6 Steps to Tackling Biased Recruitment, Progression And Development

On 8 February, we hosted our highly-anticipated interactive virtual event for Race Equality Week 2022, where we heard from recruitment, leadership and D&I experts as well as organisations who are actively engaged in addressing race inequality in the workplace. These recruitment experts and change makers are committed to hiring candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds, remodelling the system by implementing impactful solutions, and doing things differently to achieve different results. Along with around 700 attendees, we discussed the various changes business leaders and HRs could make to create equity and inclusivity in the workplace.

In the event, we asked what was holding HRs and business leaders back (or slowing them down) from improving diversity in the workplace, and we examined the various solutions that could help them.

At the end of the session, 97% of our participants learned something new, with 66% responding they will look to implement some of what they had learned to help tackle the bias in recruitment, progression or development within their own organisations.

Here are some key tips on how to tackle bias in recruitment, progression and development, and the essential steps to create a more diverse and equal corporate culture – from our Chair and guest speakers, Raj Tulsiani, Co-Founder of Race Equality Matters and Co-Founder & CEO of Green Park, Javed Thomas, Co-Founder of Race Equality Matters, Frank Douglas, CEO & Founder of Caerus Executive, Jo Heath, Partner – Diversity, Inclusion, Culture & Ethics Practice at Green Park, Ian Benjamin, Managing Director at Digital Execs, and Carol Elderfield, HR Director, Affiliates, Group at Amey.

1) Understand that diversity and inclusion are different, and that they’re a process

Many people confuse or conflate diversity and inclusion, and see them as a box to tick, or an issue that has a magical One Size Fits All solution. But you must know the difference between the two before jumping to the solutions: they’re a process that first needs a commitment to challenge the status quo. Ask senior leaders and HRs what diversity looks like in their organisation, and what inclusion looks like to them. How does inclusion help their business objectives?

Organisations proactively or organically also often seem to focus more on attracting diversity than creating an inclusive environment, expecting that a diverse set of individuals will just come on, fit and thrive, progress and succeed. But ethnic minority employees will not feel a sense of belonging if they land in an organisation that isn’t an inclusive ecosystem – and it starts at the interview level.

  • Know that inclusion is the fundamental reimagining of your relationship with your employees, a fundamental challenge of the status quo. It’s not about having a diverse workforce – that is diversity.
  • Understand the difference between assimilation and inclusion: assimilation is about helping a diverse talent pool fit into an existing culture, while inclusion is about changing your ways to accommodate and leverage your existing diverse talent pool.
  • Acknowledge that gender is different from race. To tackle the equity issue, you can’t rely on monolithic company or HR policies. Understanding this will allow you to allocate resources and capital where it’s needed – underrepresented employees often take the brunt of the lack of resources.

2) Address the myth of meritocracy and question the hierarchical structure

Organisations often have an ingrained ‘cultural fit’ issue, in the evaluation of candidates, and the decisions they make when it comes to succession planning and future promotions. Many diverse ethnicity employees of all levels state that there is a prevalence of a ‘cultural fit mentality’, unwritten rules describing attributes for future leaders -which many find difficult to break into. This ‘fit’ isn’t about a set of skills and capabilities but much more linked to comfort levels of dominant communities that go into recruiting ‘in their own image’, without ‘lowering the bar’ or compromising on ‘quality’. This is deeply rooted in the myth of meritocracy, the myth that able-bodied white men from top universities are the most talented people in the world. A good way to get started on debunking this myth is to ask senior managers if they are prepared to challenge this myth. The hierarchical structure is usually based on meritocracy, so one doesn’t go without the other: prepare to challenge both.

  • Put meritocracy to the test: diverse candidates often outperform their counterparts, even the ones who graduated from red brick universities. But before we can dismantle this myth, we must acknowledge that it still exists.
  • Understand that a hierarchical structure is a barrier to inclusion: it is not representative, and often why diverse recruitment panels fail. For real change to happen during hiring decisions, ethnic minority employees put on diversity panels need to be equal to, or more senior than hiring managers, otherwise hierarchy (and the status quo) will prevail.
  • Challenge leadership behaviours: the executive suite is often not part of the DEI conversation, simply signing off initiatives before they go back to business as usual in a hierarchical way.
  • Find out whether the CEO and top leadership are really interested in tackling the DEI issue, whether they are at a lukewarm acceptance level or fully engaged. In a hierarchical structure, all levels must be engaged.
  • Ask yourself whether efforts within the organisation are informative or transformative. Efforts are often simply informative, and do not take the fundamental step of challenging the myth of meritocracy and the hierarchical structure, and reimagining the entire relationship with staff.
“Every white man knows a white woman. Most white C suite executives have women in their professional orbits, and in their personal orbits. Very few white C suite executives have ethnic minorities in their professional orbits, and even less so in their personal orbits. That distance creates stereotypes, discomfort, a lack of confidence and capability in dealing with the issue. Companies need to understand that success and gender do not mean you are going to be successful in dealing with the race issue.” Frank Douglas – CEO & Founder | Caerus Executive

3) Embrace the ‘fear’ so you can look inside your organisation

Recruiters and hiring managers often don’t have a good understanding of the barriers ethnic minority talent can face. Some of these barriers result in information often seen negatively by UK-based recruiters and hiring managers, such as career gaps, more frequent moves from one organisation to the other, differences in education or qualifications obtained from abroad. So internal bias in recruitment must be assessed to put an end to the vicious circle. Getting educated on the race issue and listening to ethnic minority employees will help get rid of the fear, and help understand the subtlety within their career obstacles (often linked to centuries of meritocracy and hierarchy).

