Progress happens outside the comfort zone
November 10, 2020

While commitment to diversity and inclusion is high, concern persists about the right way to achieve this.

Should organisations set quotas and targets, for example? Or could this be counter-productive? Ultimately, shouldn’t businesses always hire the ‘best’ and most experienced talent for a role?

We spoke to senior ethnic minority professionals with extensive experience of working at leading firms in the City to get their perspective.

“You need a much larger pool, so I’m very happy that some organisations have announced future targets for ethnic representation on the board,” they told us.

“Businesses that genuinely want to grow black representation at senior and board level need to step outside of their comfort zone and search more widely. They need to challenge their hiring managers into making different decisions to hire people with different backgrounds to themselves.”

One referenced the ‘Rooney rule’ as an effective approach. “If an organisation wants its workforce to include 25 per cent ethnic minority in 10 years’ time, it needs to work out what has to be done right now. If it’s making 100 hires, at least 25 have to be ethnic minority without compromising on the talent benchmark used in the assessment.”

In practical terms, hiring 25 per cent ethnic minority talent means looking beyond the ‘plug and play’ candidates from the usual talent pool.

“Talent pool one is the ‘plug and play’ candidate, who is the eight, nine, 10 out of 10 person that fits all your criteria. Currently that person will most likely be white and male. Then there are ‘think outside the box’ candidates in talent pool two who may only possess five to seven out of your 10 requirements. These are the candidates you should also consider if they have the aptitude, attitude and mirrored values of your organisation. You must create an inclusive environment and provide the relevant training for them to succeed. Create the environment to turn your five out of 10 into the 10 out of 10s.”

“In financial services, you will currently find more ethnic minorities in talent pool two.”

This is the exact point at which discomfort sets in for many corporates. Doesn’t taking those in talent pool two completely go against the grain of hiring the best talent?

“Taking the five out of 10 is not lowering the bar if they are capable,” our contact explained. “It might take them longer, but you can teach them the job. Giving people that chance makes the recruitment job easier and harder at the same time. Easier because those individuals will be so grateful for that opportunity, the amount they give back will be much greater.”

The gender diversity movement is an example of how broadening the talent pool has resulted in progress.

“When businesses couldn’t find like-for-like women in the current pool, they looked for transferrable skills from other sectors, and recruited women who fit seven or eight out of the 10 hiring criteria. Now businesses need to do exactly the same with ethnic minorities. It changes everything once a business has one or two ethnic minority individuals doing an amazing job.”

Businesses with diversity and inclusion in their mission statement need to act now or people will remind them of their promises very shortly.

“Whether it’s an empty statement or not, whether it’s realistic or not, businesses have to be building the machine to ensure that they are getting to that more diverse place.”

The most successful businesses will hardwire diversity into their policies and procedures, making diverse hiring and promotion mandatory, and incentivising best practice.

“Make it so that when we get a shortlist that does not have a female or a black person, then we are not allowed to make the hire. We have to go back to the drawing board. Then build it into the end of year scorecard. If a team is high performing but not diverse, that means a smaller bonus because we haven’t met that target, as JP Morgan recently announced. Businesses and individuals pay attention when you hit them on a financial level, especially in financial services.”

HR, recruiters and hiring managers can also play a part, although there is no question that they can do more when there is board level commitment.

“Many recruiters don’t realise the power that they have. We are the gate keepers. We control what gets shown to the hiring managers. We are the first to see the CVs, so we really have the power to help and then navigate the conversation with the hiring manager. Having a recruiter who is thinking in a diverse way and not going for the easy option can make a big difference.”

Eventually, the answer to the question, “How do we increase the diversity of leadership and board teams?” always requires stepping out of the comfort zone. “When I look at how far I think we are on the journey, I don’t think that we have pushed and challenged enough. We need to strike now while the iron is hot. Keep pushing. People will give diversity lip service until it benefits them, either to have their name against it so that they look good or if they get paid more because of it. Neither is a bad thing if the result is more opportunity for everyone.”

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