By Snéha Khilay, Founder of Blue Tulip Training

Latest research conducted by McKinsey indicates that organisations in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians*. Other research has shown that teams with a wide spread of diversity outperform homogeneous teams. Too many similarities within the team members can lead to teams being complacent resulting in poor decision making process, whereas allowing for multiple perspectives leads to innovation and more consideration being given to potential risks.

In spite of general acknowledgement of a sound business case for implementing diversity in organisations, concerns about the low percentage of black and minority ethnic colleagues at middle to senior management levels continue. One of the roots of this could be on the recruitment processes. Are these processes robust in monitoring and evaluating whether the outcomes are reasonable and fair? Recent research conducted by Race for Opportunity found that only 29% of Black and Minority Ethnic candidates, applying through a recruitment agency, were successful in securing jobs compared to 54% of their white counterparts. A colleague from a recruitment agency mentioned that candidate CVs with foreign sounding names are often rejected by their clients. Furthermore recruiting managers seem more dismissive of relevant and positive information on CVs of non-white applicants.

Bob**, the Founder and Managing Director of a large IT company, recently indicated that he would only appoint someone who thinks, acts and talks like him, adding that during the interview process, he assesses whether candidates have the potential to be a Director of his company. In essence Bob is seeking candidates whom he considers to be a 'good fit' to the organisation. Using Bob as an archetypical interview panel member, he would most likely align himself with candidates like him, thereby subconsciously rejecting candidates who he considers not to be a good fit.

Let's take this further. We have two candidates for the same job: Mike, who is white and male; and Sukhdev, who is a turban-wearing male Sikh. During the interview, Bob, identifying more with Mike would inadvertently give Mike the 'benefit of doubt', if Mike stumbled or was hesitant in response to a question. By contrast, Bob might not be so tolerant or patient of Sukhdev's hesitation. Bob's conclusion would be Sukhdev is not confident or articulate and will not fit into the organisation. Bob's perceptions about the interviews would constitute his reality. Bob might feel that he had conducted all interviews similarly, but not recognise that his decision of appointing Mike was subconsciously driven by his feeling comfortable with Mike. As a recruiting manager told me: “It's like going on a date, you just know when you are compatible.”

Often there is the concept of social awkwardness, a process of trying to build rapport with Black and Minority Ethnic candidates. I call these the 'Are you sure?' moments, all linked to perceptions of personal norms. In a recent interview, a candidate wearing a turban introduced himself as 'Philip Singh'. He was asked, 'are you sure that is your name?' Answering “yes”, Philip was asked if he was christened with the name. Philip's parents simply liked the name. In another interview, a black male candidate asked about LGBT staff support networks. He was met with the response of “Are you sure you’re gay? I don't think I’ve met anyone who is Black and Gay.” In another situation, a black man on appointment was told by archetypical Bob: “I’ve never had a black man in my team, are you sure you’ll teach me how to behave myself so that I don't make mistakes on race issues?” Although we can argue with a vehement 'surely not in this day and age!' the reality highlights a different truth.

There is also a flip side to this; do the rapport building questions from the interview panel members highlight differences? In one situation during the social pleasantries exchange stage of an interview, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was asked whether she would be fasting during Ramadan. She subsequently raised a formal complaint, convinced she was not offered a job because she was Muslim.

Fundamentally if organisations want to have a competitive business edge, considerable care needs to be given during the recruitment and selection process to ensure that relevant, valid and reliable information is taken into consideration. There should be a process in place that provides justification or explanation when distinguishing potential candidates from those who are considered as not suitable. There needs to be some form of accountability on attitudes and behaviours.

*While correlation does not equal causation (greater gender and ethnic diversity in corporate leadership doesn't automatically translate into more profit), the correlation does indicate that when companies commit themselves to diverse leadership, they are more successful – McKinsey Report
** Names have been changed