How can you start recruiting inclusively? As Marsha Ramroop, Director of Inclusion & Diversity at RIBA, explains, there are no quick wins for effectively hiring and then retaining people from a variety of backgrounds. It takes effort and investment in time and resources. Here, she provides some key guidance.
Managing inclusive recruitment in organisations is about more than seeing more people from racialised backgrounds in your shortlists. It’s about more than improving other areas of underrepresentation. It’s about more than hiring someone who isn’t your ‘usual’ candidate. Inclusive recruitment is about you changing the thoughts, behaviours, actions and processes around the attraction, selection, retention and inclusion of others.
That starts with assuming that, unless you are fundamentally doing your recruitment in different ways, prioritising finding great people with the right skills, over cost, convenience, speed and presumptions around educational background, then you are doing it in a biased way, and that categorically needs to change. Going through the motions, having done some training, and simply believing you’re doing the interviews differently, is not enough. Your staff demographic data will show you who you have in your workforce now and where your gaps are. Strategically looking to fill those gaps is part of the solution, but it’s very important that you do so in a fair and inclusive way. The reason why those gaps exist is because of inherent bias in the hiring process and systems, and issues of inclusivity in your organisation to retain, and progress, people from a variety of backgrounds.
1. Attracting a variety of candidates
Outward facing presentations of your organisation have to look and feel like it would be a great inclusive place to work, so when you produce your job description and the advert people looking at your organisation feel there’s a congruence between what you say you’re asking for, and who you propose yourselves as being. This goes beyond images of a diversity of people on your website, this is about policies and messaging being consistent with inclusive values, as well as its inherent accessibility.
The reputation of your organisation in terms of media coverage and reaction to important inclusivity issues on your social media platforms needs to be explicit. You also need to think about where you’re advertising and what your job advert says.
RIBA Jobs is a great place to start, but it’s not enough on its own. Other industry job boards are also worth looking at, but only insiders know about them. If you’re only advertising on LinkedIn, that’s not inclusive, as it may only be visible to those within your social network. Individuals who have not attended higher education are less likely to use it, as they are not plugged into professional networks, and this may mean people who could have the skills you need might miss out. This is particularly important if you are going to be proactive about supporting new routes to practice, such as apprenticeships. Referrals are also useful. However, a variety of biases can come into play if this isn’t mitigated during selection processes. Reaching out to people at jobs fairs is also good, but where, when and who you have representing your practice makes a difference as to who you’ll attract. So, you need to be prepared to invest in a variety of places and approaches to get a variety of people to know about your vacancies.
The details you include in the job requirements – are they really skills, or are they a wish list of traits and values? Levels of experience and educational background can exclude competent people who don’t have exactly the degree you’re looking for or are not old enough to have the amount of experience, but could still be developed and rise up to fulfilling the role. Unconsciously gendered wording can lead to fewer women applying. Check out Gender decoder to run your language through the system.
When it comes to values and traits, how those play out for people of different backgrounds varies and so it’s better to stick to the core skills and capabilities required for a role, than traits. For example, ‘we work in a competitive environment and strive for the best results’: ‘competitive’ can be interpreted in a number of different ways and some people may prefer to achieve results collaboratively and the result is still a great outcome. Individuals from certain backgrounds may even have been criticised for their competitive approach, despite an environment claiming to value it, so that can lead to people not responding for that reason.
Focussing on skills, rather than behavioural traits will help. So, if you need ‘data analysis accurately turned around quickly’, it is better than ‘eye for detail’. ‘Understanding of how to engage a variety of clients’ is preferable to ‘can build rapport easily’.
2. Positive action
Positive action is not positive discrimination. It is allowed under the Equalities Act 2010. It is about taking specific steps to improve equality in the workplace. For example, to increase the number of disabled people in senior roles in which they are currently under-represented. It can be used to meet a group’s particular needs, lessen a disadvantage they might experience or increase their participation in a particular activity.
You must be able to show that positive action is an appropriate way for the organisation to achieve one of these aims and the steps you are taking have been carefully thought through.
