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How to Diversify Your Workplace

By Rudy Fernando

There are deep-rooted factors causing underrepresentation across many of our industries, including data, market research and consulting. If you want to help create systemic change and enhance the diversity of your workforce, here are a few suggestions.

1. Rethink Cultural Fit

The phrase ‘office culture’ became prominent in the 1980s when businesses began to realise that people stayed in jobs longer and were more productive if they felt they belonged. Having a best friend at the office became an indicator of job satisfaction. Hiring managers started hiring for cultural fit, favouring candidates who matched their company’s DNA and fitted in well with the rest of the team. The bias toward homogeneity often led to personal interests becoming part of the candidate selection process. For example, if the candidate liked going for a drink after work, going for pub lunches, going on bike rides, or watching the rugby.

Many studies have shown that recruiting in this way is harmful to businesses as it creates an environment that stifles diversity of thought and innovation. Instead, seek a ‘cultural add’ in potential hires to ensure that you gain valuable elements that your culture lacks. It is important to stay true to your company values but actively seek people who see the world differently from you.

2. Confront Unconscious Bias

Using anonymised CVs can help you remove bias at the CV screening stage. At some point, however, you will still need to meet the candidate. Standard recruitment processes can perpetuate inequality because subconsciously, people tend to recruit like-minded people. Are the people succeeding in your interview process from a similar background, social class and/or race? If so, unconscious bias has likely crept into your recruitment process. Luckily, you can negate this through unconscious bias training.

3. Reconsider Educational Background

Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not. Writing “must have a 2.1 degree or higher from a top university” in your job advert is the biggest barrier to getting talented candidates through the door. Instead, think about how you can ‘level the playing field’ such as considering whether someone from a deprived area with a 2:2 degree has ‘achieved just as much someone from a privileged background getting a 2:1.

Case Study

MediaCom led the first government-backed apprenticeship programme in the marketing industry in 2012, recruiting people aged 18-24 who did not go to university. They wanted to see if they could recruit from areas where there was talent, but not opportunity. Specifically, they recruited from areas where schools had above-average exam results, combined with an above-average reliance on subsidised school meals. The success of this program was highlighted by their former CEO and race equality champion, Karen Blackett OBE:

“it’s been one of the most successful things that we have done to bring diversity of thought and diverse talent into the organisation – not just in terms of more talent from ethnic minority backgrounds, but also social class as well” (BBC).

4. Recruit for Potential

Experience is the least reliable predictor of future success. Yet most businesses still use candidate experience as the main basis from which to make a hiring decision. When you limit yourself to recruiting for experience, you limit yourself to the candidates within your industry. If the industry you work in is underrepresented, how can you hope to recruit diversely?

Isolate the key skills and competencies your candidate needs to perform the role and then figure out a way to assess against them. For example, project management, data analysis and writing skills are critical to performing a role in market research; but these skills are not exclusive to the market research industry. If you start to make hiring decisions based on objective assessment data rather than experience (which is subjective), not only will you open up your application process to candidates from more diverse talent pools, you will also hire candidates with the highest potential.

5. Understand BAME

The origin of the term BAME dates to the 60s and 70s when there were initial references to the ‘black community’. Over time, other non-white ethnic groups were added to the term to ensure their representation. As Professor Ted Cantle (Chair of Belong, a cohesion and integration charity) put it, whilst the term “does lump a lot of minorities together”, in practical terms, that is not always the case (BBC).

It is for this reason that some people reject the term BAME, feeling it does more harm than good. It is important to understand the differences between these ethnic minority groups so that you can address them. For example, the cultural differences and nuances in pressure points or triggers between African and Caribbean minorities will be different.

6. Set Targets

The Davies and the Hampton-Alexander reports were a catalyst for businesses putting more female representation on their boards. Gender pay-gap reporting provided data and transparency and gave businesses the impetus to look at where they could improve.

As of February 2021, there were no black CEOs in any of Britain’s largest 100 companies (Forbes). As with gender diversity, racial diversity needs to be something you actively try to achieve. Paying lip service to the topic can have incredibly adverse consequences for businesses, as OVO Energy found out during #blackouttuesday in 2020 when one of their employees replied to their social media post: “I am still the only person of colour on the team”.