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Diversity is more than just a problem for the Oscars

A diverse workforce is key to business success

The recent Oscars row over the level of diversity among its nominees has reverberated around the world, but is there a more fundamental issue that affects workplaces everywhere, not just those in Hollywood. Tommy Lai, Marketing Director at recruitment tech firm WCN explores the importance of having a diverse workforce, explains its benefits and looks at what can be done to combat discrimination.

Employers increasingly view diversity as a key element in driving success. Technology advancements make it easier than ever to improve diversity levels and reduce discrimination. However, many organisations still struggle to achieve a completely diverse workplace. Studies show a clear link between increased workforce diversity and better revenue and sales performance. Plus, beyond any financial measures, it carries significant benefits, including enhanced retention rates of your talent and greater connectivity to your customer base.

Why is a diverse workforce necessary?
Organisations in general are getting increasingly more efficient when it comes to unbiased recruiting, but it is not all positive news. Research shows that there are only six ethnic minorities in the UK’s top 268 leadership roles across the most prominent public bodies outside government and local authorities. Plus, while 51% of the UK population are women, there are only 23% of females at board level.

Increasing gender diversity by just 1% will boost your bottom line by 3%. This is also true for a 1% rise in race equality, but three times the difference, as it will increase your revenue by 9%.

Diversity not only plays a major role in creating a forward thinking and proactive organisation, but it also has an impact on brand reputation and success. There are 189 different nationalities in the UK; 17% are black and minority ethnic (BME). This number is set to rise to 20% by 2021. Recent statistics show that diverse groups outperform non-diverse groups in an employment situation, so it’s becoming increasingly important to attract a diverse workforce.

At the moment one in six of the working population in the UK is from an ethnic minority or non-white background. Collectively they boast a spending power of £300 billion, making it clear to see just how much a brand could lose if their recruitment process is not engaging and inclusive of all cultures and beliefs. In a similar vein, 20% of working adults in the UK have a disability of some description, yet many application processes do not take this into account, losing out on the £120 billion market.

Right now, diversity recruiting in many organisations mostly relies on users knowing what to do rather than enabling better diversity recruitment through technology; but technology and more specifically Blind Recruitment is taking away the opportunity for mistakes to be made.

How tech can help
Technology is making it easier than ever to improve diversity levels and reduce discrimination, through providing greater transparency and insight. It also stops organisations missing out on top talent, who have a disability that might hinder them during the recruitment process. When an organisation adopts innovative technology and practices at the forefront of the talent’s journey they will automatically gain better insight; see what’s happening at different stages of recruitment; learn how candidates are reviewed by different departments and review how those candidates progress through the recruitment process. Recruitment technology can monitor job offer rates by specific interviewers, allowing you to uncover conscious and unconscious bias.

Recruitment technology enables the application process to be fully anonymised up to the interview stage, only allowing recruiters and managers to see information relevant to the task at hand. For instance, in the cases where screening is based on competency questions, recruiters can only access candidates’ answers to these questions and nothing else, focusing selection on merit and not ethnicity, gender, or other potentially affecting factors. Remaining information is made available to recruitment teams as and when it is required. Additional information, including personal details, is typically automatically unanonymised at the interview stage, which ensures the interview can take place as usual.

Companies increasingly recognise the need to adapt recruitment processes to avoid alienating certain groups, eg those who require reading support. One of the most dramatic technology developments to combat discrimination in recent years is ‘talking technology’. WCN integrated DiversityTalks from, a speaking toolbar, which speaks more than 20 foreign languages, enlarges text and changes colour contrast, into its software, making websites more accessible to the growing number of people who struggle to read online. Such technology has a huge impact on accessibility. One in 10 people in the UK have dyslexia to some degree, 10 million people have a disability and two million of these have significant sight loss, plus one in six is from an ethnic background.

So why isn’t everyone up to speed?
Companies often face significant resistance from within to change. Moving online is a huge step and many employees feel that the way they work is fine, therefore not buying into the whole process. On occasion these workers feel that the technology is replacing them or see integrating a new system as a sign that they are not trusted to make an unbiased and fair decision.

Diversity is also still viewed as a taboo subject. People need to start talking about potential disabilities that might impact the interview process at the earliest possible stage. Candidates need to alert the employer as soon as the online recruitment system allows and the employer must be as accommodating as possible, adjusting the interview stage to the candidate’s needs. So many people are worried about saying the wrong thing or asking an inappropriate question that they simply avoid the situation altogether. Effective communication is the cornerstone of recruitment, thus the new tools help improve the process.

The last word
If you fail to show diversity in your choices you too will be at the wrong end of an Oscars-style diversity storm. The process never ends. The Oscars problem might not be a quick fix, but it is similar to the recruitment process, in that we always need to analyse, review and strive to improve.

From a recruitment point of view it is also important to remember that no one tech vendor can solve all the business or diversity problems in HR and recruiting. It’s about picking a whole set of solutions, integrating different software and pulling it together to create an overall picture that looks right for your organisation and your candidates. The war for diverse talent is on and you better be ready to up your game.