Diversity – why it’s not a tick box exercise
I recently read Matthew Syed’s Book ‘Rebel Ideas – The Power of Diverse thinking’ and was hooked from the first page. It had such a powerful impact on me that I am now encouraging everyone involved in recruitment or building teams to read it.
‘Rebel Ideas’ sets out the arguments for why organisations that encourage diversity, and critically, promote diverse thinking outperform those that don’t. Through anecdotes from espionage, sport, technology, aerospace and nutrition Matthew Syed evidences the importance of diverse thinking in problem solving and innovation. Critically it outlines that diverse teams will outperform homogeneous teams, even if the homogeneous teams are made up of ‘stronger’ individuals.
Rebel Ideas also highlights the importance of building a great I&D culture. Genuine diversity of thought, fostered in a supportive environment, where individuals are encouraged to think diversely, challenge each other and collaborate, delivers great results. I&D is not just appointing people that can be labelled as diverse to fulfil a tick list. I firmly believe we need more diverse representation at all levels in our organisations. More than that, we need leaders that are open minded and inclusive, that will promote our differences and allow diverse opinions and ideas to flourish.
To do that we need to consider the barriers entry of joining an organisation. For many, this starts with the brief given to the recruiters – i.e. the section in the job brief that outlines the ideal candidate – in essence, a list of requirements that rules people ‘in’ or ‘out.’
It’s at this point we recruiters need to put our ‘brave pants’ on and to challenge the hiring managers assumptions. Not an easy thing to do when your client is paying your bills. But it’s the stipulations such as “a 2.1 from a red brick university” that unconsciously create barriers to diversity. Clearly, there are many people from diverse backgrounds that graduate with a 2.1 or above from a red brick university. However, we must appreciate that systemic biases in our society deliver marginal disadvantages to people from diverse backgrounds that could result in them going to a non-red brick university or achieving one grade classification lower than another. Does this really matter if that candidate is the best person for the job?
Genuine diversity of thought is not only categorised by someone’s ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or socio-economic status but also by their lived experiences. Bringing people in from different industries, company sizes or structures, geographical or educational backgrounds etc to an environment where they are encouraged to share ideas, challenge and correlates leads to improved outcomes. Stipulating that someone must come from a certain industry is also saying that those from outside the sector don’t have anything to offer. In such a complex, rapidly changing global environment do we really want to limit our thinking and understanding of the world by recruiting in a homogeneous fashion? The adage that ‘people recruit themselves’ could really be holding organisations back.
This is where recruitment has an important role to play. If we are truly to provide diverse shortlists, that will genuinely create better teams, we need to challenge not only our clients / hiring managers and show them the art of the possible by looking at different areas but also challenge our own assumptions. We need to ask the question about what diversity really means to our clients, and what barriers will they remove from the list of candidate requirements to help us provide a diverse shortlist. It’s our job to help them understand the talent landscape and to build an inclusive brief that doesn’t start with limitations. We need to work with our clients to ensure they have a culture that will allow that individual to bring the best of themselves to work and build teams that will foster diversity of thought and collaboration.
I am proud to work for a firm which takes diversity and inclusion seriously. At the time of writing we are holding our annual inclusion festival (online this year due to COVID) in which we hear from I&D thought leaders as well as attend discussion forums with our colleagues. It’s at these discussion forums where I have learnt the most about, but where we have also come up with our best ideas because our collective brain. As one of my colleagues said, “we are a quirky bunch but I like that about us”, no doubt we, like all companies, still have a long way to go, but I think we are headed in the right direction.
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