Spinning a Golden Web: What we learned from Student Recruitment Conference 2021

Jul 7, 2021 | Sector & policy

ISE Chair and Head of Early Talent at Pinsent Masons, Deborah McCormack, reflects on what she learned from this year’s Student Recruitment Conference.

At the close of our 2021 Student Recruitment Conference, Dr Nalayini Thambar reminded us of the Henry Ford quote, ‘If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.’

For me these words encapsulate one of the most important strategic strands and underpinning purpose of the ISE – to build a thriving community through which we can co-create and share best practice for the benefit of the early careers sector and the organisations we work in.

Many of our speakers (and there were over 90 this year) also referenced the ‘golden threads’ which tie us together as stakeholders of the ISE community. Listening to this year’s contributors, it struck me that there are a number of common themes running through so much of the work we all do as educators, recruiters, developers, employers and suppliers. At such a challenging time, professionally and personally, globally and domestically, those golden threads have been helpful touchpoints to focus on. For me the key themes which resonated most strongly this year were:

  • recognising, embracing and celebrating our differences to create and sustain truly inclusive cultures where we all feel we belong and can do our best work
  • harnessing the power of technology to complement our human skills – it’s emotional intelligence which differentiates us from the machines
  • collaboration and co-creation of solutions within our organisations, sectors and wider networks are the keys to quicker, more effective progression.

As I reflect on what we’ve all learned from this year’s conference and what we can learn from the best practice content captured in the ISE’s ‘Complete Guide to Student Recruitment & Development’, it strikes me that our community is vibrant, thriving and working hard to spin an inter-connected web from these many golden threads.


Embracing Difference

Edleen John encouraged us to think about diversity in the broadest sense of the concept, not only to focus on the characteristics protected by law. Most organisations are working hard to address social mobility (socio-economic background is not protected). However, there is less activity around neurodiversity and consideration of different personality types, thinking and learning styles, although that is slowly shifting. As Edleen told the story of her childhood and career journey, it struck me that this is a great example of where the ISE community can play a pivotal role in developing best practice, turning recruitment into a force for equality.

The ‘speak up’ culture Edleen referenced as helping all colleagues to feel psychologically safe and confident to raise any issue, whether about D&I, bullying or mental health, was also interesting. It’s exactly that environment that we are keen to foster within the ISE community, harnessing the connectedness of our D&I and Apprenticeship Steering Groups and Sector Focus Groups, as safe and approachable spaces in which we can talk about our challenges, openly and honestly. For me, throughout the pandemic, the Legal Sector Focus Group and many colleagues within that network, have been a constant source of solutions and reassurance.

At many of the practically focused D&I sessions, the mission critical ingredients to building more representative organisations, were equity and positive action. Sustaining a continuous and consistent focus on diversifying your talent pipeline is also key – this came out strongly at the sessions led by Accenture and also from Yasmina and Arbi, Co-Chairs of our ISE D&I Steering Group. We need to take both individual, as well as collective, responsibility to be better allies, get comfortable being uncomfortable when talking about race and educating ourselves and each other on race issues. Again, the ISE has a vital role to play in every aspect of making progress on racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion.


Harnessing Technology

To open, Somi Arian inspired us to scale the peaks! Somi encourages us to embrace the benefits of technology in the post-digital world, with pre-digital generations mentoring but also learning from Millennials and Gen Z as the digital natives. She also implores us to try things, fail fast and learn from the experience, building confidence and resilience in spades.

As a mother of a daughter and son, I immediately told Iona and Finlay that we are missing a serious trick if 50% of our talent (i.e. women) is not involved in the design and creation of new technology. What an opportunity for change on multiple levels. ISE members can influence that shift. And I wish my kids would learn to code!


Team Work Makes the Dream Work

My colleagues laugh at my work ‘catchphrase’, but I’ve always been an advocate of team work making the dream work! We are greater than the sum of our parts if we harness the power, diversity of thinking and lived experience of the hive mind. Using Lindsey Pollak’s advice to help us recalculate and navigate new routes through these dynamically challenging times, the ISE community can provide that team and support for its members, so let’s get involved!

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