REC Summit: Move beyond DEI practices as ‘tickbox exercise’, urges recruiter

Although 61% of companies point to equity, diversity and inclusion (DEI) as a top manager capability, only 28% of managers say that it’s recognised in their performance reviews.

This is what the lead recruiter from global consultancy McKinsey told a London audience of recruiters this week.

That means that for recruiters and organisations alike, DEI practices can be a “tickbox exercise”, Akida John-Ambrose (pictured) said in her keynote address at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation’s (REC) conference this week on DEI in recruitment.

“When diversity is a tickbox exercise, candidates know. They feel it. We feel it,” John-Ambrose said. “I’ve been in situations where I’ve realised all of a sudden that the fantastic shortlist I’m about to present to my client is all men. Or there’s a mix of men and women – but they’re all one race. Or everyone on the list went to one of three universities.”

She continued: “In those moments, I have paused. I’ve asked myself – why didn’t I notice this earlier? Where was I looking? If I sourced these people from my network, what does my network look like?

“And I remember being tempted to just find a woman,” John-Ambrose said, referencing her experiences at a previous employer early in her career. “Any woman vaguely associated with my client’s industry. Just to say I have a ‘diverse shortlist’. Because I was treating diversity as a tickbox exercise. But I was doing myself a disservice. And doing my client a disservice too.”

John-Ambrose shared her experiences as a woman of colour in the professional world at the hands of clients and colleagues, who have made comments about her hair, joked that they had never hired someone with a particular name previously or depersonalised John-Ambrose’s individuality. She gave as an example a comment from a potential employer who said: “Hiring someone like you will be great. We need a face like yours on the website.”

“And just like that,” John-Ambrose said, “I knew that this could not be the place for me. ‘Someone like you’ has a lot of connotations. One of them is, ‘It could be you – but it could be anybody who looks like you.’ Another is that ‘Someone like you is not quite someone like us’.”

With such attitudes still in evidence in UK business, John-Ambrose urged her audience to “consider how and how often you’re providing training. And once that’s done, be intentional about how you support and empower your managers and team leads to live those values in the workplace.

“How are you fostering that feeling of belonging? How are you empowering your people to speak up when they see room for improvements? How are you signalling to everybody, that they belong?”

Recruiters must consider the “single, simple actions we can take”, she said. “How might we as a profession start to help our clients move the needle on the people they’re considering for roles, and indeed move the needle on our own internal processes?”

She added: “Creating that feeling of belonging is active. It’s something all of us in this room can do every day. Just by speaking up.”

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