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Do HR departments cherry-pick diversity options?

LinkedIn has spoken to 9,000 HR people or indeed, ‘talent acquisition professionals’

It asked them what the most important trends in recruitment currently are, and 78% named “diversity” as one of them. It’s a game-changer in 2018 apparently, which is a remarkable achievement for such a vague and all-encompassing concept.

The respondents were from 39 countries. Now, while they were all engaged in recruitment, you can bet your bottom rouble that what people from say, Moscow, mean by diversity is significantly different from what people in Los Angeles or Lesotho think. Indeed, is it not basic to the whole concept of diversity that cultures differ and one culture’s diversity definition is not the same as another’s?

Here’s where we get to the interpretation of the survey results. This trend is so important that press sources have reported that “more than half” of companies had made progress in tackling diversity issues. However, 53% is a number you can put a positive spin on if you don’t dwell on the 47% who have clearly either done nothing or gone backwards.

Put this alongside another statistic from the report – 78% of companies said they intended to use diversity to improve company culture. These two statistics don’t really add up together. They point to a willingness from nearly everyone to talk up the benefits of diversity, allied to a reluctance in nearly half the respondents to do anything about it.

This kind of mismatch usually results in an epic bout of diversity policy writing. For a hidebound management, this has the excellent result of keeping the troublemakers busy without anyone actually having to change anything.

It’s undoubtedly the case that successful organisations tend to have more diverse workforces. This slightly begs the question that successful organisations are often nationally or internationally based, so they are going to be drawing from a wider pool of candidates.

However, it’s interesting that while talent professionals are well aware of some parts of the diversity spectrum, they seem to be completely unaware of other parts. Companies tend to make some gestures in the areas of black and minority ethnic workers and workers of different sexualities. But then, as the BBC has found out recently, they get criticised for favouring only middle class people from those groups.

In fact, class and poverty are definitely poor relations when it comes to diversity. Without actually saying so, most companies don’t exactly go out of their way to recruit actively religious people either.

The diversity debate is a lot more complex than it seems, with firms and recruiters cherry-picking those bits of the diversity cake that suit them. Look – we have people with lots of different ethnicities and non-binary gender identifications! True, they’re all aged 25-35, live in London, eat organic and have the same hairstyle, but still – what a diverse bunch!

The fact is, diversity tends to be in the eye of the beholder, and the concept itself is so elastic as to be almost meaningless. Progressive companies will lead in recruiting from a wider range of people, other companies will stumble along behind. Most people know which they’d rather work for.

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