When we think of how the world of recruitment looks now as opposed to 20, 10 or even 5 years ago, it’s tempting to marvel at how far we’ve come, and it’s true that the landscape of the industry has changed significantly with the times…
But when we look at the recent data on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, it’s clear how far we still have to go. For example, a study carried out in 2020 by BlueSky PR found that ‘just 26% of recruitment firm directors are female’. More recent data compiled from a survey carried out by APSCO and the REC actually found, perhaps equally as worryingly, a void of data as 2 in five recruitment businesses admitted they ‘do not record demographic data.’ Of the recruitment businesses that did record data and report back, ‘both surveys show that over 75% of the recruitment workforce is White British.’
Moreover, data captured by the government which has been reported on by The Guardian shows that the gender pay gap has actually increased in the past two years, with women being paid ‘a median hourly rate 10.2% less than their male colleagues, nearly a percentage point higher than the 9.3% gap reported in 2018.’ Whether these figures can be attributed in part to factors relating to the pandemic remains unclear and difficult to prove. Regardless, this data- or lack thereof- is indicative of wider structural and cultural issues within the recruitment industry as well as the professional world generally, and signals how far we still have left to go to balance the scales.
To give us some more insight on Heat’s own practices and approach to Diversity and Inclusion, we spoke to our Talent Acquisition Manager Emily Coughtrie, as she marks her 2-year anniversary in the business, to discuss the initiatives we already have in place and what more needs to be done to end the stigma in the recruitment industry.
Why do you think there has been– and remains- such a lack of diversity within the recruitment sector?
Recruitment has historically been seen as a male-dominated industry. Stereotypical depictions of recruiters in popular culture reinforce old-school ideas that you have to be a certain type of person to succeed in these roles, but it’s just not true. In my experience, when I think of the top billers that I know within Heat and within other agencies, a large proportion of them are female. But, unfortunately, if the majority of a team’s Senior Leadership Team fit into one category, what candidates see in an interview process is often likely to reflect and reinforce this damaging stereotype. If you see this idea reinforced, then it’s easy to feel like you might not belong somewhere when you do, which massively damages the diversity of the workforce in the industry.
Another prevalent issue historically was the natural tendency for managers to hire people to work on their team who were similar to themselves, simply because they knew how to manage them. The obvious problem with this is that it becomes very difficult for anyone else to actually come through the ranks, and so the problem is exacerbated. A way of countering this that many businesses have opted for are the use of diversity quotas or hiring targets. In theory, this sounds like a good idea, but in reality this can quickly become problematic, as it tends to lead to hiring managers taking on candidates who aren’t actually the right fit for the company and therefore don’t work out. This only seems to reinforce the idea that people don’t belong when they actually do! At Heat, we have ambitions and internal aspirations to both hire and promote a diverse range of people within our business, but we will never say that we have to hire a set number of people in order to hit a promotion, as it’s just not the right thing to do. We have a duty of care to the candidates that we hire, and we want to ensure that we’re hiring people with the knowledge that they are suited for the role and that they are likely to succeed; otherwise, it’s completely unfair on that candidate, and we’re wasting their time and efforts. Really committing to bringing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into practice within your business means realizing that it’s not a simple tick-box exercise, it’s digging into the culture and hiring process of the company, analyzing it, then doing the work to improve it – or overhaul it altogether.
What are we doing in order to attract and retain a diverse range of people to work at Heat?
We’ve already established that there has been an image problem within the recruitment industry, and a lack of representation that has led to a lack of diversity within the sector as a whole. Because of this, there have historically been far fewer experienced females within the industry. This is starting to change, and here at Heat we’ve taken on 5 experienced female consultants in recent months, but there is certainly more work to be done to balance the scales, and we’re aspiring to attract a more diverse range of candidates to us at the trainee stage in order to do so.
In terms of our approach, we don’t oversell the job and we’re honest about the realities of the role, but we also don’t ask the stereotypical ‘recruitment’ interview questions that focus on how money motivated a candidate is. Instead, we focus on the core skills that make an excellent recruiter, such as resilience and negotiation. We also like to ask candidates about their personal long-term goals in life, whether these relate to work or not, such as running a marathon, getting on the property ladder, or anything else that shows dedication and drive.
