Tech in Culture EDI Alliance Partner Forum: Recruitment

Author: Kathryn Mason

The first Tech In Culture EDI Alliance partner forum was held on Monday 17th May. Hosted by the Alliance’s Founder and our Managing Director, Ash, the Forum was focused on recruitment, and the different ways in which organisations can make their hiring processes more inclusive.

A key observation throughout the discussion was that, more often than not, companies aren’t losing diverse candidates throughout their recruitment process, they’re not even having them apply in the first place. And if the end goal is to diversify our places of work, then we need to be diversifying our candidate pool. So we looked at some of the ways this could be achieved.

The discussion was guided by EDI experts Lexie Papaspyrou from the Tech Talent Charter, and Dania Lyons from Spinks, both of whom shared loads of useful information, insights and tips that everyone could take away and consider how best to put them into practice.

We had an open, honest and practical conversation that covered a wide range of EDI considerations around recruitment. Here, we’ve captured some of the many things discussed.

Recruitment is a process of incremental change

  • Every organisation is at a different stage in its EDI journey. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. So gaining valuable insights and lessons from other organisations, no matter which stage they’re at, is an incredibly useful tool in and of itself.

Outline of the changes Substrakt has made to their recruitment process (written about in further detail).

  • First came a thorough analysis around how we were positioning ourselves in job adverts. Things recognised:
    • A clear need to diversify the workforce (at the time, around 2 years ago, the workforce was predominantly white male).
    • That we were hiring on a reactive and adhoc basis. This resulted in hiring to fulfil an immediate need, rather than giving the recruitment process the time and care needed to attract a more diverse talent pool. This becomes cyclical without proactive change.
    • Specific job requirements (e.g. ‘x’ number of years experience in ‘y’) was a huge barrier.
    • Advertising on the same, small number of job boards was significantly narrowing our diversity of candidates.
    • We weren’t communicating what Substrakt was like as a place of work, but rather as a supplier to the organisations we work with. This was not only evident in the language used within our job ads, but also across our marketing materials, social media pages, blogs and website imagery, etc (more on the importance of ‘showcasing your workplace culture’ later).
  • So what did we change?
    • We’ve become far more proactive when it comes to both the recruitment pipeline (so we can give the process the time it needs) and making changes to the way we position ourselves as a company.
    • Diversified the places we are advertising our jobs (e.g. for tech specific roles there are job boards focused on black, female and non-binary tech talent). Since doing so, we’ve noticed a far greater diversity of candidates applying.
    • Anonymised all applications (removing references to gender, name, age, previous employers etc).
    • Talk far more (and in a more structured way) about our people, culture and benefits, and far less about specific job requirements. This has required a shift in focus towards our values and culture – highlighting through the language we use that we believe skills and competencies around things such as empathy, curiosity and demonstrating you’re a quick learner is often more important than having ‘x years of experience’. Knowledge can often (usually) be learned.
    • Written a guide for potential candidates to tell them what to expect when applying for a job with us. This contains explicit information such as length of interview, how long it’ll take to hear back, who will be there etc.
    • Supply all interview questions at least a week in advance, which is helpful for everyone, particularly neurodiverse people. This has resulted in good feedback and better quality interview conversations.
    • Published our EDI Vision statement, which a number of ethnically diverse candidates have commented favourably on. It shows a public commitment to the things we’re claiming we do.

Affecting change to language and behaviours internally (which can be an even greater communications and culture challenge for larger organisations)

