Delivering on diversity: How recruiters should approach diversity briefs
Australia and New Zealand pride themselves on being diverse and multicultural societies. But that diversity is not always reflected in the composition of workplaces.

Whether from the public or private sector, clients are increasingly briefing recruiters to provide them with a more diverse range of candidates from which to choose. But an apparently straightforward request such as this throws up several challenges, for both the recruiter and client.

We spoke with three recruitment experts on how to negotiate those challenges.

Why is diversity a hot topic for recruitment?

“Companies today are becoming more interested in their social footprint,” says Ian McPherson, Director at Enterprise Recruitment & People. “Diversity is a measure of how much a company is actually ‘walking the talk’.”

But quite separate from any social considerations, there appear to be sound business reasons for making your workforce more diverse, and clients in many industries are increasingly requesting a more diverse shortlist.

“A diverse workforce ensures you have diversity of thought,” says Kathy Kostyrko, Director - Public Sector at Hays. “You don’t have everyone thinking the same thing, which is important for our clients to meet their customers’ needs, as our clients have a diverse range of customers.”

“In a talent-short market, it’s actually the smartest way to increase the number of candidates in your talent pool,” says Katy Anquetil, Director, Right Management & ManpowerGroup Solutions, New Zealand.

Up for the challenge

The main challenge around delivering on diversity briefs is the need for a detailed conversation with a client about their requirements – because requirements and the desire for diversity don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.

“Sometimes, with diversity, you’re recruiting on skills rather than experience,” says McPherson. “It’s important to ask yourself, ‘are clients open to these kinds of conversations?’”

McPherson cites an example of a marketing client, who he helped move from employing ten full-time to 15 part-time staff, with no increase in the wage bill. “We had to help them realise that the skills they wanted were likely to be found in women returning to the workforce.”

For Kostyrko, it’s important to use gender-neutral language in advertising, to ensure you aren’t limiting who applies for your role. Words such as ‘driven’ and ‘competitive’ are shown to attract more male applicants.

Her company has also formed relationships with disability employment suppliers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment suppliers, allowing them to target certain groups when briefs come in.

With gender diversity, recruiters and clients must be aware that women are less likely to apply for something if they don’t tick all the boxes (but men will). “Women are culturally predisposed to opt-out rather than opt-in,” says Anquetil. “So, if a female applicant doesn’t have the exact job title you’re looking for, I’d recommend picking up the phone and finding out if they’ve got the skills.”

The conversation with the client also should take in whether they have the resources and flexibility to make diversity work. “Is there a need for wheelchair access or additional technology for a disabled candidate?” asks McPherson. “Can the role be a job share, or otherwise reshaped to allow for more diversity?”

Delivering on the brief

“We need to ask our clients, how serious are they about diversity?” says Kostyrko. “Sometimes clients say they are, but then pick the same kind of people”.

“You need to ask you client - is there authentic support, within the organisation and within the leadership team, to ensure that diverse candidates will be successful within the organisation?” says Anquetil.

Unconscious bias may also lead clients to make certain recruitment decisions. A useful technique to deal with possible unconscious bias is for recruiters to remove any identifying factors from a CV, such as a candidate’s name, year of qualifications, or country of origin. That said, bias isn’t always unconscious. “Don’t automatically discount someone with a name you can’t pronounce!” says Anquetil.

Great expectations

When it comes to managing a client’s expectations on a diversity brief, it’s important that recruiters don’t ‘overpromise’. “You can never guarantee a diverse shortlist, but you have to try,” says Kostyrko. “It’s OK to come back to the client and say, ‘we can’t find many women who want to go down a mineshaft’.”

“Is it about hiring someone who is less qualified?” asks Anquetil. “No, it’s about creating an equal opportunity for all candidates to be considered for a job.  Depending on the goals of an organisation, you may have to look differently at the job.”

“It always comes back to the job brief,” says McPherson. “Does the client understand that at some point, they may have to take a manageable risk? If they’re investing in good recruitment and retention practice, their long-term recruitment spend will reduce.”

Get smart

“We have a lot of data that having a diverse workforce isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” says Anquetil. “Businesses perform better with a more diverse workforce.”

Assumptions, stereotypes and myths are shutting people with disabilities out of the workplace. Read more about accessibility and inclusion in the workplace.