Six steps to DEI talent in traditionally non-diverse industries

While much progress has been made in technology or emerging sectors such as renewable energy, there is still much work to be done. Women, people of color and those with disabilities are underrepresented in leadership positions in all industries and organizations. Some sectors, particularly those that are traditionally ‘male-dominated’, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and industrial, suffer from a serious lack of diversity amongst the executive leadership.

Some statistics make for challenging reading:

Researchers such as Richard Florida and Katherine W. Phillips have established that diversity makes us smartermore creative, and gives companies a competitive edge over their peers. Although individual companies are slowly moving the dial, many traditional industries have missed the mark on large-scale success due to a number of factors.

A lack of suitable mentors and training, unconscious bias and little to no expansion of recruiting channels have all contributed to the problem. Hiring managers in these industries often rely too heavily on their own networks to fill roles, which are typically limited in diversity. Concurrently, with little historical diversity, there are few role models available to provide guidance, advice and support.

Our focus is on providing strategic input to our CEO and Chief People Officer clients in tackling this issue.

Below are six strategies for finding and attracting diverse talent in non-diverse industries:

Step 1: Overtly Align Organizational Culture and Business Strategy with Search and Recruitment Practices
This is the necessary foundational step, particularly for organizations that struggle to identify diversity hires. The crucial early phase is about refining both the business and cultural need for a diverse workforce, and ensuring both executive and departmental alignment.

Setting an effective and measurable plan for attracting diverse talent is not ‘just a HR problem’. It is important to engage all staff in the conversation, and to canvas ideas and approaches from across the organization. Imperatives for shifting the dial in diversity talent include discussions around the nature of the workforce that will meet the company’s emerging needs, the steps that need to take place, timeframes, what success looks like, and how to evaluate that success.

Following discussion and consultation, the senior leadership team needs to be accountable for a formal diversity and inclusion policy, with clearly defined strategic diversity targets and measures, along with clarity around accountability for delivery.

Step 2: Re-Evaluate Your Search and Recruitment Processes
Once there is a degree of clarity and cohesion around diversity targets and metrics, it’s important for HR leaders to take a look at their current search and recruitment processes. This will include identifying any potential biases that may be preventing diverse candidates from applying or advancing. What are the proactive approaches in place that address the policies? How have these changed, in, say, the past five or six years to recognize different expectations?

An effective analysis could include reviewing and re-writing role descriptions to avoid poor practices. This includes avoiding masculine language, and using more inclusive images and language on your career website.

To what extent is it clear that you welcome a diverse range of candidates, and provide appropriate arrangements and support for candidates with disabilities? To what extent does each role description indicate your approach to diversity and inclusion? For example, one of our university clients has the following statement on all role descriptions used in recruitment at all levels:

Equal Employment Statement
We are committed to all aspects of equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and to providing all staff, students, contractors and visitors with a safe, respectful and rewarding and flexible environment free from all forms of unlawful discrimination, harassment, bullying, vilification and victimization. We make decisions on employment, promotion, and reward based on merit

Step 3: Increase Your Outreach
There are many ways to increase outreach to source a greater range of diverse candidates, even in industries that sometimes have more narrowly based representations of different groups. For example, in the mining industry, the estimates are that only between 8 and 17% of the sector’s global workforce are women).

Ideas include:

Step 4: Practice Inclusive Hiring
Inclusive hiring means that you are actively looking for candidates who might be different from the existing workforce. It means you have mechanisms in place that prevent or minimize recruitment biases, both conscious and unconscious.

Ideas include:

Step 5: Build a Diverse Hiring Committee and Interview Panel
It’s crucial to have both a diverse hiring committee and interview panel, including people on the committee or panel that reflect a good level of diversity. This can also bring different perspectives and experiences to the table which can help to identify potential biases and ensure that the hiring process is fair and inclusive. This not only helps to ensure that diverse candidates are evaluated fairly, but also helps to create a more inclusive culture within the organization, and offers a holistic candidate experience. In many of our clients today, there is a requirement that all short lists reflect a 40:40:20 balance. That is, at least 40% male, 40% female, and 20% addressing other diversity factors.