  • There are words and terms we all use that many people don’t realise are exclusive, or rooted in some form of discrimination. They have become an everyday part of people’s language.
    •  Many tech terms are rooted in racism (e.g. “white-list” vs “black-list”, servers having a “master-slave” relationship)
  • Sometimes people feel excluded but aren’t confident to speak up, which isn’t helped by the fact that conversations on digital channels can be polarising. Equally, “calling people out” for using exclusive language is unlikely to encourage them to change. You’re more likely to affect positive change if you can create an informal, inclusive, ongoing discourse that encourages incremental change within the workplace. 
  • We discussed some of the ways this could be done:
    • The ‘why’ factor: Communicate why you are making these changes without mandating anyone else’s behaviour. Adopting this socialised approach is likely to be more palatable to people than anything that feels forced. 
      • Explain why a more diverse team will make for a better workplace, and better work. It can be helpful to talk to the fact you are a mission and values driven organisation and want to work with similarly driven people / organisations.
    • Anonymous bot: Try introducing an anonymous ‘bot’ that gives employees the space to voice their concerns in a private forum. An internal team dedicated to reviewing each of these can then make a decision as to whether the language being used is acceptable. 
      • If it’s considered unacceptable, give a clear explanation as to why, alongside the relevant (often historical) context. People are more likely to engage and respond this way.
    • Listening groups: For larger organisations in particular (where EDI is more often an “afterthought” and it’s harder to affect change because of  internal politics, operating across different time zones and the sheer number of people to engage), try introducing listening groups. This approach can connect people from across time zones and job functionalities to focus on improving and discussing one specific part of diversity within the workplace (e.g. promotions, recruitment, celebrating success, etc). This can strengthen the diversity conversations happening within your organisation and increase the likelihood of influencing the people who can affect the greatest change.
    • Training sessions: Conduct internal training sessions that might encourage people to ask questions and voice their concerns (which are often thoughts such as “I’m worried about saying the wrong thing”). Providing an open forum can break these barriers down and make people feel more comfortable to participate in conversations around diversity and inclusion.

Language and tone – beyond just the job advert itself

  • We discussed the importance of considering all of the different touchpoints you have with potential candidates, up to, including, and beyond the job advert. It’s important to make sure that the language used across your communications is consistent, and that your EDI messaging is present at every stage. This could be your website (candidates are likely to go straight here when seeing your job advert), your follow-up emails, your social media pages etc. 
  • Codifying your EDI language is a useful way to sense-check each job description (and related communications).

The importance of communicating workplace culture

  • We’re seeing an increase in ethical job decision-making processes, with people asking questions around the values of a business as opposed to (or in addition to) what their salary is going to be, or what a typical working day might look like. People are looking for an understanding of what it’s like to work with you. What are your values and benefits, what’s your internal culture like, etc.
    • We talked about some of the things we can be doing to help showcase your brand and workplace: 
      • Write a ‘what to expect’ piece for potential employees – tell them about your values, your benefits, and your company culture, alongside a comprehensive description of the full application process. This removes the assumption that the good candidates will know what to expect, while giving them a good sense of who you are. 
      • Video content can be a great way to engage people with your team and your brand. Perhaps an ‘intro to the team’ or ‘life at your organisation’ film – something that showcases you brand, business and culture. 
      • Copying and pasting job descriptions for similar roles can result in poor conversion rates, and does little to show you’re a brand and company who are going to ‘make the effort’. 
      • Consider your entire audience when describing company culture, to make sure that any company events, socials, activities etc do not exclude anyone. For example, just advertising your company drinks when talking about socials can be exclusive for people who don’t drink, or parents that need to get home to their children. Trying to make sure you are catering for everyone (as best you can) is a great way to showcase that you are a diverse and inclusive company. 
      • It’s also important to consider different religions and customs when communicating your company culture.

Redacting information from job adverts 

  • Organisations have been trying to make their recruitment process more inclusive by removing specific information about applicants that could cause biased decisions being made. Indeed, a common ask of recruitment agencies is to blind send CV’s.
    • This includes things like name, gender, previous employer, education history etc – all of which can prompt unconscious bias in the decision-making process.
    • There are also gamified platforms and applications available that can do this job automatically, removing the individual characteristics from an application. 
  • We also discussed the benefits of retaining candidate information in the CV and how this can help organisations have more targeted and focused conversations around challenging their biases.
    • Going into the CV review phase (where unconscious bias often occurs) with a clear understanding of the biases you want to tackle can create productive upfront conversations that result in a greater diversity of candidates moving through the recruitment process.
      • Some reading recommendations around this were made, with a view to help us understand how the brain does unconscious thinking. Because by better understanding the different types of heuristic and bias tricks that typically occur during the recruitment process, we will be better positioned to have targeted questions in these ‘upfront’ conversations.

