Tag Archives: diversity and inclusion

Diversity of thought and the talent pipeline

When cultural fit is important, diversity of thought is sidelined

The toughest and most re-occurring challenge for any organisation when trying to implement a diversity and inclusion policy is diversity of thought.  Why? Because diversity of thought can question the fabric of an organisation’s culture. It is a change management exercise that asks everyone involved to take a long hard look at the leadership style of the organisation and how those values impact the way their business is run. It also involves taking a long look at ourselves. And we all know how we hate to do that.

Most companies go to a lot of expense and effort to create a signature corporate culture. They talk about “fit” and the way “we do things.” They implement homogenous policies designed to cultivate consistency and unity. They create a corporate brand and design and systemic protocols for operational effectiveness. Everyone’s buy-in is taken for granted. Anyone outside the criteria for fit is screened out in the recruitment process or counselled out once hired.

In the last few months we have seen some advertising campaigns that have gone horribly adrift. Clarks Shoes, H & M, PepsiCo to name but three which have created a media furore and been subsequently withdrawn. The question on everyone’s lips at the time was “what were they thinking?”  Given the layers of approval in these types of ad campaigns, it can’t have been that no one was thinking. It was just that everyone was thinking along the same lines.

There was an acute lack diversity of thought and group think was the driver

Disruptive thinking and comfort zones

diversity of thought

Dealing with disruptive thinking is hard for us all. Whether people are considering a new hire, a new initiative or changing something deeply embedded in the way we do things, we all tend to steer away from that level of discomfort. We fear the lack of acceptance or push-back if people are upset or challenged. One of the reasons why diversity and inclusion initiatives flounder at middle management level is that these are the employees at the front line, meeting and managing resistance head on. These managers can be at the receiving end of negative responses, whether direct antagonism or passive aggression.

Diversity of thought should be one of the most valuable and creative tools in our business world. Yet it is associated with conflict, problems and divisiveness rather than differences to be leveraged for something positive. Solving problems takes time and energy and it’s much easier and quicker (read cheaper) if everyone is on the same page as quickly as possible. We see this at every point in the talent pipeline. In sourcing, interviewing and hiring candidates, to how they are developed and promoted.

When diversity of thought is missing

There are lots of tells that let us know that diversity of thought is not prevalent in our organisations.

  • An organisation does not reflect wider cultural and demographic shifts. We hire from existing networks in the way that we always have done. It’s faster, cheaper, but not ncessarily diverse. We launch change initiatives without including new blood – let alone new minds and thoughts. Noone can produce anything new using old thinking.
  • Individuals are defined by the business and not vice-versa. We expect talent to adapt rather than looking at how we can incorporate different ways of thinking into our culture. People are rarely hired to shake things up, but to fit in. Career coaches encourage candidates to reflect the values of the target company and blend in.
  • Leadership styles favour authority and control rather than influence and empowerment. We like things done a certain way and micro-manage efforts with either direct supervision or with prescriptive systems. Command and control leadership style is hard to let go. It makes us feel secure behind formal authority.
  • Company values are out of step with the values of their employees.  We will see this increasingly as Millennials will dominate the workplace.
  • Cultural fit is the key driver.  In a “yes” culture everyone is on the same page. Contradiction, disagreement and tension is discouraged and business practices are not challengedThis can be packaged as focused energy towards a shared goal, but divergent thinking isn’t necessarily negative.

Encouraging diversity of thought throughout the talent pipeline contributes to the evolution of diversity and inclusion as a business led imperative, to gain competitive edge, rather than simply ticking D & I compliance boxes. Leadership behaviour that seeks alternative viewpoints, develops cultural awareness and values difference, impacts all elements of the talent pipeline. This includes talent acquisition, employer branding, promotions, succession management and leadership development.

Organisations that encourage diversity of thought are more likely to foster inclusivity, offering programmes that help to create bias conscious cultures and provide the support of mentors and sponsors to help them succeed. But perhaps more than anything they create a system of accountability where results are linked to reward.

If you would like a wide range of candidates for your short lists – contact us now.




Diversity and Inclusion Recruitment – Beyond the Hype

Diversity and Inclusion recruitment processes and workforces are the buzz words right now. If the level of white noise was a benchmark, we should be there and all sorted. But we’re not. So  what’s going on behind the hype?

Why aren’t diversity and inclusion recruitment initiatives working?

