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Diversity initiatives not working? Is “process bias” to blame?

Diversity image

A significant amount of evidence exists proving that a diverse and inclusive workforce, consisting of differing outlooks and experiences, has a positive impact on business performance. For many years organisations have focused on improving gender diversity and various strategies have been put forward to help elevate women into executive positions, including unconscious bias training and blind recruitment. Despite this, equality at the top still remains vastly out of reach.

There have been successes of course, but in the main these have been within the government, academia and not-for-profit sectors that have seen the benefit of a diverse senior management team that reflects both the community and their employees.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”

I’ve spent the last 23 years working in recruitment across New Zealand, the UK and Australia, consulting with countless organisations and observing their recruitment and promotional decisions. I’ve seen many policies and changes implemented with the aim of improving diversity.

But one key component has remained largely unchanged: the initial criteria or job profile used to judge all applicants. Traditionally, a job criteria starts with the qualifications and technical competencies required, followed by experience, and finally the softer skills needed to fit into the organisation’s culture. Some hiring managers even shortcut this process by having an attitude such as, “We need to increase our diversity quota and grow the number of women in our leadership team, so please find a female version of Tim who has just left.”

Is it any surprise then that diversity efforts fail when the criteria you use to screen talent hasn’t changed?

What problem are you trying to solve?

Before you start the recruitment process, identify the problem you are trying to solve by recruiting a new executive. I’m not referring to the particular technical or hard skills required, but the real problem at hand. Ask yourself questions such as what’s not getting done? What are we missing? Does the executive or management team reflect our customer base? Do we have an executive team that represents our staff? Are we missing an opportunity within a certain business community because we don’t have a strong enough understanding or presence within our business?

What behavioural competencies are needed?

Next, identify the behavioural competencies, experience and background required to provide a solution to the problem posed. In other words, what’s required for someone to deliver the outcomes required to succeed in this role?

Finally, look at technical skills

Rather than considering hard skills first, only once the above questions have been answered should you look at the technical skills required.

Is psychometric testing a barrier to improving diversity?

The final stumbling block to diversity can be when a potential candidate fails psychometric testing. But should you be surprised at this when you consider that the ‘norms’ used to validate leadership are predominantly based on white middle-aged male executives?

Improving diversity is about engaging and hiring individuals with alternative experiences, ideas, thoughts and backgrounds. This lends itself to different responses which can be completely contradictory to the ‘norm’ and therefore such people often fail psychometric testing.

For that reason, it’s important to investigate the norms you measure candidates against – or throw them out altogether if they create an unfair obstacle.

We need to move past unconscious bias as the foremost reason for the failure of diversity efforts. Yes it’s a crucial factor that must be addressed, but it’s not the principal issue at play. By also reviewing your initial recruitment criteria, you’ll succeed in building a more diverse leadership team.

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