A diverse workforce: Sacrificing quality for equality?

Morgan McKinley 29.06.2018

Ian Palmer, UK Partner of Executive Search firm Accreate and guest contributor to the UK Leadership Series, gives his thoughts on diversity in the workplace and why meeting quotas may look good but could negatively influence your business.

Importance of equality and diversity in the workplace

“I want to recruit in a representative way, I just can’t find any...(enter minority here)”

Equality is important. There is a plethora of articles demonstrating why it is good to have a workforce that is representative of society and the benefits that can be reaped. Beneficial elements of equality and diversity in the office include making a team less likely to discriminate, increased creativity, boosting appeal to potential peers and bottom line increased productivity.

So let’s assume we all know that, understand it and agree with it.

Restricted by the drive for diversity

But what if you have a team that is overly dominant in one denomination, and you just can’t find any candidates from other religions, races or genders? No matter how hard you try...

If you are an employer and you can’t find a sufficiently diverse pool of individuals, and you have asked your recruiters to help and they can’t find the right people either, what do you do then? Do you fill the position with someone that may unsettle the balance of equality within your organisation?

If you are a recruiter and your client demands positive discrimination, and no matter how hard you search, you just can’t find that gleaming (but illusive) needle in the haystack. But the position is business critical - as an employer you risk losing revenue and as a recruiter you are in peril of losing a client if you don’t hire someone to fill the position.

Diversity over competency: a major mistake

It makes no sense to hire the wrong person for a job, purely to help you meet a diversity ‘goal’. The candidate hired will feel like a gap-filler, it will seem patronising and could cause resentment within teams.

So how do you find the right person who is representative? Some processes are going to have to change...

What can you do?

1. Update your diversity policy

If diversity is important within your organisation, ensure that you display that commitment on your website and in press releases. By overtly showing your beliefs, any candidates researching you will see your drive for diversity.

2. Incentivise diverse referrals

A common way to secure new hires is through referrals, whilst this can lead to a homogenous workforce, if you further incentivise minority referrals, your existing employees may do some of the hard work for you to find the right person for a role.

3. Review interview questions and assessments

Relatively informal interviews, where a particular focus is put on chatting with the candidate as an individual, are commonplace these days. It is especially seen in the later stages when ‘getting to know’ them. It is human nature to look for similarities, and any common ground is preferrable. Whilst it is good to have teams that get on well due to similar interests, it inevitably can lead to a lack of diversity.

4. Be aware of your own biases

As much as we want to believe otherwise, we all have biases ingrained in our brains. When hiring it is important to be aware of your biases and overlook them, or at least work to overcome them. This won’t be an instant adjustment, you will have to work at it and over time, they can be adjusted.

5. Expand your network

If you are really struggling to find a diverse pool of candidates, it may be that you’re fishing in the wrong pool. Place job ads in new places and expand your own network into different areas. This will require an element of research to discover where to branch out, but if you locate the right places, you’ll never look back.

Make the effort to spread your search

It is valuable to have a workforce that is representative of society, but it may mean that you have to do a bit more leg work before and during the hiring process if you want to create a truly diverse office.