Jude-Martin Etuka, diversity account manager, from Capita Resourcing, People Development, looks at what steps businesses can take to achieve a diverse workforce and a fairer selection process.
A workforce that is diverse, as well as engaged and talented is best suited to overcome business problems and, taking the current economic climate into consideration, therefore better equipped to ride out a recession. The success of diversity works on the principle that everyone is different, and therefore will have a different way of approaching a problem. The more diverse your workforce, the more likely it is there is someone on the team that can deal with almost any situation. This creates a competitive edge.
So if diversity helps organisations to be more competitive, encouraging a diverse applicant pool and the fairest process of assessment to identify top minority talent is what all organisations should aim to do. While there can be no standard approach to achieving this end, there are a few things organisations can look to do as important first steps.
A good starting point that organisations often overlook is ensuring regular auditing of their recruitment processes. Organisations should constantly challenge themselves opening up procedures to the scrutiny of independent experts, listening to the feedback and, importantly, acting on it.
Psychological and cultural barriers
Some organisations may not have difficulty in attracting top talent initially, but are still failing to achieve a diverse workforce ultimately. This can be due to the hidden problem of minority culture and candidates’ confidence at assessment, which can ultimately leads to minority candidates not performing to the best of their ability.
Business psychologists have identified that there is a widespread belief within minority groups that assessment centres are not fair to them, which leads to a number of good candidates withdrawing applications early or attending the centre with a very low level of belief which then leads to underperformance. This issue is combined with cultural beliefs within minority groups, that hard work and not drawing attention to themselves are key to success. This can all seriously undermine a candidate’s performance and lead to organisations unwittingly underestimating the true potential of the individual.
Investment in assessment awareness programmes for potential applicants is one way to overcome this issue. It involves training applicants in the rules of engagement at assessment centres, helping them to indentify situations and behaviours that will undermine their ability to perform. Being aware of the pitfalls enables candidates from minority groups to approach the assessment centre with a much more positive and effective mindset. It can also create a very strong feeling of “perceived fairness”.
Mystery applicant programme
Another way of assessing the fairness of an organisations’ recruitment process is to implement a “mystery applicant” programme. The programme works by organisations submitting CVs with identical content but with the names changed to suggest differing ethnic backgrounds of applicants. This process can successfully identify any issues early on and give organisations the chance to raise their level of internal awareness and professionalism in a discreet and effective manner.
Finally, organisations can improve by aiming to have a diverse assessor pool. Business psychologists have noted that the emotional impact of the first meeting between the assessor group and a minority candidate can not be underestimated. At some stage in all application procedures, applicants are introduced to their assessors but in most organisations these assessor groups are often white, male, and middle-aged. Psychologists refer to this emotional reaction as “white juror syndrome” and can give an instant negative emotional response in some applicants, along the lines of; ‘this organisation is not like me.’
Aside from “white juror syndrome”, there can also be problems with nuances of diversity. This is a term identified by psychologists to refer to nuances in behaviour and language that can lead to minority groups interpreting and being interpreted incorrectly due to cultural subtext of which neither the candidates nor the assessors are aware.
One way organisations are tackling these issues is by ensuring that internal assessors are ‘buddied’ with external independent and experienced assessors from a wide range of minority groups. While these highly-trained and experienced assessors are a rare commodity, they can add immense value to a selection process. Their inclusion allows a fairer environment for assessment, which should be what every organisation is aiming to create.
There is so much that can be done to encourage a more diverse workforce. If organisations could all make some of these small changes it could result in a much larger positive changes to the diversity of their workforce.