Just the other day, I was sat around a table at a senior leadership forum and we got on to discussing the pay gap(s). It became clear to me that people are now happy to explore and talk about the gender pay gap, which is wonderful and we should all be proud of the progress we’ve made. However, as the conversation moved to race and the ethnicity pay gap, people became a lot less comfortable and their responses to my questions were less informed by experience in tackling the issues. It makes me wonder, as we become all the more comfortable talking about the gender pay gap openly, how many companies have started to improve workplaces for other groups with protected characteristics. If we’re looking to build diversity in the workplace, it’s time to take the response to pay gap regulations as a motivator for building fairer workplaces for all.
In my work in recruiting diverse talent, as I approach potential employers, I tend towards believing that all people are good people and that we generally do things with our best intentions. With the issue of unconscious bias, for example, we call it unconscious bias for a reason, it’s often the case that a CEO or Manager hasn’t realised that their recruitment process or workplace culture is letting down potential or current talent. However, as the saying goes, when you know better, do better. If you’re reading this article, this could be the beginning of your journey to broadening your horizons and it could be time to do better. After running a talent company specialising in supporting employers to recruit from a diverse talent pool, there are a few things I would recommend you start doing today to help you lead on building better workplaces.
Know the USP of your diverse team
Why do we talk about the Unique Selling Point of our business, but not of our employees? When it comes to convincing employers that there is a need to understand diverse viewpoints and hire diverse teams, I sometimes ask them to look at a person they have hired who is a little bit outside of the mould of their traditional staff members, and reflect on the value that person has brought. This might not necessarily be money, it might be that your retention rates have improved because they are a great team player, that your working culture is better, that there is a greater range of ideas coming from the team. If you look, you’ll realise that there are any number of changes which have come with a person with a ‘USP’. If you have a team of people who are ‘different’ from one another, this can enrich content, thoughts, innovation and people’s experience at work. The evidence is there for the positive impact of more inclusive workplaces, it’s often under your nose, it’s just a matter of taking the time to look for it
Don’t underestimate the Journey
When recognising someone as talented, perhaps during the recruitment stage, most of us identify with people who look and think like us – we can evaluate ‘merit’ where it is recognisable to us. What we’re missing when we do this, is not only the importance of diversity of thought but the likelihood that the person who is sitting in front of you in an interview – perhaps they are a woman, someone from an ethnic minority, or a person with a physical disability – has had to fight very hard to be where they are.
To give an example, what you might not know when you meet me, is that to get where I am today I had to work extraordinarily hard – I held work experience placements every single day I wasn’t in college and every day that I wasn’t in class at university – I never let the ball drop. In the end, I was able to do the same things as my exceptional peers, but was my journey the same? Let’s say I had gone to a private school, there’s a chance the connections I made at school might have equipped me to move into roles, or gotten me involved with people who could help me drive forward my career . I could have been a little more laid back about my career and still progressed well. It’s the same for the person who you are interviewing, or whose application you’re looking at, who isn’t entirely like you. It is quite possible that one person’s achievement came with a lot more grit and hard work than another’s – ask yourself what journey this person had to take, and how hard they had to fight, to get where they are.
Bring In an Outsider
What I have seen, in my work is that there are a few essential steps to diversifying your teams, whether that be in hiring more women, opening your recruitment up further to disabled candidates, LGBT or BME candidates, or moving outside of hiring teams who all go to the same university. It’s important, to start with, to talk to someone who is coming at things from an ‘outsider’s’ perspective – maybe someone from a charity, or someone who didn’t get through your recruitment process but could share their experience with you. Recruiting from a more diverse talent pool is a huge step for many companies but you can’t always see the wood through the trees. Inviting someone who supports, works with or represents a protected group, to come into your workplace and share their thoughts on how you could make your workplace more appealing or easier to navigate can completely change the way you work. If you want to build a more inclusive workplace, the first thing to do is to see where you are specifically going wrong – start by listening and opening your eyes to how others experience your company, and then take informed steps forward.
Reflect on Building a Happier Workplace
In my experience with talent in the past, there are three things that make anyone happy at work: communication, development opportunities & strong working relationships. By communication we mean telling your employee when they’ve done something wrong, and when they’ve done it right, making sure processes around your work are clear and everyone knows what the standards are and how to go about getting feedback. Opportunities to develop are also crucial to keeping someone within the team, to making them feel valued and ensuring that they feel their work is recognised. And strong working relationships are especially important when it comes to someone who might feel they are different in some way; how are your team members going to talk to you about an everyday practicality to do with their religion or ethnicity, for example, if they feel like that safe space isn’t there?
Now You Know Better, Do Better
If it’s your job to talk about equality, diversity and inclusion in your company, I’d advise you to be aware that everyone has a view/feeling they want represented and openness to this is the best way to approach the topic. It’s also often the case (though not ideal) that your average middle manager won’t have had training on or thought much about the experience of say, an employee with cerebral palsy. But we should be challenging ourselves personally to think about the value of different people in the world. It’s also equally important to ask questions, in a respectful way, to get to know your team and build relationships where you are open to learning about them. This is why, as one of Hyden Talent’s services, we offer consultancy – a chance for you to meet someone you wouldn’t normally employ , to ask all the questions about their experiences and challenges that you wouldn’t usually ask someone. This process allows you to demystify the people you come across in future, and help you to hire them in future. Once we start having the conversations that scare us, we make way for a recruitment process that is better for employers and potential employees alike.
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About Joanna Abeyie:
Joanna Abeyie is an award-winning, agenda-setting Diversity and Inclusion Campaigner, Entrepreneur, and broadcast journalist. Joanna founded the award-winning creative industry diverse talent recruitment business Shine Media in 2009, which recently morphed into Hyden (taken from the old English word for ‘hidden’). Having helped to place more than 3,000 people from diverse backgrounds in permanent and freelance jobs in the creative industries, it is Joanna’s efforts in improving the creative industry’s diversity that truly have made her stand out.
Aged just 31, there are few under 35’s that can claim similar achievements, one of which being among The TV Collective’s Top BAME Leaders, which saw her honoured in a photographic exhibition, Federation for International Periodicals Publishing’s (FIPP) Rising Star Award 2017 and We Are The City Rising Star 2018 and Bullhorn’s Recruitment Leader of 2018 and a special invitation to 10 Downing Street, where she met Prime Minister Theresa May, to celebrate Black History and most recently a TED Talk on Social Impact in Muscat, Oman.