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Encouraging those from diverse backgrounds, be they social, ethnic, sexual orientation, disability and so on, to pursue a career in your company can help give your business a competitive advantage. The diversification of a business’ employees fosters innovation, creativity, and excellent performance.

The benefits are incalculable: for individuals, families, communities, companies, and the economy and nation as a whole. Whichever industry you are in, you have the opportunity to contribute and to reap the fruits! It is less about quotas, and more about a business reflecting its audience and society as a whole.

It’s also about finding talent, and by ignoring a whole section of society, it leaves an enormously valuable pool of talent under utilised. If I were to start to design a diverse workplace, these are the areas I would look at, as part of a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy it would be a great place to start for any business looking to hire diverse candidates.

1. The attraction strategy:

Often companies don’t realise this, and it sounds obvious, but businesses often underestimate the value of their job adverts. For example, the imagery. These things say more about them than they might think. If a business is hiring talent and uses a stock image that only includes one type of person – then audiences may assume that the advert is for those people in the image.

It’s important to understand the concept that the norm is for managers to hire in their own likeness. Simply put, job seekers won’t be attracted to jobs that don’t seem aimed at them. Looking at how a job ad will appear and who it is likely to attract is an important place to start.

2. Being proactive

It’s important to not just use obvious platforms to find talent. LinkedIn is very useful but it isn’t the only place to look for talent. There are professional networks, professional organisations, diversity initiatives, awards alumni, charities, social media, social enterprises, not-for-profit, professional platforms, careers events and sector leaders in inclusion. It’s important to form real relationships with key stake holders within these organisations so you are front of mind when they are confronted with talent that would add value to your business, so there is value in sharing employment opportunities with them where you can.

3. Accessibility

I would look at how accessible the job ad is. Being accessible goes much further than having a wheelchair ramp and accessible toilets. I would think about a job board and whether everyone can read it, even those who are visually impaired.

Even the way talent are addressed could be considered. For example, individuals that identify as transgender may have preferences on how they would like to be addressed including the use of he, she, they, them, so thinking about using gender neutral pronouns is good, when appropriate. It is about thinking further than who you know and who you typically hire. If a business is truly inclusive it should become evident in the way they approach talent. Saying a business is accessible, and taking a holistic approach to different ways a business can actually be accessible to diverse candidates can be two different things.

4. Retention

Looking at how a business is keeping hold of its existing talent and how it promotes its talent. What processes are in place to ensure that talent is promoted on merit, and not who they know? Visible role models go a long way and there is no better way to encourage diverse talent to see a real opportunity with you than to point out other talent that have been successful, promoted and become real influencers within the organisation. It sounds clichéd but if you can see something you can believe it. Many businesses say they are inclusive, but when you look at their diversity reports or walk into their office you might not really believe it. It’s important to evidence and show off what brand you really are.

5. Education requirements

Do I REALLY need all of those qualifications? Does the job role really require a specific educational achievement or can could good old solid experience suffice? If a business is asking about a person’s university, it’s usually because they want to know whether a candidate has the necessary qualifications. So making a long list of educational requirements might be a good way of filtering out unsuitable candidates, but for some businesses it is also about ascertaining what kind of background and social class an individual might come from, and this is of course not acceptable.

If an individual’s experience is really the main relevant requirement, then businesses should identify transferable skills that will allow the candidate to add value and drive innovation, even if they come from a different sector and have different work experiences. For example, businesses should consider the valid transferable skills and experience that would put a candidate higher up than other candidates, and not necessarily focus primarily on their education information.

6. Ask the staff, do the research

In creating a diverse workplace, it’s important to first create the right environment and culture for diverse talent to work in? Do all of the staff use inclusive language? How do the existing diverse employees feel in the current working environment? Doing a staff survey that allows staff to feedback anonymously is essential. Ask the staff and they’ll be honest and you’ll get a lead on knowing how to improve inclusion and diversity from the inside out.

By asking the staff, you can also find which individuals within the company could be recruited to help create, champion and support an inclusive diversity strategy. That is what inclusivity is about, involving people in your plans and making them feel they have a voice. It’s OK to start small, but important to research into the company culture and what processes, networks are in place and what can be changed to optimise a new culture in which diverse workforces can thrive.

7. Show off

What internal programmes does the business have that demonstrates its inclusive working environment? What other partners could be utilised? I would share this news; employees won’t know you care unless you share this across the business. It doesn’t need to be explicit ‘look at us’ branding it can be subtle messaging that demonstrates that all talent are welcome.

8. If you don’t know, just ask!

Hiring Managers can’t be expected to know everything there is to know about every possible difference. If we look beyond ‘protected characteristics’ and really analyse what diverse means – which in plain terms is ‘different’ – we need to be realistic to the fact that hiring managers won’t be experts at managing everyone. It’s time we explained that it’s ok. You don’t have to know everything – but you do have to ask. If you don’t know something about someone you deem ‘different’ ask the question and don’t be afraid to. Ask charities, diversity experts or HR if you need to, for example ‘What toilets might a person transitioning feel most comfortable using?’ ‘What support or reasonable adjustments might I need to apply to someone with Cerebral Palsy?’ Managers should be encouraged to ask, it’s obvious that if they don’t ask they won’t become educated. The more information that is available to support managers, the better chance you have of making everyone feel they can be themselves at work.

9. Educate the hiring decision makers

I would look at what the leadership teams look like. In my experience businesses are bought into the business case for diversity and inclusion and spend a great deal of time making sure the senior leadership, C-suite and board understand the business imperative for this. But those individuals who are actually hiring really need to be supported and also held accountable. The CEO of a company could have the best intentions for diversity and work to make a real impact in that space, but if the very people who are in a position to hire haven’t been supported and educated accordingly on how to view talent unfamiliar to them, then these efforts will go in vain.

About the author: Joanna Abeyie is an award-winning, agenda-setting Diversity champion and recruiter, social campaigner, TV executive, broadcaster and journalist. She founded Shine Media in 2009, which recently morphed into Hyden as part of leading global recruiter S Three PLC.


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