Opinion: Why Are We Doing So Poorly On Building Diverse Workplaces?

Sep 07, 2015

Recruitment tech could be crucial in helping build a truly diverse workforce, thinks Nick Holmes of WCN

Business leaders increasingly view diversity as a key element in the success of their organisations, with studies showing a clear link between increased workforce diversity and better revenue and sales performance. Beyond financial measures, a more diverse workforce carries significant benefits, including enhanced retention rates of your talent - and greater connectivity to your customer base.

Yet many organisations still find it difficult to recruit a greater mix of people. With the business case for a diverse workforce ever clearer, focus has turned to how to implement diversity, and the role HR, recruiting and technology can play in making it happen.

UK: going the right way?

In the UK, we have made great progress towards building diverse workforces overall, with diversity well understood in executive and government circles. The approach to diversity at London2012 showcased to the world what a truly diverse workforce and customer engagement strategy looked like, resulting in diversity leader Stephen Frost (now at KPMG) speaking on diversity at the World Economic Forum. While the UK still has to close the gap to more progressive countries like Norway, there is evidence that we are going in the right direction, with female representation on FTSE100 Boards going from 11% to 23.5% in the last 4 years.

But…it’s not all good news. While examples like London2012 and market trends show that organisations in general are getting increasing competent when it comes to unbiased recruiting, it is not all positive news. Research recently published by consultancy Green Park, for example, shows that there are only six non-white people in the top 268 leadership roles across the most prominent public bodies outside government and local authorities, for example.

Plus, according to that study, ethnic minorities are less likely to reach top public sector positions than within Britain's biggest companies in the private sector, despite the legal obligation on state bodies to promote equality and diversity within their staff.

Although the general picture within the sector is improving, there remain certain areas that still struggle to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds. The public sector is not alone in this, showing that we still have a lot more work to do to continue progress towards diversity in every workplace.

How tech can help

Technology is making it easier than ever to improve diversity levels and reduce discrimination, through providing greater transparency and insight. When an organisation adopts innovative technology and practices at the forefront of the talent’s journey into an organisation, the first thing that happens is you get better insight. You are able to see what is happening at different stages of recruitment, from who the marketing attracts for which roles, to how candidates are reviewed by different departments and managers, and how those candidates progress through the recruitment process down to a granular level of detail. Recruitment technology can monitor job offer rates by specific interviewers for example, allowing you to uncover conscious and unconscious bias. 

Once you have the visibility, the second major impact technology has is that it enables you to start making changes based on the data you see, and measure the impact of these changes. As you make changes, whether it is diversity awareness training for hiring managers or a different recruitment marketing strategy, you can see what happens, who you hire and where you can continue to make improvements.

Removing Barriers

Beyond visibility and measurement, technology can increasingly help remove remaining visible and invisible barriers. Many businesses increasingly recognise the need to adapt recruitment process to avoid turning off certain groups of candidates, for instance those who require reading support or those whose first language is not English.

One of the most dramatic technology-developments to combat discrimination in recent years is ‘talking technology’, making the online recruitment process more accessible to all. Such technology has a huge impact on accessibility. 1 in 10 people in the UK have dyslexia to some degree, 10 million people have a disability and 1 in 6 is from an ethnic background. 

In a move to address this, my company has integrated DiversityTalks, a speaking toolbar, into the recruitment platform built for customers. DiversityTalks speaks over 20 foreign languages, enlarges text and changes colour contrast, making the system more accessible to the growing number of people who struggle to read websites, enabling a higher level of accessibility for all candidates. 

Where do we go from here?

There are 189 different nationalities in the UK; 17% are black and minority ethnic (BME). This number is set to rise to 20% by 2021. Recent statistics, meanwhile, from the American Sociological Association show that diverse groups outperform non-diverse groups in an employment situation. All in all, it’s becoming increasingly important to attract a diverse workforce. Increasing gender diversity by just one percent will boost your bottom line by three. This is also true for a one percent rise in race equality, but three times the difference, as it will increase your revenue by nine percent.

Companies can now be far more thorough in their search, ensuring they are looking in the right places for the right staff, not just in the UK but across the globe. Using the right tools and technologies encourages companies to cast a wider net, interview more candidates and combat discrimination more efficiently.
Right now, diversity recruiting in many organisations mostly relies on users knowing what to do; rather than enabling better diversity recruitment through technology, but tech is taking the opportunity for mistakes away.

Rare Recruitment's Contextual Recruitment System, designed to promote social mobility, is a tech offering, which can be integrated to a company’s recruitment technology and process. The tool works by hardwiring social mobility metrics into the firm’s existing ways of assessing candidates, which will enable them to take the economic background and personal circumstances of a candidate into account, enabling companies to identify 'stand-out' candidates regardless of background.

Continual Improvement

Improving an organisational approach to diversity is a journey that never ends. We always need to analyse, review, and keep striving to improve. Many leading organisations are setting up dedicated community areas of careers websites for particular groups, which allow candidates to find out more specific and relevant information.

Particular examples are disability pages on corporate career sites with functionality for candidates to engage in a conversation yet remain anonymous, providing them with an opportunity to explain any disabilities or unusual circumstances that might hinder their chances during the recruitment process prior to applying.

Other recent smart approaches have been portals based at hiring specific groups such as women within technology. These portals highlight the successful careers that have already been forged, and have a warmer and more engaging language, in comparison to the often cold words of a job description, leading to higher levels of candidate engagement and ultimately greater number of applicants.

The Last Word

If you want to hire a diverse workforce it’s essential as a start point to set diversity targets.  Once you set targets you have to be able to assess your progress, measure what is going on, and make the effort to keep improving.

The war for diverse talent is on, and you better be ready to up your game.

The author is UK Managing Director of e-recruiters WCN

 

 

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