Collection and use of demographic data 

  • Often, organisations are collecting data but aren’t sure how to use it. Some are also finding that there’s a low participation rate in data collection forms/surveys. To improve this, consider:
    • The why: It’s important to explicitly explain why you are collecting the data and what you’re going to do with it. It needs to be motivating for people by telling them why it’s valued by the company.
    • Be accountable: Pledge how you want to affect change (and how the data will help you measure this). E.g. “we want to increase diversity within our tech team by x% within x months/years”
    • Reporting: Feed back to the team on how you’re measuring up against these targets. It can help keep people engaged and be more receptive to data collection.
  • Other tips shared:
    • Explain exactly who has access to the survey and why.
    • Be explicit about when you will be asking for the information again.
    • Be clear about data storage (where, and for how long, it will be stored)
    • Always give an option to skip answering the question (e.g. “I prefer not to disclose this information”).

Establishing KPIs 

  • We talked about the challenges associated with setting clear goals when it comes to diversity and inclusion. What feels achievable without setting unrealistic targets that could result in us ‘“punishing ourselves”? But we don’t want to give ourselves an easy ride, we want to challenge ourselves. So it’s an ongoing process of trial and error. 
  • Success metrics don’t always need to be explicitly focused on diversity. A good measure of inclusivity can be the extent to which people feel like they belong. Giving employees the opportunity to share your values internally can help them feel more included. Some ways to measure this:
    • Benefits uptake: How many of your employees are using the perks and benefits you’re offering? Are there certain groups using them more than others? This can give you a sense of how much your workforce value the things your business is providing, and importantly who is finding them most valuable. 
    • Surveys – a quick and easy way to ask employees a set of questions that can help you measure ‘belonging’. Although we talked about the fact that sometimes people feel reluctant to take part in surveys because they are either less confident to speak up (though they can be anonymised), or more simply due to the perceived effort involved. An alternative:
      • Wellbeing tech tools: There are workforce wellbeing tools in the market (e.g. OpenMind Wellbeing) that can encourage this culture of feedback in a more structured forum.

The challenges around seasonal recruitment 

  • Some organisations, whose events take place at a specific time of the year (e.g. festivals), find that they are receiving very similar applications year on year. So we talked about some potential ways to diversify this candidate pool:
    • Pipeline recruitment throughout the year: Cultivate an audience year-round, rather than hiring reactively for roles when they’re needed for the season / event etc. How?
      • Try planning an annual content calendar that allows you to target specific talent throughout the year (a low-level marcomms investment on social). This way you can reach the audiences you desire and raise awareness of your organisation and the types of roles you will be advertising, well in advance of the active hiring stage. 
      • Join community groups on social media, where you can reach an engaged audience and advertise your roles for free. Word-of-mouth can go a long way here too!
    • Research is key: 
      • Take the time to understand the missing demographic(s) within your current applicant pool, and tailor your targeting to these people (whether that’s in social ads, community groups or otherwise). 
      • Look at some research that explains what different groups prioritise when looking for a job. This can help you tailor the messaging within your job ads to attract a wider audience.
  • We also discussed how these roles are often not perceived as longer-term career choices, which can reduce the diversity of people applying. 
    • A specific example discussed was that of ‘ticketing’, and how often this is just seen as a ‘box office’ role as opposed to a career path.
    • A way around this could be to host employer or career days at certain points throughout the year, where you can profile these jobs more specifically by talking about the skills and competencies required for the role, in addition to the growth opportunities. 
      • For the ticketing example, talking about this role being people-focused and data-important, in addition to talking about the types of organisations you work with, can position the job as a career.

We’re all making steps in the right direction, and this fruitful discussion certainly gave everybody lots of useful things to think about as we continue to make our recruitment processes and places of work more diverse, inclusive and representative of our values. 

The next Tech In Culture EDI Alliance Partner Forum is taking place on Wednesday 28th July.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch, just drop us an email, we’d love to hear from you: team@substrakt.com