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How mentoring can build a diverse workplace

Ed Johnson, CEO and Founder of mentoring and career development platform PushFar, discusses how mentoring during the recruitment process can help to level the playing field for applicants

Last month the UK recorded the highest number of job vacancies on record. Taken by itself this statistic would normally be little more than a sign the economy has rebounded from the turmoil of the last 18 months. However, when you add in the explosion of remote working, the renewed focus on diversity inclusion, and a range of other factors such as the role of technology and data in HR, this figure takes on greater meaning. People are questioning the fundamentals of careers like never before. Where, why and how we work is all under intense scrutiny. For businesses this provides a string of challenges, but it also presents unprecedented opportunities. Chief among them is to reinvent how they go about recruiting and nurturing talent in their organisations. 

Conventional wisdom says that it is up to job candidates to sell themselves to an organisation. They need to come prepared – undertaking all the necessary research, anticipating and practicing answers and so forth. The process is largely the same for organisations big and small – across different industries and even across countries. There are of course some variations in the process, but, when you think about it, it’s a surprisingly homogeneous system. This is especially true when you consider people are very different and the needs of businesses vary dramatically. 

So is it time we rip up the recruitment rule book?
There’s one very compelling piece of evidence in favour of taking a different approach – diversity. I’m not just talking about diversity in the sense of greater representation of ethinic minorities or women. I’m also talking about how the vast majority of organisations or professions veer towards creating monolithic workforces. For example, how journalism is dominated by private school educated people often from the South East of England. We all know how detrimental a lack of plurality of backgrounds and experiences in an organisation or industry can be. 

I believe that one of the principal hurdles to creating a diverse workforce is the recruitment process. Applicants from ‘different backgrounds’ to the organisation they are applying for are often handicapped. This is not just because the interviewers may have some unconscious bias, it is because the recruitment process itself favours the ‘majority’ at the organisation. Applicants that have easy access to the community or group represented at the company they are applying for can get a huge advantage by getting insights into the process, company, politics and even gain relevant experience. This then leads to a self-perpetuating cycle that veers an organisation towards one particular group. 

I’m not alone in this thinking. Humberside Police identified the same issue. They found candidates from diverse backgrounds often did not perform well at the interview stage. This is not because they were less talented, it was because their competition had access to serving officers. They could learn much more about the recruitment process and subsequently perform better at interviews. Breaking this cycle did not mean seeking to prevent this type of consultation. It meant levelling the playing field by giving the same access to everybody. We teamed up with Humberside to create a mentoring programme that gave everyone access to serving officers that could support them during recruitment. The positive results were almost immediate. 

I believe providing everyone the same access and insight into a business is one of the key new principles we should apply to recruitment processes. It should go hand-in-hand of reevaluating how much weight we give to certain criteria. For example, work experience for entry level positions. One argument is that this is indicative of self motivation and a real interest in a chosen career. However, it inevitably favours candidates who have greater access – whether that’s due to financial support, geographical convenience or relevant connections. 

If you value candidates who have more intimate knowledge of your business, ensure this information is available to all. Should you demand in person assessment – pay for all the travel and accommodation. Does your recruitment process heavily favour those that have work experience – provide your own program without pre qualifiers. The list goes on and on, but put simply, companies should make their processes and the criteria they consider as inclusive and fair as possible. Only by creating a fully level playing field and supporting candidates, rather than expecting them to simply sell themselves, can organisations really tackle systemic diversity issues.  

What I’ve outlined is just the start of how I believe we need to reimagine the recruitment process. We know it needs to change because it doesn’t work fairly for everyone. Fixing it won’t be a silver bullet that solves the diversity and inclusion problem, what it will do is remove a significant obstacle for many groups of people.  

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