Many moons ago, I had a lapse in judgement and applied to go on The Apprentice. I think it was for season three or four and part of what inspired me to throw my hat in the ring was seeing Tim Campbell emerge victorious in season one. That choice told me that someone who looked like me could win and outside the world of sport and music that wasn’t a narrative I saw very often. However, (thankfully) my audition was an absolute disaster and I failed to make it through to the later selection rounds. With Campbell returning for the next instalment, I wonder whether that will have any bearing on the process. Do the ‘observers’ for Lord Sugar actually have any bearing on the choices or is it really driven by the producers. If they do, changing the ethno-cultural diversity of that small group could make a difference.
I started this blog with a piece titled ‘Looking Up‘, which spoke about the positive impact of seeing ‘yourself’ in senior roles. To get there we need fair, transparent and unbiased recruitment processes and that is the focus for this week’s blog.
Reach Volunteering is a great organisation that connects skilled individuals with charities looking for volunteers. This week, I was struck by a post by their CEO Janet Thorne that shared their research on trustee appointments. The team have analysed the age, ethnicity & gender of people applying to be trustees through their service between 2017 – 2020. This covered a large sample size, with a total of 8,725 people making 15,398 applications that yielded 3,169 trustee appointments. The findings demonstrate clearly that the issue lies not in the diversity of applicants but in the selection process. Unsurprisingly to me, the report highlights a worrying disparity in outcomes with “older and white applicants more likely to be appointed than younger people and people of colour”.
The research shows that while application rates are growing with 29% aged under 35 and increasing numbers of Asian (12.7%) and Black (6.8%) applicants, success rates are less positive.
- Applicants aged 55 – 64 are 80% more likely to be appointed than applicants aged 18 – 34
- White applicants are almost twice as likely to be appointed than applicants of colour
- White British applicants three times more likely to be appointed than Asian Pakistani
These are statistics that I have seen reflected in senior level paid appointments as well as trustee positions. The challenge is that far too many people mistakenly think attraction is the problem. Their intention to have a more inclusive or diverse recruitment process is simply resolved by advertising in different channels or job boards. The problem isn’t where you are posting the jobs, the problem is much more likely to be everything about your recruitment process. If you are looking for a brilliant guide on recruiting for leadership roles I recommend this great resource produced by Green Park and ACEVO.
When thinking about recruitment more widely my top five things to consider are as follows:
- Think about the language you use in your ad and what you ask for in the job specification
The number of roles that unnecessarily ask for degrees, or knowledge, skills and experience that aren’t really required always staggers me. Think carefully about the role. What are the critical skills and knowledge you need. Could someone actually pick up on the working knowledge through doing the role and are you in truth looking for someone with the right attributes and values to join your team. You might want to consider a strengths based approach to recruitment, especially for entry level roles. There are also tools that can tell you if the language you use has inherent bias or is likely to deter some candidates. As an example, the language used in so many roles has unconscious gender bias.
- Involve a diverse range of people in the process
Affinity bias is a massive problem in recruitment processes. Selecting someone who is a ‘good fit’ is a euphemism for appointing someone who is the same as everyone else on the team. By having a broad range of people on your panel or in your process you can help to mitigate that. A panel full of extroverts will naturally warm toward someone who is ‘bubbly’ or ‘expressive’ and feel cold to someone who may be more understated and reserved but actually give better answers.
- Don’t default to interview but if that is your process give your candidates the questions 15 minutes before
Consider if there are a range of ways to test someone’s suitability for a role. We have become too fixated on CV, Covering letter and interview. There are some people who are very good in those scenarios and others who are not. Ever been managing a process where you have disregarded a candidate that nailed the presentation but struggled with one or two questions? Unless the role involves the candidate being interviewed regularly and high quality performance depends on it, is it really the best test of suitability? If you must interview be willing to give out the questions before the interview so the person has a time to consider what you are looking for and give you a rounded and calm response. You are testing their competence and suitability for a role not just their ability to respond effectively in a pressured environment. Tailor your selection process to best reflect the nature of the day to day job.
- Be proactive in offering reasonable adjustments
Rather than stating on adverts “let us know if you need any adjustments”, list the adjustment you offer up front and then let candidates know if there is something you don’t currently offer to contact you as you want to enable them to perform at their best. As a disabled person there are things that would help me a lot, such as providing questions 15 minutes before you interview me in case I get brain fog from my MS. However, I wouldn’t ask for adjustments to an organisation offering the standard wording. Why? Because we live in an ableist world and I don’t want to come across as ‘needy’ when I am trying to make a ‘good first impression’. Let me know you are genuinely inclusive please don’t put the onus on me.
- As a selection panel challenge yourselves throughout the process
The best panels I have seen have questioned each and every decision they make. When I was trained in strengths based recruitment one of my biggest a-ha moments came in the interview technique. The opening question isn’t scored and is a ‘gift’ of a question, such as tell me about your favourite hobby. The purpose of the question is to get the candidate talking about something they are knowledgeable and passionate about. Whilst, they are speaking as an interviewer you are observing their tone, their body language and how they express themselves. It is a baseline of what they are like when they are speaking with confidence. On subsequent questions you then assess both the score and the delivery based on that benchmark. It was a real eye opener for me to how I am swayed more by certain types of body language, tone and expression. It has helped me bring greater balance to my interviewing approach. When interviewing or making selection decisions I repeatedly challenge myself on both the things that give me confidence in a candidate and those that do not.
In order to address the imbalances we see in recruiting, especially for leadership roles, those of us charged with making those decisions need to challenge ourselves to do better. I’d love to hear your reflections, suggestions and top tips… #ImNotTired