins of the talk that explains how diverse teams perform better but homogenous teams believe that they do).

So if you are in a position to bring in someone new or influence how your organisation recruits think about the power you have as a hiring manager and the positive outcomes you can have on your organisation by changing your recruitment mindset, processes and approach. I’d love to hear from others on their reflections so please do comment below.

Oh here we are and here we are and here we go, let me kno-oh-ow … your thoughts on improving our recruitment practices… #ImNotTired

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