It’s 2032 and the new hire in your talent team is researching early careers and future talent, specifically looking at Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). They call (or hologram/VR in who knows!) you and ask:
‘Did we really used to ask people who they were sexually attracted to when applying for a job?! Why on earth did we ever think that was appropriate?’.
We will be the people defending and explaining the EDI metrics we find ourselves using today. How comfortable does that make you feel? I know how it makes me feel. Icky. Icky is the best word for it.
What has prompted my thinking?
It all stems from a conversation with a very good friend of mine who fell in love with someone of the same gender in her 40s, having lived her life up to that point identifying as a straight woman.
She called me in tears from work. Doing a routine survey at work she had been asked to ‘tick a box’ about her sexual orientation. Cue an existential crisis at her desk – Have I always been gay, and I didn’t realise? Am I bisexual? Am I straight, but simply fallen in love with one this exceptional person (regardless of gender)?
More tears, conversation and angst followed. All for what? Our EDI metrics. It really got me thinking about what on earth we are doing and if it is time to rethink our whole approach.
This is not limited to sexual orientation
Whilst it was sexual orientation that got me thinking, I quickly realised this applies across all the different categories we tend to apply to EDI metrics.
People are complex and unique with vast intersectionality across their personal characteristics, and increasing fluidity across spectrums (think gender, sexual orientation and neurodiversity alone) rather than static identities.
Attempting to categorise people with labels and boxes is not only fundamentally flawed, but moreover it is an almost impossible task to capture this beautiful rainbow of complexity with such crude measures.
Why does it really matter to the early careers and future talent sector?
- We are often (not always) working with younger people, who may very well still be grappling with how they identify. If we can cause a 40+ year old woman to have a crisis of identity, how might we be impacting on the mental health and wellbeing of young people?
- Students have increasing concerns and cynicism about our requests for this data and its purpose/relevance when applying for a job. This blog is a summary of my keynote from the ISE ED&I conference 2022 where students on a disability panel voiced their concerns about being (or being viewed as) the ‘diversity hire’. Regardless of whether or not such practises actually exist (they rarely do in the UK) students feel it to be true, especially those from under-represented groups.
- Younger generations are increasingly identifying (when compared to older generations) in non-binary terms, particularly in terms of gender (over 74 genders now recognised) and sexuality.
- Neurodiversity is much greater amongst the next generation with a 787% exponential increase in recorded incidence of autism diagnoses alone between 1998 and 2018. These increases could be due to growth in prevalence or, more likely, increased reporting and diagnosis. Younger people expect us to reflect the vast array of neurodiversity within society and a simple ‘disabled’ box is far from satisfactory to help us support candidates (as well as creating psychological barriers to application).
- The hugely flawed term ‘mixed race’ is going to be one of the fastest growing ethnicities in future years as our population becomes ever more diverse and inter-connected. Is ‘mixed race’ really good enough to represent rich cultural backgrounds and heritage? I think not.
- Diversity and inclusion are critical issues for this next generation and they need to see our profession managing it in terms that reflect their own sophistication and knowledge of the complexity of the subject. I think we are currently failing to meet their expectations.
- Students and graduates understand intersectionality and are smart enough to see through vanity metrics and statements such as ‘We recruited twice the number of disabled candidates!’ when the majority of your hires are still straight and white.
I don’t think we find ourselves where we are today as a result of any malice or malintent. Indeed, quite the opposite. However, I think when you look at our current methods of monitoring EDI metrics with fresh eyes it is clear that our labels and boxes are simply no longer fit for purpose and we need to start afresh. And if it starts anywhere it will start with us.
As a profession, the early careers/future talent sector tends to lead HR practise where the rest of the profession follows (think about who adopted on-line apps, VR, gamification, video interviews – we were and are always the first). This tends to be because we are working with and responding to the needs of the next generation of our workforce.
I’m not suggesting I have the solution just yet, but I am certain that as a sector we will be the ones to create a new approach.
What are the alternatives?
Some of the ideas generated by delegates in the short innovation lab session at ISE’s EDI Conference included:
- Self ID
- Net diversity/inclusion scores from candidates (NDIS as an alternative to NPS – Net Promoter Score) as a key candidate experience metric
- Using ranges or spectrums to capture characteristics rather than boxes/labels
- Removing metrics altogether (risky many would argue when we still have much to do)
- Co-creation of entirely new approaches with the input of students and graduates
- Adopting an ‘inclusive by design’ approach, rather than having separate things for different groups, which implies those who don’t fit some imagined norm are the problem
This was a simple starting point, so none of these solutions are perfect of course. But it was wonderfully refreshing to scrap what we think we know and look afresh at this topic.
It very much feels like the time for us to think again about our EDI metrics. To work in collaboration and co-create new approaches with students, to experiment, try, perhaps make some missteps, and learn about how we can do better in this space. Because I am now 100% convinced that we can and must do better.
Read more opinion, advice and data on EDI