George Floyd, one year on in graduate recruitment

May 25, 2021 | Diversity

George Floyd’s death triggered change in graduate recruitment, DEI and wellbeing specialist André Flemmings looks back over the last year.

George Floyd’s killing, coming amid the general disruption of the pandemic, was a key moment in forcing some long-overdue conversations about diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) and the effectiveness of existing strategies in organisations.

In the aftermath structural processes such as recruitment, progression and retention impacted underrepresented people (URPs) fell under the microscope because, despite years of investment and well-intentioned activity, many had shown little progress in many areas, including ethnic diversity. For many, and particularly younger populations, the time was warm words was over. Progress was not only needed, it was demanded.

Even though many regarded graduate recruitment as more advanced than other areas of the employee journey, it was still acknowledged that many processes still had a long way to go to catch up with best practice.

Whilst not an exhaustive list, here is a summary of the key changes that accelerated or received additional attention as a result of the pandemic and the US police killings.


Attraction targeting

The events of 2020 made good data even more key to planning effective campus strategies. In a new unfamiliar environment for engagement and delivery, obtaining any information on campus demographics, audience attitudes, and diversity metrics took away some of the guesswork.

In life before Covid and George’s death, deciding target universities, where to market, or how to use diversity suppliers to target URPs used to be based on limited data and a lot of hearsay. After, with data from events, market data companies, careers services, and social media metrics, every action had the potential to be measured for impact and contribution towards the overall goal.


Direct student cultivation

Traditionally, diversity suppliers and their alumni networks would provide recruiters with access to new, more diverse audiences. Digital complements such as Handshake and Vantage added additional touchpoints in 2020. With comprehensive diversity information on members and the right permissions, it was possible to approach candidates directly and invite them to engage.

In a similar way, systems like Hop In, Meet & Engage, and even Zoom offered event attendees the option to remain anonymous in Q&As. This was of particular benefit during diversity sessions where personal questions could be asked without fear. Candidate feedback on processes and presentations also helped teams to tweak diversity messages in real time rather than wait a whole cycle to implement changes.


Communicating culture and sharing perspectives

With podcasts, Q&A sessions, clubhouse discussions, and social media takeovers taking centre stage, the brochure effectively became obsolete. Company culture could be communicated far more effectively (and environmentally) via these new methods and meant that stale statements explaining the importance of diversity no longer sufficed as demonstrations of a meaningful commitment.

Some organisations used the formats to great effect to showcase a diversity of staff, levels of seniority, and perspectives, promote innovation (a nod to competition for talent from tech firms and start-ups), and reveal organisational commitment to advocacy on a range of environmental, social and governance-related issues (ESG). For me, I enjoyed Clifford Chance and their podcast series and online content in particular.


Employee resource groups (ERGs)

Diversity programmes have tended to involve engaged senior individuals – normally from minority groups themselves – with significant support from employee resource groups (ERGs). In the post-Floyd world these groups played an even more significant role in promoting cultures of inclusion by offering prominent yet distinctive voices. This was beneficial for graduate recruiters who needed online content. Thankfully, ERG contributions featured on mainstream communication channels, meaning all applicants could see it, not just URPs.

For employees too, with travel to campuses out, and sceptical managers less likely to notice time taken off-desk to support initiatives, most recruitment teams probably found that staff engagement on campus was higher, despite the busy-ness. Many more could attend events, Q&As, or speed networking sessions. For me, the levels of engagement were pleasing to see, and the importance to applicants in seeing inclusion in action and having authentic conversations with professionals was critical to communicating company culture.


Practical work insights and virtual experiences

At one of my previous workplaces we sanctioned the first virtual internship experience in the UK, using Forage (formerly Inside Sherpa). As a global and diversity recruitment specialist, the benefits of having a set of real work examples available to applicants to test their skills and assess the day-to-day work that was available anywhere and at any time was obvious.

Whether available pre-application, or at part of pre-boarding or to complement virtual work placements, the added insight was incredible in showing that our organisation wanted to support applicants’ development, irrespective of whether they came to us or not.


Pre-recruitment developmental focus

Pre-recruitment development programmes have been well-established part of diversity supplier programmes for some time. Much of the effort would focus on candidates’ wellbeing as well as building self-confidence and self-awareness. Before the pandemic, many organisations had started to included some form of skills workshop into their general campus repertoire. Some even set up specific scholarships as they aimed to develop their own diversity pipelines.

Because of the pandemic, this sort of emotional and developmental support was required universally. As such, sessions that would normally only be for ‘diversity’ candidates such as imposter syndrome, goal-setting and self-management became accessible to everyone.

Also, rather than one-off workshops, sessions started to become serialised. Some campus activity began to be underpinned by a learning and development curricula with the best enlisting their early career development teams and L&D specialists to front online sessions. The focus, like diversity programmes, became not just helping candidates produce a decent application, but ensuring that they would excel in the role from day one. That longer-term approach started shifting the focus on attraction just diversity and recruitment to supporting inclusion and retention.


Selection process overhauls

As an immediate issue, the pandemic meant several organisations had to amend their selection processes simply because they would not function in a virtual context. Whilst these changes were happening, the timing of George Floyd’s death allowed some recruiters to implement other changes to improve fairness, the user experience, and the success rate of URPs.

Organisations who were ahead of the curve and had already started changing their processes probably reaped most benefit. Popular changes included:

  • Embracing a diversity of assessment types when assessing talent
  • Structuring contextual elements better and tracking interventions
  • Moving away from academic grades as objective measures of ability
  • Reappraising the value of certain experiences
  • Changing application scoring to be more balanced
  • Training assessors properly on the process, bias and recording performance
  • Ensuring blind recruitment techniques aided (rather than masked) bias
  • Employing AI to assist (rather than replace) human decision-making

In one of my roles, we even reappraised rolling recruitment, having found that the practice impacted certain groups more than others.

For me on both a professional and personal level, 2020 was a difficult and sobering year. It exposed many long-standing social and economic inequalities. That said, the many tragedies offered the chance for reconciliation and renewal. In the case of DEI and graduate recruitment – areas I specialised in for 10 years – change started happening quicker as a result. Because of the pandemic and George’s death, necessity became the mother of invention, and many took the once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve their cultures and encourage better behaviours by implementing structural and data-led changes.

Read insights, advice and opinion on the Black Live Matters movement which was fuelled by George Floyd’s death

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