Blog discussing inclusive recruitment - picture of diverse engineering team

5 ways to implement inclusive recruitment and why you should

Adopting an inclusive recruitment practice is beneficial to both the hiring company and the potential candidates applying for a role. As society adapts and our workplaces become more diverse and inclusive, how candidates are hired must adapt and evolve too. Inclusive recruitment is one way to make sure the process is unbiased and fair.

What does inclusive recruitment mean?

When we talk about inclusive recruitment, we’re talking about how to improve the diversity of a company’s workforce through the implementation of a fair and equal recruitment process. It’s about being welcoming and positive to towards anyone – regardless of their identity or background – and ensuring subconscious biases are removed from the equation. In short, inclusive recruitment embraces diversity and recognises the value of a diverse workforce.

The benefits of inclusive recruitment

Inclusive recruitment offers organisations an opportunity to improve the diversity of their workforce and overcome the barriers limiting inclusivity for all. Despite the strides ED&I has made in the workforce, the statistics indicate there’s still a long way to go (especially in the engineering and technology sectors). 

For example:

  • 12% of UK engineers are women compared to 47% of the UK workforce
  • 8% of UK engineers are from Black, Asian, and ethnic minority groups compared to 12% of the UK workforce
  • 5% of UK engineers have disabilities compared to 17% of the UK workforce.

Improving the diversity of a workforce isn’t just a social or moral responsibility, nor should it be a box-ticking exercise. It’s also a smart business decision. As per a recent Forbes study, 85% of organisations agree that D&I drives innovation. This is because diversity encourages discussions between people with varying thoughts and ideas instead of centring on those with the same backgrounds and perspectives. 

Innovation also has a positive financial impact. By implementing an inclusive recruitment process and increasing workforce diversity, staff turnover is reduced, productivity and morale are increased, and higher revenues are reported (as per a study undertaken by Boston consulting group).

What are the barriers to inclusive recruitment?

There are four main barriers that hinder inclusive recruitment. These are:

  1. Unconscious bias
  2. Information accessibility
  3. Inclusive communication
  4. Company diversity and inclusion

In this section, we’re going to discuss each of these barriers and how to overcome them.

How can recruitment include everyone?

Understand unconscious bias

Despite the positives and benefits of inclusive recruitment, it’s not an easy or soundproof solution. Due to the complexity of the human brain, which makes decisions based on preconceptions and stereotypes, our experiences influence how we think. When it comes to recruitment, this can result in opinions based on someone’s personal characteristics that influence how we judge their ability to do their job. This is known as unconscious bias, and many types exist, such as:

  • Perception bias
  • Affinity bias
  • Attribution bias
  • Beauty bias
  • Confirmation bias
  • Halo and horns effect

All these biases affect how we perceive someones:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexuality
  • Disability

For example, affinity bias is a positive feeling towards someone who is like you and a negative feeling towards someone who is different to you. In recruitment, this manifests through the hiring of candidates who fit into a company’s pre-established culture. Of course, similarities shouldn’t exclude candidates from the role, and hiring someone just because they’re different is a poor strategy. Instead, determining someone’s suitability for the job based on their professional qualifications rather than whether they’ll fit in with the team is a better method of assessment.

Another example is attribution bias, which tends to manifest as the belief that our own achievements are due to hard work and others are due to luck. In recruitment, this can result in assumptions about someone’s intelligence due to something that has no direct correlation, such as a regional accent or a unique hobby. To limit this bias, removing judgement and asking clarifying questions can help recruiters get a better sense of who someone is and what they can bring to a team.

Improve information accessibility 

Adapting your information to cater for those with additional requirements is one way to instantly improve inclusivity. This includes how websites and applications are written and laid out.

For example:

  • Using sans-serif fonts with a minimum point size of 12
  • Bolding important information instead of underlining or italicising it
  • Left aligning text instead of centring 
  • Reducing the number of capital letters used
  • Formatting headers and paragraphs so they’re easy to read, flow nicely, and offer the relevant information
  • Using bullet point lists to help people digest information more easily
  • Sticking to pastel colours with dark text makes information easier to read
  • Using visual media and line graphics to improve information 
  • Keeping images consistently aligned with relevant alt text
  • Avoiding complex colours and text
  • Including videos with voiceovers
  • Adding subtitles and transcripts where appropriate

Alongside these considerations, one of the best ways to practise inclusivity is to give candidates the option to ask for the specific support they need. Being open to these requirements shows a willingness to be more inclusive. 

Eradicate gendered language

How we speak matters and words often mean more than we realise. For example, some word choices are subconsciously gendered, which is why a job advertisement needs to reflect the actual requirements of a role without accidentally putting off specific genders from applying. For example, did you know that men are more likely to apply for a job if they meet 60% of the requirements, whereas women only tend to apply for a role if they meet 100% of the criteria?

