Charlie Watkinson
Aug 27 · 6 min read
Attract and retain diverse talent.

“Although we’ve made lots of changes to our recruitment processes to remove bias, we are still struggling to recruit socially and ethnically diverse candidates.”

This is something we are hearing more and more from businesses, most of whom have invested significantly in removing bias from their recruitment processes.

In the (very important) drive to eradicate bias, many companies have not fully understood what barriers stop socially and ethnically diverse talent from that all-important first step of actually applying and, what they need to do to remove those barriers.

After all, applying for a job is time-consuming and requires emotional investment. Smart candidates will weigh up their chances of success before investing time in applying. They will do their research. If they sense that their ethnicity or social background might have a negative bearing on their chances of success they simply won’t apply.

The Arrival Education team have recently been discussing just how much time we spend persuading brilliant, smart, ambitious socially and ethnically diverse talent that it is genuinely worth their while applying to our partner companies.

And this got us thinking — what are companies getting wrong when it comes to getting switched-on socially and ethnically diverse talent to apply for great roles?

We reached out to our Arrival Network to find out why…

1. Diversity is about quota filling, marketing and PR

Our talent, whilst ambitious and hopeful, are understandably sceptical about UK PLC’s commitment to diversity. After all, the move to being more diverse is relatively new. And right now, there are far more examples of companies getting it wrong than right. Our talent want to know if a company is genuine about creating real pathways to top careers for non-white, non-privileged talent. Or whether they just want to create photo opportunities for PR and generate stats for award-submissions, without really changing their culture.

What you can do:

  • D&I statements are often full of positive intent but end up being very vague and full of platitudes. This can be a red flag for talent. If you are in the position to influence comms about D&I, make sure that the case for diversity is specific for your business. Is it about innovation? Is it about new markets? Is it about relevance? Is about customer insight? Be specific.
  • Ensure that anyone who has any contact with the talent pool in marketing or employer engagement events can articulate the real business case for D&I for YOUR business. Run them through what they will say when they are asked about it — because they will be. And, what they will say when asked where your company is on their D&I journey. Can they be honest and open? If not, don’t let them near the talent.
  • Watch for dissonance in your communications. For example “We want more diverse talent. But we also want them to have the equivalent of 3 As at A-level”. This just shows that you don’t understand the talent at all.
  • If you are running programmes and partnerships designed to widen the talent pool, make sure they are well-thought through, involve senior leadership and connect to talent pathways. So often, we hear that companies have put on ‘insight days’, which are poorly designed and delivered. The talent can be very vocal about the fact that they won’t apply as a result.

2. They don’t think they have a genuine chance of progressing

Our talent will research your company online. If all they see are white men and a few white women in positions of leadership, or worse, your website shows pictures of everyone in your office and all they see are white faces with one or two non-white faces, they probably won’t apply. They may also reach out to current staff members via Linkedin to find out the real deal.

What you can do:

  • If you have examples of socially and ethnically diverse talent who have built great careers with your company share their stories. Use video. One caveat — If you are going to do features on current talent make sure you are focussing on how they have been able to build great careers by leveraging their unique life experience. Sometimes these features, whilst well-meant, completely miss the point and alienate talent.
  • Focus on the learning and development opportunities they can expect in their first 18 months with you. They could be formal or informal.
  • And if you don’t have diverse individuals in advanced career roles, focus instead on your D&I commitments and what your organisation wants to achieve. Be honest and open.

3. They won’t be able to authentically be themselves

It wasn’t so long ago that BAME candidates wanting to build careers in UK PLC had to consider whether to change their name to an English sounding one to get through the first stage of an application process. If they feel they will have to pretend to be something they are not in order to fit into your company culture they won’t apply.

What you can do:

  • Our talent are much more likely to apply if they connect with your company values and can see examples of the values in practice. Put your values up on your website. Create stories about them. Ask your people to talk about why the values are important and how they are lived. This is particularly useful if your current workforce isn’t as diverse as you would like, and you don’t have ‘role-models’.
  • Talk about how you want new talent to add to your culture in your recruitment communication.
  • Add a preferred name to application forms. This helps candidates feel like you care who they are.
  • Commission research from a partner like AE with a large network to find out how your organisation is currently perceived among socially and ethnically diverse talent.

4. Have been told there is no point applying by people they respect

The talent you may want to attract may have been told by people they respect that there is no point in them applying to a firm like yours.

Whether a result of misinformation about what companies are looking for (Russell Group University applicants only), negative personal experience or simply not wanting loved ones to experience disappointment, the AE team spends a lot of time persuading candidates that they stand a genuine chance of success.

What you can do:

  • Work with organisations with genuine experience who have networks and relationships with the talent and not just employer brand and early years companies jumping on the diversity bandwagon.
  • Develop ambassador programmes that leverage the power of networks to get the word out.
  • Implement assessment processes that focus on what values and strengths, such as Strengths-Finder and then be vocal about this is your marketing.

5. They don’t know your company/ sector exists

Whilst this is a challenge for all companies looking to recruit great talent, there are even greater challenges if companies want to recruit talent from low-income communities or ethnic minorities. Careers provision is woefully under-funded and, as a result, most young people are only aware of what they see in the media. Parents and well-meaning teachers often default to recommending perceived ‘safe professions’ such as law, accountancy and medicine.

What you can do:

  • Develop strategic partnerships with organisations working with sixth-forms serving low-income communities to introduce talent to your company/sector.
  • Align CSR initiatives focussing on education with early talent pipeline programmes.
  • Get together with other companies in your sector and develop a pan-sector approach with the help of expert partners like Arrival Education.

Sorting out the long term

The business case for ethnically diverse talent is now unquestionably clear. Not only does a more ethnically diverse workforce drive an improved bottom line, but companies who don’t have a diverse workforce (and we are not just talking at ‘store-level’ but all the way through) will increasingly struggle to attract ALL young talent.

It takes time for change to happen. It won’t happen overnight. And it definitely won’t happen by doing what you have always done.

Our diversity recruitment service helps businesses who want to change the way they attract and recruit socially and ethnically diverse talent. Through our Arrival Network, companies like yours can access talent that would normally never apply for your roles.

“We have done a really good job of diversifying our early years’ talent pool — the problem we have now is that they are leaving.” If this is a problem your business is wrestling with, look out for our next piece on Why diverse talent will leave your business.

Arrival Education

Helping businesses to attract, retain and develop diverse talent.

Charlie Watkinson

Written by

Arrival Education

Helping businesses to attract, retain and develop diverse talent.

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