ISE’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) event focused on how we can move from aspiration to action, explains Dr Reena Jamnadas from Cappfinity.
In his powerful keynote address, Lee Elliot Major OBE, Britain’s first Professor of Social Mobility, described our sector’s focus on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as the ‘climate change challenge’ of our time.
For me, this very much reflected the spirit of this year’s ISE EDI Conference, where although we are making great strides in levelling the playing field, there was a strong awareness of the tremendous responsibility we have to drive long-term change, in service of early career talent.
Almost 200 delegates attended this year’s conference, with over 30 inspirational speakers. Despite the wide range of sessions, there were five main ‘golden threads’ that emerged as consistent themes, which are summarised below:
1. Be clear of your purpose at every stage
In the opening session, an inspirational student panel from Cibyl representing various diverse abilities challenged employers to be better in empowering candidates to feel psychologically safe to disclose their needs during recruitment and onboarding.
Asking powerful questions as simple as ‘What would make a more inclusive process for you?’ or ‘How can we support you through this process?’ led to greater disclosure across a diverse range of needs, relative to typical questions or tick boxes about reasonable adjustments.
2. Ensure representation, personalisation and inclusive terminology
A strong theme was that candidates want to know if they are engaging with an organisation that will enable them to be authentic and feel safe. They are looking at the extent to which they feel a sense of belonging in every interaction, which can set apart one organisation from another.
Several organisations shared how they are achieving this. For example, a panel discussion led by Forage with Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Pfizer and the University of Greenwich questioned whether existing recruitment processes may create invisible barriers by making a role seem even more unattainable.
Several sessions highlighted the need for interview panels, for example, to be representative of diverse groups across an organisation, moving away from these roles being played by hiring managers.
A session led by Cappfinity with EY and Lexxic shared practical examples of inclusive terminology in engaging neurodiverse talent from recruitment through to onboarding.
They shared examples of moving away from a ‘one-size fits all’ recruitment process, instead making processes flexible and personalised according to different needs. Examples include removing online assessments where appropriate, or sharing interview questions in advance with all candidates to level the playing field.
3. Reach out to diverse talent pools that may not find you
Cibyl shared powerful data about how Russel Group Universities, amongst many careers fairs, have limited access to specific diverse groups.
It was enlightening to hear about outreach approaches that some organisations are using to attractive diverse talent.
For example, Handshake with GSK and the University of Bradford highlighted how they are taking a ‘social equity’ approach to placing students by targeting specific geographical areas. They also go out to groups, societies and communities representative of various diverse groups that are unlikely to be found on campuses to increase social mobility.
Similarly, Cognizant and Bridge of Hope inspirationally talked about ‘breaking the mould’ by hiring for potential, expanding talent pools to include diverse groups including veterans, ex-offenders, returners to work amongst many others.
4. Remove structural barriers and take a reality check
Professor Lee Elliot Major OBE highlighted that if we are not measuring social mobility through our processes all other measures become futile in truly driving long-term change.
Throughout the conference there was recognition of how, for too long, we have used degrees, work experience and networks to connect talent to roles. We need to evaluate the relevance of these historic pre-requisites, and remove these barriers to social mobility. This was role modelled by organisations such as EY and PwC, who are instead recruiting for skills and potential.
Our final keynote speaker, Rebecca Fielding, MD at Gradconsult, powerfully closed the conference with one powerful question of ‘will we look back in horror at our D&I metrics?’
With pin drop silence, she asked important questions such as, ‘will we look back in 50 years’ time with embarrassment that we asked early talent about their genitals or their sexual preferences?
As Rebecca highlighted, as human beings we are brilliantly complex. We do not fit neatly into boxes or labels that we ask of early career professionals, who may be on a journey of self-discovery themselves.
Getting the audience involved with an energising exercise, Rebecca challenged us to think about the purpose of such data, and how we could be more creative in measuring diversity across our organisations.
5. We need to take a whole systems approach to drive real change
During the lively panel discussion at the end of the conference there was a unanimous sense of the need to go beyond recruitment to truly drive change and create cultures of inclusion and belonging across all aspects of the employee lifecycle.
Societal issues such as the cost of living crisis is widening the gap even further. The careers that young professionals would typically aspire for are seemingly even further out of reach, impacting their confidence and mental health.
In order to truly drive long-term change, with Professor Major’s analogy of EDI being the climate change challenge of our era, we have a golden opportunity to work together as an industry, strengthening the link between careers services, schools, recruiters, developers and employers, as well as co-creating with students themselves, in addressing these societal issues.
The ISE EDI Conference was an energising opportunity to meet as peers and change makers across our sector – the coming together of great minds, combined with rigorous research and science, to truly move the dial from aspiration to action in service of early career talent. We look forward to next year!
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