Equally, the most common male-gendered word in recruitment is ‘leader,’ while the most common female-gendered word in recruitment is ‘support.’ One way to limit these unconscious associations is to use communal words such as ‘proactive,’ ‘structured,’ ‘performer,’ and ‘expert’ instead. 

It’s not just words that matter; language style is also important. For example, a fixed mindset style tends to highlight essential skills and traits a company is looking for, whereas a growth mindset style highlights how a company supports its staff in their roles. Unsurprisingly, using a ‘growth mindset’ instead of a ‘fixed mindset’ attracts an equal number of applications from women and men, whereas a fixed mindset approach results in more applications from men.

By considering how the language we use comes across, not only in terms of gender but to BAME and LGBTQ+ communities too, we’re able to eradicate exclusive language and attract a more diverse talent pool. Ask yourself whether your adverts are subconsciously gender-specific and consider where you can reword them to be more gender-neutral. This shift will also result in more applications and the position being filled more quickly.

To summarise:

  • Only include mandatory information
  • Try to use words like ‘desirable’ or ‘ideal’ when talking about skills
  • Avoid jargon-heavy and programming language (include subtly if needed)
  • Consider how phrases like ‘we offer a competitive salary’ puts off female applicants who aren’t as comfortable negotiating their monetary worth
  • Annual leave and flexible working opportunities are more attractive to diverse applicants
  • Avoid age discrimination by asking for the qualifications and skills required rather than the number of years a candidate has worked 
  • Discuss what opportunities and benefits each candidate will enjoy if they work for your organisation

Include a Diversity & Inclusion statement

Having a D&I statement directly influences whether underrepresented candidates are likely to fill out a job application for an organisation. A D&I statement is an acknowledgement that the people working for a company are valued regardless of their identity or background. However, it’s not an exercise in tokenism. A D&I statement is meaningless unless it’s backed up with tangible action and supporting data. The promotion of D&I needs to include:

  • Transparency about both the successes and ongoing challenges a company faces when it comes to embedding D&I
  • How it fosters a safe and inclusive environment for those from underrepresented groups
  • How it protects diverse characteristics

Learn the difference between equity and equality

There’s a difference between being given the same (equality) and applying proportionate support (equity). Recruitment isn’t fair or equal to everyone, and privilege is one aspect that gives some people an unfair advantage over others – whether they can control their privilege or not. 

As a result, recruiters need to consider how privilege influences their decision-making. Whether that’s in terms of how they consider a person’s education, work experience, skin colour, gender, or socio-economic status. Recognising the external ease or challenges that have impacted the candidates being assessed allows for a fairer assessment process. 

“Equality is ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity in everything they do. Equity is about giving proportionate support for those who need it.”

Mark McBride-Wright

Learn the difference between positive discrimination and positive action

Although understanding the value of an equitable process is positive, it sometimes leads to an overcorrection in behaviour and results in what’s known as positive discrimination. Although the intention is to address inequality, it ignores each candidate’s experience in favour of offering opportunities to less qualified individuals (usually to meet set quotas or benchmarks). As a result, this practice is illegal under the Equality Act

Although targets can and do improve diversity, they’re meant to guide and track improvements holistically. Hiring someone based on their diversity characteristics is unethical. For example, a woman can’t be hired over a man purely because the diversity of an organisation needs to improve. Not only is it illegal, if the successful candidate found out they’d only been hired because of their diversity characteristic and not their inherent value, relevant experience, or qualifications, they’d feel targeted regardless (which is the opposite of what inclusive recruitment is supposed to foster).

This is where positive action comes into play, which supports people from underrepresented monitories and improves the likelihood of them applying for roles they’re qualified for but might not have considered. Positive action isn’t illegal and allows underrepresented candidates to overcome their disadvantages without directly discriminating against others.

There’s a wide range of ways positive action can be applied that doesn’t unfairly benefit someone because of their diversity characteristic:

  • Targeting recruitment for women at STEM events
  • Advertising positions in media with a large audience from diversity strands like ENABLE magazine
  • Highlighting support and opportunities available for specific groups (prayer rooms)
  • Using guaranteed interviews for recruitment schemes
  • Offering training and mentoring to underrepresented people
  • Using Returner Programmes to retrain employment leavers to the level of people who’ve stayed in employment

Implementing a robust recruitment process that’s inclusive and welcoming to all takes time, practice, and learning. However, taking the time to adapt and improve your accessibility is a worthy goal that results in social, economic, and business benefits.

Read more about how to implement a recruitment practice in your organisation here. If you’d like to discuss how EqualEngineers can help make this process as pain-free as possible, don’t hesitate to get in touch.