  • Be authentic: leaders and HRs are also not always ‘racially-fluent’, and are scared to address the issue – when they do, it might not be for the right reasons, automatically sounding unauthentic to ethnic minority talent who just want to be valued for their skills.
  • Have the humility to acknowledge that what got your company where it is now may not keep it there in the future, and commit to building a new culture.
  • Consider the subtle things that go without saying: Within an ethnically diverse workforce, there is probably a difference of understanding between first, second and third generation executives or partners: do your ethnic minority trainees understand what it takes to be a partner? Inclusion is also about demystifying the things that ‘go without saying’ for able-bodied white men who are used to being in the C suite.
“Turning that fear associated with race into curiosity is the first step in building cultural connectivity.” Jo Heath – Partner – Diversity, Inclusion, Culture & Ethics Practice | Green Park

4) Listen to the voice of the employee and show diversity at all stages of the candidate’s journey

If your organisation already has a reputation for being very white, ethnically diverse talent are likely to look elsewhere – which is one of the obstacles faced by HRs. If a lack of diverse representation can be felt at senior levels on the website, if there is an obvious lack of role models and diversity on communications assets, candidates will not perceive a company to be inclusive and diverse. Only from engaging with and understanding your existing ethnic minority employees can you then show candidates what the experience would be like for them to work at your organisation.

  • Showing your diversity at all stages of the candidate’s journey means showing employees who look like them on the website, brochure and more, but shouldn’t just be a marketing effort: it is about engaging and hearing the voice of the employee and customer who is of diversity background.
  • Listen to your ethnic minority employees: what issues are specific to them? What challenges and obstacles do they face? For example, do they have to shorten their name for ‘assimilation’?
  • Look into your company’s external brand perception, and employee value proposition – if your organisation already has a reputation in being very white, ethnically diverse talent are likely to look elsewhere – lack of diverse representation at senior levels and a lack of visible will turn off potential candidates.
  • Make sure the efforts to show diversity aren’t just reflected in marketing: this process is about engaging and hearing the voice of the employee and customer of diversity background first and foremost.

5) Focus on producing authentic efforts that make a lasting change

Many companies and HRs jumped on the diversity and inclusion bandwagon without a real commitment, and the lack of authenticity can be felt by candidates. When there is a vacancy, HRs may reach out to ethnic minority people with opportunities, but the trust has already been broken. Candidates of ethnic minority backgrounds do not want to go through a long interview process to be rejected again, so organisations must build or create trust first.

  • Show candidates that the business is serious about hiring Black and ethnic minority individuals, by presenting them with employees who look like them, with lived experiences they can relate to.
  • Collect genuine testimonials from ethnically diverse team members explaining why they joined and what the experience is like for them, to show candidates a realist picture in your HR collateral.
  • Show that candidates of ethnic minority backgrounds have been at the company for a consistent time, let them talk about your company’s values and the problems it solves in their own words.
  • Be clear about wanting to fix the issue: If there has been brand damage, be transparent about your process changes and behaviour changes, working closely with recruiters to adopt a different lens.
When asked “Why doesn’t your organisation tackle bias in recruitment development and progression?”, 38% of our respondents said it lacked skills and knowledge, while 35% said it didn’t know how to.

6) Use anonymous polls to find out what and what doesn’t work

Make a habit of conducting and publishing impartial and anonymous surveys, to find out what works, what doesn’t, and why, such as Green Park’s FTSE 100, and commit to staying authentic throughout.

  • Regularly put in place polling within the organisation to review the efficiency of DEI initiatives or new programmes.
  • Make sure the surveys are anonymous and made in a safe space, so that you get the actual voice of the people in your organisation.
  • Learn from those authentic responses to make changes to your existing DEI programmes or to draft a whole new plan of action.
“We used Safe Space to talk about the main barriers to progression, and what wasn’t working. Whilst our inclusion strategy had been developed by people in the organisation, it didn’t meet our multicultural employee’s needs, and a big part of that was recruitment. We very swiftly put into place the actions that the multicultural group had suggested, and the impact was felt almost immediately. We‘ve moved from a very hierarchical culture to a truly empowered organisation.” Carol Elderfield – HR Director, Affiliates, Group | Amey

In the Age of Resignation, it has become harder for recruiters to find candidates, so do not wait to have an immediate vacancy to find diverse talent. The world is fast paced, and you need time to prepare assets and channels reflecting a company’s values, pre-plan polls, so you can be ready to recruit anytime. Look inside too, as you may already have the right talent in-house. Green Park research also shows that diversity itself is one of the least diverse functions within the FTSE 100, so make sure your recruitment team is diverse. So are you ready to drive organisational change?

Engage with us by registering here, watch the recorded event and share our solutions on social media.

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