Step 6: Measure and Report on Your Progress
Diversifying your workforce is an ongoing process, and it’s important to measure and report on your progress. This could include tracking the diversity of your applicant pool, the diversity of new hires, and the retention rates of diverse employees. This not only holds the organization to account but also helps to identify areas that need improvement. It will also serve as an important communication and reinforcement piece to both employees and the broader stakeholder group (investors, shareholders, suppliers, etc.) regarding your organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Diversity and Inclusion
We also need to recognize that recruiting diverse talent is just the tip of the iceberg. The real challenge then is the ‘inclusion’ part of ‘diversity and inclusion’. Whilst diversity and inclusion are two different things, they are two sides of the same coin, by which long-term, measurable success in one won’t be achieved without the other.

The ongoing challenge, therefore, is the nature of a welcoming or supportive culture – or the absence of this – that is about the long-term sustainability of diversity and inclusion approaches.

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Fighting age discrimination with AI

Sunil Dial explains how older workers are being let down in the hiring process and asks whether AI is the answer

Grappling with the triple whammy of fear, change and uncertainty has certainly drained the UK workforce, and has created the conditions for a burnout crisis. This is especially true for Gen Z, for whom the pandemic caused a deep shift in workplace norms.

What this crisis does highlight however, is the requirement and impact that more senior employees can have on business continuity. Their valuable ‘scars’ of experience can help dividends when dealing with various challenges within the business roadmap. These older staff can also offer guidance and support to younger employees within the workplace. The value of this guidance and support goes beyond a financial benefit, and it promotes harmony in the culture of a workplace.

But there is a blind spot when it comes to attracting older workers to jobs. New research from the Chartered Management Institute suggests that firms are less open to hiring older workers than they are to bringing in younger people. 74% of managers were open to a large extent to hiring younger workers between the ages of 18 and 34, but less than 20% of managers said they were open to a large extent to hiring people over the age of 65.

Hiring managers do not want to hire older people, and it is hurting companies, jobseekers, and the wider economy. This is an area of employment discrimination that is often overlooked, but it has a huge impact on both applicants and workplaces.

Data from the CIPD also shows that there are more than 10.4 million workers in the UK over the age of 50, and this figure will only keep growing in the coming years. As people continue to live and work for longer, more people every year are being subject to age discrimination when they seek new jobs. The result is an estimated one million 50–64 year-olds who want to be in employment, but aren’t – almost 2% of the adult population.

This is despite the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, urging people who have retired early to return to work this year. In setting out a plan to help lift the UK’s economic growth last month, the Chancellor stated that there were almost 300,000 fewer people in employment than before the pandemic, and warned that firms would find it difficult to grow if they couldn’t find enough staff. This is especially concerning given that the UK is the only G7 country expected to see its economy shrink this year.

All this data tells us that older people want to work, and that they are needed in the workforce. On the face of it, that seems like there should be an easy solution.

But it’s clear that age discrimination is clearly doing the UK economic harm, and it can be absolutely devastating for jobseekers who want nothing more than to be employed. This failure to consider older candidates hurts businesses as well. Not just because we need to boost employment numbers, but also because older employees bring useful and unique skills and perspectives, that would otherwise be lost.

Many businesses working with new technologies believe that they need a younger workforce, but this neglects the value of experience when dealing with challenges in the business roadmap. Most of the time, the perception of older jobseekers as ‘out of touch’ is simply untrue. They have often been working in a sector for significant periods of time, and have seen and been part of its evolution.

Older members of staff come with existing networks, they tend to stay with an employer, and they bring valuable experience of their industry and working culture more broadly. Many who are responsible for reviewing CVs are themselves younger employees, particularly in early screening stages. This in itself can compound the problem, as they do not understand and value the experience of candidates in older age brackets, so may overlook them.