I see regular, but superficial posts about the way to get it right. But despite the social media fanfare and the business case for D & I being incontrovertible, the needle isn’t moving at the rate it should. In some cases it’s regressing. These are the stats from McKinsey,  but if you go with Deloitte, Mercer, the World Bank or W.E.F. the indications are all similar.diversity and inclusion recruitment

Now companies like Microsoft and Google who seemingly go to great lengths to do everything right are struggling to shift the status quo. They are making D & I KPIs for senior management and part of their personal objectives. Essentially the message is that people can’t be relied on to do the “right” thing, they must have incentives and be rewarded for achieving specific objectives when it comes to diversity and inclusion recruitment.

Tackling bias 

To tackle this, many organisations have thrown big budgets and people at unconscious bias training and awareness coaching, but without creating a safe culture where biases can be called out.  Not unsurprisingly there is push back against generic programmes as employees resent the idea that they need to be “fixed.” Unconscious bias can only ever be managed in any of us. Candidates are placed because they conform to pre-conceived ideas around “cultural” fit (affinity or confirmation bias) and conversely rejected because they may not. The concept of hire for attitude rather than aptitude beyond entry-level, is something mainly seen in Twitter memes and quoted by LinkedIn influencers.

Read: Affinity bias and the recruitment process

Defining diversity

Organisations need to have a clear vision of how they define a diverse workforce, what it means for them and then clarity on the strategy they need to achieve those goals. Then there needs to be an impactful  message related to the company mission statement and employee benefits that would attract that diverse workforce. These conditions need to be openly stated as this demographic self-deselect. This can be flexi-time, welcome bonuses, job sharing, disabled facilities, carer support, retirement support, mentoring programmes and education and study support. So whether diversity comes from hiring on the basis of gender, ethnicity, age, physical ability or even mental health issues, there has to be clarity on which demographics are being targeted.

Promote an employer brand based on diversity

diversity and inclusion recruitment

Diversity and Inclusion recruitment drives can’t succeed in a vacuum.  A positive employer branding message has to focus on the benefits of working in an organisation that supports diversity. Building relationships at grass-roots level to create a feeder talent pipeline,  whether via alternative schools, community centres, colleges, NGOs, charities or women’s organisations etc;, or offering returnships to early retirees or parents. This involves having role models to act as brand and diversity ambassadors going directly into those communities to do a full-on PR job.

Spread the word

Once created this message needs to be strategically communicated where the target demographics are likely to be found.  85% of jobs are secured via networking so you can see why hiring results in “mini-mes” being selected. Many recruiters pursue low hanging, visible fruit. It means a fast, problem-free placement and easier fee. Identifying potential candidates easily tracked on LinkedIn is the quick fix option which will not support diversity. Many young recruiters don’t have the skills to do anything more imaginative and will need training on what is needed to encourage successful diversity and inclusion recruitment drives

Positions should be advertised in a wide variety of places and platforms. It is well-known that women cannot be found on STEM courses, so it’s a waste of time looking there. Yet most companies continue to do exactly that and then complain loudly they can’t find the talent. They should try looking at liberal arts courses and conducting numeracy testing at the interview stage.

Neutral selection processes

At this point the selection process should be as neutral as possible.

  1. Empathetic application forms – some companies still list learning differences as disabilities.
  2. Neutral profiles – making sure that the text usually written in an alpha male tone will not cause candidates to self-deselect.
  3. Blind CVs  – these are useless on their own without 3,4 and 5.
  4. Structured interviews with open feedback and a culture of calling out and naming bias
  5. Short lists of 3 for the target demographic. A token minority will end up getting cut.
  6. Interview panels with a diverse composition.

Read: Do structured interviews overcome unconscious bias? 

Organisations with a real interest in diversifying their workforce will make more concerted efforts to test new ways to identify and attract a new type of potential candidate. Unless that happens then diversity and inclusion needle will continue to stick.

For support on innovative recruitment processes contact here 

mindfulness in recruitment

The Value of Mindfulness in Recruitment

As someone who is notoriously mind-less (I am the person who opens the refrigerator door and has forgotten why,) it has taken a lot of work for me to become attuned to my own biases. In that process I have become especially aware of the value of the process of mindfulness in recruitment. It was heartening to hear Katrien Goossens, Global Head of Diversity and Wellness at Euroclear recently advocate the same. Getting individuals to understand that bias isn’t only found in others, is not easy.  We all have unconscious biases. It’s about all of us.

