By Anj Handa

How to attract diverse applicants

This week, I spoke at the Charity Retail Association Annual Conference. My talk was entitled ‘Navigating the Labyrinth – Shattering the Myth of the Glass Ceiling’.

The aim of the talk was to discuss why the term ‘glass ceiling’ is outdated and why ‘labyrinth’ is a better metaphor for the barriers to progression faced by women in the workplace. This will be covered in a separate blog.

As one expects with a room full of women (and three men!), the discussion was wide-ranging and there were quite a few HR-related questions. I’ve summarised these along with my answers, since I believe will be useful for employers in any sector. Here they are…

Shouldn’t we all just have open, transparent practices? Isn’t it wrong to say, for example, that we’re looking for a lesbian ethnic minority with a disability?

In an ideal world, your recruitment practices will attract a diverse set of applicants who fit your person specification. More often though, they do not. It’s not enough to use diverse images.

Sometimes, potential applicants will deselect themselves from the process because they don’t feel that the job or the sector is ‘for people like them.’ This is where a targeted approach is helpful.

But we can’t positively discriminate!

That’s right, you can’t. However, you may take positive action. The first step is to know your data and to understand where you have under-representation based on demographics within the local, regional or national population.

But recruiters don’t send us diverse candidates…

As a former recruiter myself, I can tell you that most Resourcers (the ones who sift through CVs before passing on a selection to the Recruitment Consultant) tend to have limited work experience and a lot of pressure.

It can make them cherry pick CVs. If you want to see more of a certain group or groups of applicant you will need to task your recruiter to do this. Give them a target percentage.

What can the Charity Retail Association do?

I have helped a wide rage of sector bodies address gaps in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and diversity. The CRA could coordinate a benchmarking exercise amongst its members (include a narrative, numbers alone won’t give you the picture) and help to promote change in a way that membership organisations in the tech, manufacturing and IT sectors have done.

For example, I helped to establish a positive action one-year traineeship scheme for the media sector. Ten years on, many of those trainees are still in the industry and in fact one of the trainees from the first cohort is now a co-Chair of ITV’s ethnic minority employee network.

The point was to offer a level playing field, giving an opportunity for them to be able to interview just like any other candidate. This should NOT be about tokenism.

What about flexible working? We feel like we should be grateful when we’re offered it that we work over and above our contracted hours. We rarely question how the flexible working arrangements will work in practice.

Approach your employers with a solution-based focus. Let them know the benefits, such as freeing up desks, being able to cover peak or holiday times, reducing travel time etc.

The issue is that too many employers perceive it as a cost but the benefits (financial, practical, emotional/goodwill) usually outweigh any cost of implementing such practices, which should be available to all – depending on the job role.

I don’t know how to ask for what I need

Something that former MP Meg Munn said stuck me. We were planning our joint blog on organisational politics and she said to me that she found female applicants ‘pleaded’ rather than highlighting their achievements and what they would bring to the role.

In the course of my coaching work, I have personally observed that women tend to internalise and men to externalise. This shows up as follows: women listen to their internal dialogue, which tells them they’re not good/clever/qualified enough and men tend to take an outward focus, benchmarking themselves against others.

This ‘imposter syndrome’ manifests in women as a fear that they will be ‘found out’ (or they simply don’t apply at all) whereas I see men working harder to try to meet perceived expectations of their ability. There’s so much more I could say on this topic, but we will leave it here for today!

Anj Handa is the Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers. She helps women to speak up: for themselves, for others and for social issues.

Anj has a background in employment policy and practice, specialising in diversity and inclusion. For an informal chat about how she can support your organisation, get in touch.