Six examples of positive action:
I. Placing job adverts to target particular groups, to increase the number of applicants from that group
II. Including statements in job adverts to encourage applications from under-represented groups, such as ‘we welcome female applicants’
III. Offering training or internships to help certain groups get opportunities or progress at work
IV. Offering shadowing or mentoring to groups with particular needs
V. Hosting an open day specifically for under-represented groups to encourage them to get into a particular field
VI. Favouring the job candidate from an under-represented group, where two candidates are ‘as qualified as’ each other.
3. Inclusive selection
This needs to be properly thought out, diaries blocked out and prioritised, and a good length of time put aside to go through the process without dragging it out for the candidates.
When it comes to shortlisting, being aware of how bias can creep in, in terms of names and education background is crucial. If someone attended your alma mater, then there’s a chance you can consider them more favourably. There are ways you can negate this, by simply asking competence-based questions, and removing names and educational background. However, there is research that shows when the identity of someone is implied in terms of background or education, this heightens the bias response. So, it is better to have a framework scoring system. Ask a few people to score the same candidates and compare scores with no individual having a greater say in the process.
Using psychometric testing has some value, depending on what it is and how it’s used. It’s important to note that if someone is hugely self-aware, this doesn’t mean they don’t know how to mitigate their own behaviours. It’s also worth noting that white men have more experience taking these kinds of tests then women or racialised groups, so white men are more likely to perform better in them.
Interviews can be a useful part of the process, but they need to be clear, fair and consistent. Creating scoring criteria with a panel of people from a range of backgrounds, again, with no individual having a greater say in the process, is crucial. Ensure, if you’re making adjustments for candidates that they’re properly comfortable. Each person should be asked the same set of questions. Listen to answers rather than having a ‘perfect’ answer in mind. Give people a good amount of time to explain their answers and clarify. Remember, the skills required to get a job can be very different to the skills required to do it.
The panellists should have time to individually consider the candidates and score before the overall discussion. Put aside time for this. Give candidates realistic expectations and stick to those timeframes. Communicate with them, if they change. Be sure to evidence your decision-making and provide proper feedback to all candidates, so you know it’s not a gut (biased) decision.
After completing your process and making your offer, ask all candidates for feedback on the process so you can learn and improve.
4. Inclusive onboarding and retention
Congratulations! You’ve selected your candidate and they’re excited to start. They’ll be chomping at the bit to get started and to understand what their role is and how it all fits into the wider context. But you must be mindful of the difference between ‘the way you say you get things done’ and ‘the way things really get done’. This is the difference between overt and inferential organisational culture, so deeply considering the needs and support of the new starter will make the difference between a successful onboarding experience and a poor one.
Check your organisation’s shared assumptions about language, values, traditions and ensure there is someone the new person can go to – to ask all the questions they need to.
Plan the process. We tend to overwhelm new starters with tons of webinars, training modules, organisational charts, meetings with teams … you need to give them a good amount of time to bed in. Also, bear in mind, as a result of hybrid and remote working, people can’t get a feel for a new organisation. Building rapport with others isn’t always straightforward on Teams or Zoom.
Make sure you support your candidate fully, regardless of their background or identities. If they’re struggling, ask yourself first if it’s you, rather than them.
5. Aspects of attraction, recruitment and selection
As outlined by Dr Binna Kandola in Racism at Work: The Danger of Indifference, recruitment processes should be driven by the following considerations:
I. Identifying the best selection criteria
II. Validity and reliability, the effectiveness of the process
III. Legality and fairness, there should be no adverse impact or disparity between how people are treated in the process
IV. Convenience and practicality
V. Cost and development time
VI. Applicant reactions
You need to examine how you expend effort on each aspect and the order in which they’re prioritised. Reflecting on our approach will help us identify what needs to change in order to eliminate bias.
There is no one fixed way of doing inclusive recruitment well, what is important is that you approach it with the mindset that all aspects of the process needs to be done consciously inclusively and preferably with high levels of emotional and cultural intelligence.
When you consider what makes great architecture that delivers on ideals, the onus should be on ensuring that you have a diversity of voices and an inclusive environment in which staff can thrive. Unless you consider actively pursuing a different tack that will support a variety of people coming into your practice, can you ever hope to reach your full potential as a firm? What about having full empathy with those you’re designing for?
If you don’t reflect the communities you serve, are you effectively serving them? Inclusive recruitment is just one part of a holistic inclusive approach to organisational culture and practice; and it’s a very, very good place to start.