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Maintaining Momentum Towards Diverse & Inclusive Workplaces

An Interview with Liz Boston, Certified Diversity Recruiter

This year, two major once-in-a-lifetime events have occurred that have prompted companies to finally commit (or recommit) to diversity and inclusion efforts (the COVID-19 pandemic and the social protest movement— Black Lives Matter). The pandemic has cast a light on long-standing social and health inequalities, and has disproportionately impacted minority workers.

As a recruitment business, we are in a unique position to help drive the momentum forward by educating our own recruiters on how best to advise the businesses we work with to build more diverse teams. By having conversations around unconscious bias, we create awareness and understanding which fosters a more inclusive environment. While like everyone, we are still learning and educating ourselves about how to create a truly equitable workplace, here is one of the many conversations we are currently having.

We spoke to Liz Boston, Talent and Development Manager at Robert Walters, and more recently, a Certified Diversity Recruiter to hear her thoughts on making a commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts and how to mitigate unconscious bias in the hiring process.

People make the wrong assumption all the time. We have so much influence as recruiters to potentially change the shape of a business by having these conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion; It’s about getting people to broaden their perspectives and think differently about things.

Why is it important to identify potential unconscious bias in the recruitment process?  

Bias is something that everyone has, but it’s important to address unconscious bias. Without knowing, you could favor someone on the basis of a school they’ve attended, or because they are from the same town as you are (affinity bias). Once you start recognizing that your thinking is not always objective, you can prevent selecting people based on the wrong reasons, which will enable you to hire more diverse candidates. This in turn will have many benefits for an organization later on. 

What are the benefits of educating staff on these biases and how does it improve the workplace?  

A lot of people group together “Diversity & Inclusion”, but they really are two very different things. Diversity is speaking to the mix of identities, experiences, and cultures that people share or have that are different to one another. Inclusion is an action and it’s intentional. Everyone internally plays a part in making a culture inclusive. Educating your employees to recognize their biases comes with this responsibility. If everybody is aware of what their biases are, they will act with purpose, ensuring they’re listening to other people’s perspectives and ideas, making us more inclusive as an organization. It’s important to recognize that it’s not just the responsibility of the hiring manager, but the team as well.  

You’ve recently gone through a comprehensive training program to become a Certified Diversity Recruiter. Can you tell us about that experience, and your biggest takeaway?  

It was a very eye-opening experience. I’ve been doing recruitment for almost 15 years, and I thought I had a pretty good idea about how to source diverse candidates. Today, there is so much more awareness around the benefits of building diverse teams, as well as new technologies that can help mitigate bias in the recruitment process. The biggest takeaway for me was the number of resources out there and the different strategies to finding diverse candidates that exist. It’s not just looking at LinkedIn and making an assumption. Too often, people make assumptions based on a profile picture or name. You shouldn’t guess a person’s gender or ethnicity based on a photo— and that’s where the unconscious bias comes in. You also shouldn’t select someone for that reason; We still need to be sure we’re representing all candidates who are qualified for the role, so it’s a tough one to balance.  

I also learned about the successes of bigger companies that have seen their performance improve by building a D&I strategy. Adidas for example, originally had mostly male designers, resulting in a brand that appealed to men but failed to attract female buyers. They developed a program with all female designers, and soon saw their women’s sales soar. 

Actually, many of the big tech companies that you’d expect to be leading the change in terms of diversity and inclusion are not doing as well as they should be. Many people are guilty of looking for people within very narrow guidelines (like only considering individuals who attended certain universities, or a certain years of experience to get what they assume will be the best candidate for their business). We encourage companies to look deeply at what’s really important to them, as a brand name (“ex-Google” or “Ivy league” school) doesn’t necessarily reflect the value that a person will bring to an organization. Whilst those big tech brands and top tier schools are renowned for developing the “pedigree” of talent, we need to remember not everyone has the same access to those opportunities, whether it be because of their financial status or geographical location. You could be missing out on someone who’s more streetwise as opposed to academic, which may be a better skill to have in order to help drive a business forward. 

What does Robert Walters do internally to ensure that hiring and promotions are inclusive, fair, and equitable?

Internally, we are very focused on making sure that things are clearly set; It’s very much a meritocratic environment. We don’t hire someone for their tenure, their educational background, or because they’ve come from recruitment. There are clear expectations that we set from the beginning, and regardless of your ethnicity, age, religion, or sex (etc.), we ensure that if you’ve achieved those targets, you’ll be recognized and promoted accordingly. We made our promotion process clear cut to ensure everyone gets the same treatment and opportunity to be promoted with our employee career roadmaps. 

Can you tell us about the internal training that consultants undergo to better advise our clients on how to approach hiring with diversity and inclusion at top of mind?

I condensed the content from the training that I attended and made it relevant for the specific markets we recruit in (NY, Toronto, SF and LA). We broke it down into two sections; One section on education and conversations (teaching people about the different diversity dimensions, and how to mitigate bias in the hiring process), and we ended the session with a knowledge quiz to test everyone's understanding. The knowledge quiz is important because there are certain things that you could say that could lead to an undesirable outcome, so it’s important to get these conversations right in terms of how you can consult and how you can advise. We also held a roundtable to discuss things that have been coming up in conversations, so we can address it as a group. 

The second section of the training process covers sourcing techniques (advanced Boolean searches, and other ways to find candidates who are members of certain organizations). We also search for individuals who may have been a speaker on a specific topic (making them a specialist in that area). Not everyone is on LinkedIn, so it’s important to give our consultants tools to find portfolios and profiles elsewhere online. 

What are some of the things that consultants advise clients who want to focus on hiring functional leads that bring a unique viewpoint to the table?

Making sure that businesses have a strategy for the person who is joining beyond the hiring process is so important. Every candidate will want to know that they aren’t being hired in order to tick a box, but in an effort to make real change within an organization. 

We also advise hiring managers to be more open-minded when considering resumes, identifying the “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves” is a good start. We may ask if the ideal candidate must have 10 years of experience, or would they consider looking at someone with 5 years of experience? 

Providing statistics and data is also helpful. For example, if a client wishes to hire a woman with management experience, we may look into the realistic makeup of that talent pool (because there may be very few women in that specific industry with managerial experience). Would they consider hiring someone who is just stepping up into a managerial position? Hiring for “where someone could be tomorrow” and not “where they have been” can significantly open up the talent pool. Hiring someone with this potential increases their likelihood of staying, because you’ve created opportunity and opened up a door for them that was previously closed. It’s that balance between needing someone with experience and recognizing someone with potential.  

One other really simple thing that we’re all good at now given the pandemic is asking if a client would consider hiring remotely, as this dramatically opens up the candidate pool For more on remote onboarding, I recommend bookmarking our official remote onboarding guide.

What is something simple that every business can incorporate into their hiring practices that will help them work towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace?

Be open to blind resumes being submitted. Everyone makes assumptions based on dates and names, but excluding that information helps level the playing field and mitigate bias in the early stages of hiring process. We also propose a diverse interview panel where possible so that different opinions on a candidate can be discussed and the interview panel is less inclined to group-think and agree on the same things. 

What are the best resources for information exchange in the diversity and inclusion space?

I would recommend Data.usa.io, which is great for all around statistics on different demographics. Statista.com is also a great resource for business diversity data. Finally, McKinsey and Deloitte are always strong resources for D&I information and best practices. 

Interested in learning more about what your business can do to build a diverse talent pool for an upcoming role? Reach out to us by emailing getintouch@robertwalters.com.

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