Older people want to be employed, they are valuable to the economy, and they are valuable to businesses. Age discrimination presents a problem which is hurting everyone, so how do we fix it?

There is a ‘lost value’ to UK businesses in flawed recruitment processes which are prolific with bias and bad practice, and this threatens to undermine the entire hiring and candidate experience. This is true for all kinds of discrimination and bias, whether that be a result of age, race, sexuality, gender, or disability status.

When it comes to job applications, talent should always come first, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

As a job seeker, I was struggling to receive responses from employers when applying for roles that I knew I was qualified for, and as a result, I changed my name to ‘Simon’ on my CV. ‘Simon’ received a much better response, and resulted in me being invited to interviews far more often than Sunil did, despite my qualifications remaining the same.

Older workers no doubt have encountered a similar experience. If recruiters were to judge them only on their experience, and were not aware of their age at early stages of application, they would see much more success, benefitting everyone.

There are a few steps that companies can take to prevent the ‘lost value’ of underestimating marginalised candidates. They can make sure that CVs and applications are anonymised before they reach hiring managers, removing identifying features like name, age, photographs, and dates of birth. This way, when making early decisions, unconscious biases and discriminatory practices are prevented, and candidates are able to let their talent and experience speak first.

Companies can also make sure that job advertisements use inclusive language, that they advertise widely, and they use accessible job platforms. They can also make sure that their hiring managers are fully trained in preventing unconscious bias, and the value of underrepresented talent. Employers can also take the bold step to publish data on how they are hiring now. This transparency will highlight any bias towards specific groups and would allow for changes to be made where needed.

My own experience of discrimination when applying for jobs encouraged me to look into Artificial Intelligence and data-based solutions to this problem. The good news is that organisations are now in a position where emerging technologies can make a real difference to their application systems.

AI powered application systems and access to big data analytics are streamlining inclusivity measures, and allowing companies to see where they can advance their DE&I. AI can be used to automatically remove identifying features and ensure accessibility, which saves huge amounts of time, particularly in large organisations.

Also, when candidates know their data is being anonymised, they can be confident in knowing that their talent is doing the talking, making jobs more appealing to skilled applicants from all walks of life. AI powered application systems have the power to analyse invaluable hiring data. By exploring the trends in anonymised data, organisations can gain vital insights into the candidates they attract, enabling them to constantly improve their hiring practices.

Older workers, and all kinds of other marginalised groups, are being let down by bad hiring practices, and businesses and the wider economy are losing out as a result. Anonymous applications and access to data are providing a way forward, but businesses must get on board, and tackle their own hiring biases upfront. 

As published by Business Reporter

Mothers, older workers and disabled people hold the key to getting Britain back to work

Government efforts to boost Britain’s workforce should focus on supporting more mothers into work, and helping older workers and those with a disability stay in work, rather than persuading the large Covid cohort of older workers to ‘unretire’, according to new Resolution Foundation research published.

The issue of workforce participation has come to a head following a sharp rise in economic inactivity over the course of the pandemic – up by 830,000 between 2019 and 2022, with three quarters of the rise concentrated among those aged 50 and over.

This has prompted calls to action, with the Government’s response likely to form a major part of the upcoming Budget. The authors say that attention on this issue is welcome but warn that a policy focus on trying to persuade this recent ‘Covid cohort’ of lost workers back into the labour market is unlikely to work.

The report finds that increased labour market exits during the pandemic were disproportionately from higher-than-normal retirements among higher-paid professionals, with flows from employment into retirement from many low-paying occupations actually falling. It will be hard to persuade these people, two-thirds of whom own their own home outright and therefore have low living costs, to ‘unretire’ says the authors.

The Foundation adds that someone who took early retirement during the summer of 2020 has now been economically inactive for two-and-a-half years. Historically, just 1-in-50 people in this situation return to work every three months.

Using the benefit system – to target more support, or increase the pressure to work – is unlikely to work either, as just one-in-ten of the economically inactive 55-59 year olds who have left employment since the start of the pandemic are relying on benefit support in the first place.