These biases are so deeply embedded in who we are, our values and belief systems that we barely notice they are there. Unconscious bias is there to protect us and to enable us to sort through the millions of thoughts that go through our heads every day and make sense of them. It is exactly the same as a Twitter hashtag system. A filing system to sort out the things that are important to us and effectively blocks out content that we don’t agree with, is dangerous, offensive or upsetting. In social anthropological terms life threatening people and situations.

3 types of workplace bias

The workplace is no different to our wider cultures. We all make decisions under pressure in the workplace and especially in the recruitment process. This is not efficient and at times illegal and especially frequently not rational. These biases relate to a number of assumptions around gender, age, race, disabilities, sexuality, appearance, BMI, height, social class, accent, nationality, schools and universities attended, political affiliation, postal codes or body art. The list is endless.

  1. Affinity bias   where we ignore negative traits of people we like and focus on the faults of those we don’t
  2. Social bias  –   exhibiting preference to P.L.U. – People Like Us  – our own social group
  3. Confirmation bias  – where we justify our existing perceptions

Even within the organisation, biases play an ongoing role in career advancement. Employees can be offered different levels of career opportunities based on any of these biases.


For many years, employers have used diversity training as a way to overcome biases and make their organisations less homogenous.  Millions are spent. Increasingly those involved in bias awareness training report resistance and even hostility from their programmes and workshops.  Harvard Business Review suggests that  traditional strategies are not only ineffective, they can have a negative impact and even reduce diversity. Even pioneering companies like Google have barely moved the needle in terms of the composition of their workforce.

Some companies are trying to change procedures and practises to deal with these challenges and produce better results. These include:

  • Blind CVs
  • Skill based adverts and job descriptions
  • Structured and behavioural interviews
  • A bias facilitator at interviews
  • Wide range and background of interviewers
  • Interview by text (saw that this week)

My own unconscious bias

However, unwittingly we can continue to disadvantage others, even when at a conscious level we reject those biases. These biases interfere with our rational decision-making, which impact our organisations. It was never more apparent than when I was recently trying to arrange to interview candidates on a Wednesday afternoon. In Belgium the schools are closed. One male candidate was unable to meet because he had to pick up his kids. Another female candidate also had the same commitment. I noted my own reactions to both.

In emoji terms one earned


The other was: Unconscious Bias

My immediate reaction was for the guy “too cute.” The daddy factor. For the woman “she could miss an opportunity. What a shame.” It was very fleeting, but there nevertheless. Using mindfulness in recruitment allowed me to catch and manage that one. I caught myself watching Conchita a few years ago at the Eurovision song contest and caught a definite bias then.

Read: Conchita – Overcoming unconscious Bias  

But how many have I missed? How many do we all miss?

Creating awarenessmindfulness in recruitment

The fact that we have these biases does not mean we need fixing.  When I took the Harvard-designed IAT, or implicit association test I discovered I had gender bias.

A contact discovered that she associated sciences as a male activity, which as a school counsellor she needed to be very aware of.

Another described a man with natural ethnic hair as “sloppy.”

I heard young HR woman reference an older male candidate as a “past his prime.”  Whatever that is.

Our cultures are embedded in gender expectations. This really great video from Kristen Pressner Global Head Human Resources Diagnostics Division Roche covers this point perfectly. Here she acknowledged her own gender biases. It’s a game changer for HR, heavily populated with women and one of the most important HR videos in a long time.

Mindfulness in Recruitment

The practise of Mindfulness can help make us aware of our hidden assumptions. It is about being present, paying attention with intention and not judging. It helps us focus on the experience we are in at that moment in time and creating an awareness of our reactions and making the unconscious conscious.

Becoming aware of my underlying assumptions has allowed me to observe and monitor my reactions and then to change my response if required. This is supported by research from Social Psychological and Personality Science, which suggests that mindfulness can reduce implicit bias and the subsequent negative behaviors follows.  Do I succeed every time? No. Yesterday I was called out by  a colleague for a slip. The most important thing is to be open and accepting of feedback. A senior recruiter became defensive with me when I suggested his language choice was sexist.

Essentially you can’t take the bias out of recruitment until the people involved in the recruitment process become bias conscious. If we all started to note and to become aware of why and how we react to people and ultimately judge them, then we might start to see better results.

The process starts with self. It’s just about getting started.

If you are struggling with unconscious bias in recruitment, contact me.