I think it’s also incredibly important that we ensure there’s more representation within the interview process itself, and the way we’re starting to do this is by involving a broader range of people from within the business in these meetings. This way, prospective candidates can get a more accurate picture of the business as a whole than they might have done previously, and they can also take the opportunity to ask some of the questions that they may not have felt confident asking in their first-round interviews.
How does Heat make sure every voice is heard?
I think the most important thing that we do at Heat is making sure everyone is included. That means that not only are we inviting a diverse group of people into our meetings, but we are also actively ensuring they are given the chance to speak; it’s part of the culture of Heat that our managers and directors will ensure that everyone gets the chance to contribute to a conversation, and that everyone is asked their opinion. For example, if there’s a group discussion going on and people end up talking over each other, senior team members will always make a point to circle back and give everyone a platform to make sure that that train of thought doesn’t wind up getting lost. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s these behaviours that go a long way in ensuring that we’re building a culture where we’re actively including everyone and uplifting voices within our business. In terms of our initiatives, we have a number in place to make sure we’re obtaining regular feedback and giving everyone the opportunity to give their views. We have regular anonymous surveys that are sent out to everyone in the company, an onsite HR team, regular 360 feedback and our ‘wish board’ for any ideas or initiatives that people would like to see implemented in the company (these can range from something as small as changing the brand of office teabags all the way through to changing our benefits packages and policies).
What promotions have been made at Heat recently?
In the last batch of promotions, 12 members of the team were promoted, 6 of which were female, meaning an even split of promotions. 2 of these promotions were women moving into Senior Managing Consultant roles, and it’s truly brilliant to see more and more women moving into leadership roles within Heat.
What more can we do and what more are we planning to do?
I think there’s always more that we can and should be doing, and it’s important to recognise that this is something that is ongoing and ever-changing: it’s not a tick-box exercise. What we’re really focusing on in particular is the interview process, and to that end we’re going to be running unconscious bias training for all of our directors and managing consultants. Recognising that we all have bias, and understanding how the different types can manifest themselves, is crucial to ensuring that our processes aren’t affected by them. We’re also doing training around interviewing in general to ensure we’re being as consistent as possible, that the questions we’re asking are as similar as possible, and that we use the exact same scoring system for everyone so that the process is totally fair. We’re trying to squash the idea of ‘team fit’ as a reason for hiring someone; of course, culture fit is really important and it’s certainly a consideration for most companies, but it’s not a good enough reason alone to justify hiring somebody. We justify all hires based on what skills they have and what they will add to the team, rather than basing a decision on hiring solely on a feeling that they’ll be a good fit.
As I’ve already mentioned, statistically there is a lack of female progression within the recruitment sector as a whole, and a lot of this seems to have stemmed from a lack of flexibility around maternity leave. Historically, recruitment companies have tended to offer quite poor maternity pay and benefits, which has forced those who wish to have children to choose between having a family and being able to retain their career. Often, because women want to continue utilizing their skills but also obtain good corporate benefits, they’ll end up moving to in-house positions in order to get that balance. This only contributes to the idea that you can’t have it all and forces women out of the industry. All of these reasons are why we decided at Heat to introduce enhanced maternity and paternity pay, as well as flexible working so that you can fit work around your life, not your life around your work. There’s a high level of support here for new parents, and I think a lot of businesses within the industry are starting to see that they’re losing great talent just because they’re choosing not to offer that support. Equally, though, we’ve tried to be a lot more conscious of the language we’re using in order to ensure we’re being as inclusive as possible; in the wake of the pandemic and the normalization of remote working, there’s been a lot of rhetoric around flexibility being a perk primarily for the use of parents. We’ve tried to steer ourselves away from this messaging. We want to make it clear that everyone is entitled to the same degree of flexibility, whatever they decide to use it for.
We all know by now that a lack of diversity within teams is bad for business as well as for the individual. If every voice in the room comes from the same background, if you all look the same and share the same lived experiences, that room becomes an echo chamber. It’s obvious that a diverse team will have a diverse set of skills, insights and experiences that they can bring to the table, and this can only lead to a stronger workforce with a higher chance of success. We’ve still got a long way to go, and there’s more work to be done, but we’re putting in that commitment and effort to ensure that we’re a workplace where everyone thrives, feels welcome and is heard.