Policy makers should instead look ahead and focus on three groups – older workers, mothers and those with ill-health or a disability – where the UK’s past experience tells us progress can be made.

In the decade running up to the pandemic, the UK saw employment rates rise by 13 percentage points for women aged 55-64 (and four percentage points for men) and by five percentage points for coupled mothers, while the employment gap between those with or without a disability fell by five percentage points between 2013 and 2022.

First, demographic changes mean that there will be many more older age workers in Britain in the 2020s – the number of people aged 65 and over will rise by 2.5 million between 2020 and 2030.

The Foundation warns against a narrow focus on simply raising the State Pension Age, which disproportionately impacts those on lower incomes and poor places with lower life expectancies. If the Government wants to discourage early retirement – having previously encouraged it for richer people with ‘pension freedoms’ – it could accelerate the rise in the minimum age at which people can draw their private pension, which is currently due to rise from 55 to 57 but to remain 10 years lower than the state pension age.

Second, the UK must address its maternal employment gap, where participation rates among low-income women aged 25-54 were just 50 per cent in 2017-2019, compared to 94 per cent among high-income women of the same age.

The Foundation warns that policy makers need to be clear what their objectives are when it comes to new childcare policies. Popular proposals to extend the number of ‘free’ childcare hours will largely boost the incomes of already-working parents in middle-and-high income households, rather than boost employment among lower income households. To achieve the latter, the government should reform childcare support and work incentives for second earners in Universal Credit.

Third, the report notes that a growing share of the population lives with a disability or ill-health. As well as a wider policy agenda to tackle the underlying causes of this trend, including rising mental ill-health, policy makers can do far more to help those affected stay in employment.

The Government should build on the success of statutory maternity leave in boosting maternal employment, and create a new ‘right-to-return’ so that workers who need take some time off work for ill-health remain attached to their employer and job. The Foundation also warns that proposals from both main parties to reform disability benefits to ease the path back into work are well intentioned, but either relatively minor or fraught with implementation challenges.

Without further progress on these three areas, the authors warn that the economic inactivity rate for 15-75 year olds is set to rise from 29.5 per cent up to 30.8 per cent by 2030, the highest rate since the turn of the century (2001).

Louise Murphy, Economist at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“Britain did a great job of getting more people into work in the 2010s. But some of that progress has been undone by the pandemic, with economic inactivity rising by 830,000 over the past three years.

“We need to reboot progress on getting people into work, but we’re not going to achieve it by persuading the recent Covid cohort of older workers to ‘unretire’.

“Instead, we need to do more to encourage mothers in low-income families into work, and help people who need to take periods of time-off for ill-health stay attached to their jobs.

“Taking the right approach to workforce participation would boost individuals’ living standards, and improve the wider health of our economy.”

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Over-50s at work: 'You feel your usefulness has passed'

Michael O'Reilly from Bexhill wants a job, but says he can't find one because companies don't want people his age.

"It's horrible," he says. "You feel your usefulness has passed."

His experience is not unusual. New research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) suggests firms are much less open to hiring older workers than they are to bringing in younger people.

Yet at the same time the chancellor is urging people who retired early to return to work.

In a speech on Friday, Jeremy Hunt said there were almost 300,000 fewer people in employment than before the pandemic, and warned firms would find it difficult to grow if they could not find enough staff.

"So, to those who retired early after the pandemic, or haven't found the right role after furlough, I say: Britain needs you," Mr Hunt said.

But the CMI, a professional body focusing on management and leadership, warns that to bring more older workers back into the workforce, employers will also need to "shift their attitudes" towards hiring.

The CMI surveyed more than 1,000 managers working in UK businesses and public services. It found that just four out of 10 (42%) were open "to a large extent" to hiring people aged between 50 and 64.

The survey, carried out at the end of October 2022, found that most employers were more open to hiring workers in younger age groups.

Almost three quarters, 74%, of managers were open to a large extent to hiring younger workers between the ages of 18 and 34.

