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DE&I Begins Before the Interview.

Samantha Knowles, Senior Director, Talent Acquisition & Delivery,

By Samantha Knowles
DE&I Begins Before the Interview.
DE&I Begins Before the Interview.

My role is to find and acquire talent for organisations to interview for the role they have mandated Laurence Simons to search on their behalf. Alongside a myriad of other qualities to ensure that talent will enrich each and every hire, my team in talent acquisition, alongside our counterparts in companies and HR professionals, are experts in finding, recruiting and subsequently onboarding individuals to an organisation, ensuring they are the right fit both in experience and culture. The majority of mandates we work on require a diverse slate of candidates. However, in a recent survey, when participants were asked if they had any initiatives related explicitly to improving DE&I in hiring and recruiting, 43% said they either didn't have any or had yet to create such initiatives [1]. The best place to start is with recruitment. However, to take us to today and what best (and better practice) looks like, we need to see how it has evolved and changed.

Looking back.

During the mid-80s in the U.S., men held two million more jobs than women [2]. At this time, 27% of women held part-time employment versus 11% of men [3]. Aside from the employment discrepancy, the recruitment process in the 80s was much different to today. A candidate's CV was mostly taken at face value, and there was little by way of background checks [4]. That lack of technology, however, made the recruitment process much more personal. The personal touch during the recruitment process had the added benefit of making staff loyalty much easier to win and hold

A cornerstone of U.S. policy in the 80s was affirmative action [5]. A New York Times article first published in the early 90s declared that the policy had been a success. At the time, companies which had embraced affirmative action saw a 20% increase in their employment of minority groups, compared with companies that had not, which only saw a 12% increase in their employment of minority groups [6]. The reality, however, is that diversity initiatives at this time were not necessarily altruistic in nature, but rather used to protect organisations from having to settle civil lawsuits [7].

Equally, well-meaning hiring departments looked to continue addressing these issues by addressing unconscious bias in their teams and training initiatives [8]. Do these training initiatives work? In 2019, The Harvard Business Review found that this type of training made little impact further than a few days after the training took place, with white and male employees in particular not benefitting from the training.

Hiring tests were also brought in as a strategy to embrace DE&I. These tests were aimed at allowing managers to anonymously screen candidates based on their technical skills, rather than other factors that could be deduced from their CVs, such as their nationality based on their name, or their socioeconomic background based on where they went to school. This again proved difficult to implement consistently, as hiring managers felt that by withholding information, they could not make decisions based on the candidate as a whole[9].

Looking forward.

Despite the previous lack of success in training employees, there is now an understanding that DE&I in an organisation is directly correlated to innovation. Not only is it correlated with innovation, but it's also understood to be a competitive advantage [10]. A McKinsey report shows that businesses with a gender-diverse workforce were 21% more likely to attain above-average profits, and those that were culturally and ethnically diverse saw an even greater boost in their profits on average, outperforming their competitors by 33% [11].

The importance of DE&I in organisations grows; many are hiring dedicated professionals to ensure practices are embedded and upheld, with consulting firms, like Deliotte, now also offering specialised DE&I strategies. This increase in dedicated professionals and strategies is likely to continue, as organisations recognise that they are not only beneficial but also crucial, and the investment is producing a mani-fold return.

Even if organisations don’t have specific professionals or teams in place, they should look to their hiring strategy to ensure their DE&I measures are implemented when creating their teams. This begins right at the early stages of any search, when researching and shortlisting candidates. Ensuring your organisation enlists the advice of a search firm who understands both your culture and DE&I measures as they currently stand, and how you aim to shape and maintain, or improve them, is essential. 

At Laurence Simons, every search is a DE&I search, whether explicitly stated by our clients during initial discussions or implicitly understood by our search team as the search is launched and progressed. Clients understand the need to attract a DE&I workforce, to represent society at large and to harness the diversity of thought which inevitably makes for richer and more enlightened decision making. In our talent acquisition and delivery function, diversity of gender is fundamental and, in most cases, goes beyond, to diversity of ethnicity.

We have seen some processes stall at the final stages where a client will only appoint an ethnically and gender diverse candidate to the team. This is understood by our search team however can be challenging in certain jurisdictions and practice areas where the preponderance appears to be a larger concentration of non ethnically diverse candidates (e.g. compliance/investigations/privacy in UK). Recently, whilst hiring for a senior leadership role in investigations, we were unable to progress to final stages of the interview unless and until we could assure the client would appoint an ethnically diverse candidate. Finding the right balance between DE&I and the most appropriate skill set, culture fit, and personality match is a skill which we fine tune in line with our client’s hiring criteria.

Over the last 10 years, this trend has continued to gather pace, and rightly so. Managing clients’ expectations at all stages of the search process is paramount; is what our client seeks available in the talent pool, and if not, consulting with our clients, why not. Whilst hiring for a global healthcare company in France recently, our client wanted to maintain gender diversity in the team, which, at a senior leadership level, satisfying our client’s strict criteria on skills set, was difficult to identify, attract and curate talent. Ultimately, we were unable to attract what was initially deemed the most desirable gender, and so by giving our client a data driven approach as to who had been identified in the market and who had been screened and assessed for fit, our client was satisfied all had been done to respect their DE&I policy despite being unable to appoint their most desirable DE&I profile fit. It’s a balancing act which needs to be approached with diplomacy and tact at all stages, supported by a data driven search process to show no stone has been left unturned.

Engage with a (Strategic) Search Partner.

To streamline your DE&I recruitment process and ensure optimal results, you may wish to consider partnering with a specialist search firm. These partners live and breathe researching and finding candidates every day and bring authority and perspective to their respective verticals. When deciding which search partner to move forward with, you should always check which accrediting bodies or pledges the firm is associated with. For example, Laurence Simons is a member of the AESC (Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants), which governs members' commitment to diversity and to specifically combat racism, prejudice, and discrimination within our own organizations, with candidates and the clients we serve [12]. An example of a pledge that your search partner could make would be the 10,000 Black Interns pledge that Laurence Simons has committed to. Through 10,000 Black Interns, we pledge to hire a predetermined number of Black students for our summer internship programmes alongside organisations such as HSBC, CBRE, and many more [13].

If your organisation would like to become part of a crediting body or take a pledge towards DE&I in your recruitment strategy, we’ve compiled a list of crediting and pledge organisations.

  • Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants: represents the highest standards of quality in the search industry. Members are committed to using their voices and actions to help create a world that is inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible for all.

  • The AESC Diversity Pledge: a commitment to combat racism, prejudice, and discrimination within members’ own organisations, with candidates and the clients they serve, and in their communities.

  • 10,000 Black Interns: a pledge to offer paid summer internships for talented black students and graduates in 2023.

  • General Counsel for Diversity & Inclusion: started by legal leaders across a wide range of companies to ensure that their companies and panel law firms are committed to DE&I