Black inclusion in the workplace: the art of inclusive recruitment

Audeliss’ Practice Lead and Head of Race Representation, Rachel Huggins, talks about why companies need a deeper and more inclusive focus on the hiring process if they are serious about making a significant change when it comes to recruiting Black employees into senior jobs.

To be active advocates of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) companies and their leaders must do the work to attract and retain diverse talent.

Less than 7% of senior management roles in the U.S. are held by Black individuals, and it is forecast that by 2044 groups seen as ‘minorities’ will reach majority status.

The key is to ensure Black employees already in the workforce are progressing into leadership roles and are being given real decision-making power, as well as attracting Black candidates into the process when hiring for senior positions.

If an organization is serious about improving diversity, including within the leadership team, it must practice inclusive recruitment – having a clear awareness of the nature of the role that needs to be filled, its value within the organization, and the expectations of the candidate.

In putting deeper thought into the recruitment process and the actual skills required, inclusive recruitment is likely to increase opportunities for those who may have previously been overlooked.

Inclusive recruitment often involves casting a wider net when looking for talent, broadening the boundaries of traditional search parameters. At Audeliss, we refer to this as widening the gate, without lowering the bar. It’s important that the role’s brief is open to a wider array of potential candidates by focusing on the core skills needed, rather than getting caught in the ‘nice to haves’ or skills that the job-holder possesses that are not relevant for the role.

Creating a candidate prospectus is also a great way to move away from the sometimes one-dimensional role description as it provides them with a more holistic and in-depth picture of the company’s culture, the role and how they may potentially fit at the organization.

Another aspect to reflect on and actively move away from is the preconception of experience and background that the ‘right’ candidate might have. If the profile of an ideal candidate for a CFO role is, for example, an Ivy League graduate with a decade of senior role experience at a Big 4 accounting firm, you are unlikely to get diversity.

Historically, diverse candidates haven’t had such a linear climb to executive or board positions due to factors such as lack of support and mentorship at previous jobs, or financial and family opportunities to attend elite universities. The key is to think more broadly when it comes to ‘suitable’ candidates; considering lived experiences over academic and professional experiences can result in you finding candidates who can meet the skill requirements but also bring something additional to the role.

If you are working with an executive search firm, hold them accountable to tapping into diverse networks for your role to ensure it has exposure to different types of candidates from different backgrounds. Longer term, you could also connect meaningfully with organizations that have a shared aim to bring diversity to leadership, such as 30% Club and Stonewall, to increase awareness of your organization as an inclusive employer.

It’s also critical to hold executive search firms accountable for delivering strong diverse shortlists and ensuring that they have done the work to confirm the credibility of candidates for the role and haven’t just added diverse candidates to shortlists to provide the illusion of diversity.

Incorporating inclusive recruitment into the modern hiring process also involves mitigating bias. Affinity bias, for example, involves having a preference for a candidate who shares qualities with you, such as attending the same university. Another type, the ‘horns’ bias, is where a perceived ‘negative’ quality affects the overall perception you might have of a candidate, to the extent you ignore any other positive qualities.

This could include the way that a candidate looks or experience-related aspects such as career breaks or frequent career changes. When interviewing for a leadership role, actions and processes must be put in place to ensure any biases such as these do not come to affect the end decision.

Recruitment and interview panels, for example, should include a diverse range of stakeholders. This not only helps to eliminate bias by bringing diverse views into the process, but also demonstrates to the candidate that the organization welcomes diverse opinions. An inclusive interview process will make a company stand out; particularly important for high-level leadership talent who are highly sought-after.

While there are positive steps companies can take to ensure Black individuals have every chance of gaining leadership roles, the work mustn’t stop if and when they are appointed. Companies need to keep up the momentum as new starters enter their workforces, and beyond.

A successful and inclusive onboarding enables appointees to achieve high performance and belonging. Psychological safety is critical too, as employees need to feel comfortable and confident that they won’t be dismissed or punished for bringing their ideas, challenges or concerns to the fore, and we know that diverse appointees are more likely to suffer from lower levels of psychological safety in the workplace.

Low psychological safety and a lack of belonging inhibit a leader’s ability to be their authentic self, leading to stress and feelings of isolation. Companies must keep in mind inclusivity alongside diversity, to ensure Black employees have the resources and opportunities necessary to progress and feel empowered every step of the way.

Article originally published in HR Magazine.