Slightly fewer, that is 64%, were very open to hiring those aged between 34 and 49.

The number dropped furthest for applicants in the over-65 aged group. Just 18% of managers said they were open to a large extent to hiring people in that category.

The findings are despite the benefits older workers can offer. Mr O'Reilly has decades of experience working in the banking sector, starting as a programmer and moving up to global IT management positions. He is over 50, although he avoids giving his exact age to potential employers.

"What tends to happen is, over the phone the initial conversation is fine, but when you do video calls or face-to-face interviews the dynamics change. You can tell by their manner and their body language, they're not really paying attention to you," he told the BBC.

Leadership failings

Ann Francke, chief executive of the CMI, said it was employers, as much as older workers, who needed to hear the chancellor's message about encouraging them back to the labour market.

Employers were complaining of severe labour shortages, she said, while also admitting that they are hesitant to bring in older workers.

"[That] points to both cultural and leadership failings in businesses of all sizes, and that needs to change," she said.

Ms Franke said that older workers could be lured back, if they were offered training and flexible working options.

"But unless those doing the hiring revisit their attitudes, older workers will continue to be excluded, just when the labour market needs them the most," she said.

Wasted talent

Many sectors across the economy are suffering from acute staff shortages. But at the same time around a quarter of people of working age - about 10 million people - don't have jobs. Some are looking for jobs, others are students or carers, or are unable to work due to ill-health.

Middle-aged man working at laptop
Getty Images

In his speech on Friday, Mr Hunt said if students were excluded from the figure, there were 6.6 million people who were "economically inactive", describing it as "an enormous and shocking waste of talent and potential".

A significant number of those, more than one million, are people between the age of 50 and 64, who have retired early.

Some firms are welcoming the move to encourage retirees back to work. Emma Harvey, a human resources executive from the insurance company, Axa UK, said bringing more over-50s back into work would help provide the "talent and the skills" that Axa needed, as well as ensuring the firm's workforce properly reflected its customer base.

"Given that we've got such a shortage of workers, it's absolutely a space where every business should be looking, and it's certainly one that's a critical one for Axa," she said.


Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said firms repeatedly told her they could not hire the staff they needed.

While improving childcare and other strategies could also help bring younger workers back into the workforce, luring back the over-50s was also "part of the answer" to filling those labour shortages, she told Sky News on Sunday.

Advising companies how they can embrace a multi-generational workforce could also help shift attitudes, Mr O'Reilly believes.

So, while he is still looking for employment, he has also set up the Age Diversity Network, an organisation which works with employers highlighting the benefits of hiring older workers.

"I, and many other older workers, still have a lot to offer," he says.

"I still want to learn, and am more than happy to work at a lower level and give something back based on my experience and to help others gain from that experience."

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Research: Age Discrimination Among Workers Age 50-Plus

Age discrimination is not a new phenomenon. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on this serious problem that affects workers age 50-plus. The third survey in the Work & Jobs Data Series explores where age discrimination exists for adults age 50-plus in the labor force. 

Age discrimination creates obstacles to getting hired.

The demand for skilled workers is providing the workforce with leverage to seek jobs with the flexibility and growth opportunities they desire. But for some workers age 50-plus, looking for a job or going through the interview process may be hindering their ability to land a job. Nearly one in six adults currently working or looking for work (15%)  report that they were not hired for a job they applied for within the past two years because of their age. Among recent job seekers, 53% were asked by an employer to provide their birth date during the application or interview process, and 47% were asked to provide a graduation date.

Age discrimination exists in the workplace.

Research shows that about two in three adults age 50-plus in the labor force  (62%) think older workers face discrimination in the workplace today based on age. And among them, nearly all (93%) believe that age discrimination against older workers is common in the workplace today. Roughly one third (32%) of older adults in the labor force report that in the last two years they heard negative comments in the workplace about an older co-worker's age. One in six (17%) say that they have been the recipient of negative comments about their age at work. Just over one in ten have been passed up for a promotion or chance to get ahead because of their age (13%). 

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