Three ways to ensure everyone gets a fair go

How is a diverse workforce like a tasty salad? How can we understand minority groups if we’ve never met them? Why is the term “cultural fit” losing its popularity amongst recruiters?

Egalitarianism is one of the key values by which we define ourselves in Australia. During a recent diversity and inclusion panel discussion hosted by Six Degrees we heard from Andrea Pearman, CEO Inclusive Australia . “We hear [egalitarianism] all the time in Australia Day speeches,” she explained. “There is this sense of ‘if you live in Australia you can have a fair go.’”

No one wants to feel as though they lost out on a job due to unfair or biased hiring processes. But in reality, there are a lot of Australians for whom the chances of getting a “fair go” during the recruitment process is extremely unlikely.

When it comes to hiring discrimination, what is the true size of the problem? Statistics tell us that there is still a very long way to go. For example, one in four Australians have experienced major discrimination in the past two years and for those people who experience such discrimination, they have a 15 per cent lower sense of wellbeing. Studies* also put the cost of racism to the country and $45B per year. So how do we address this in our workplaces and start to close the gap between where we perceive we are and the real experiences of so many people?

1. Ditch the idea of a workplace ‘cultural fit’

How can organisations ensure any new hires adhere to their existing workplace culture alongside striving for a diverse workforce? Jo Allan, CPO of Carsales.com, believes we need to forget the idea of cultural fit altogether. “I hate the term!”, she says. “It’s something we always used to talk about [at Carsales.com] but in defining something, you only exclude something else.” Instead, she believes organisations should focus on keeping their definition of workplace culture broad to better attract and retain diverse talent. Rather than saying “this is our fit”, it should be about capability and what each applicant can bring to the role. “It’s not about what they have to do to fit in with us, it’s about what we have to do to fit in with them”, says Allan.   

Rona McLean-Carmody, Manager of Strategic Talent Management at Brisbane City Council, suggests thinking of the workplace as a salad. “You have just as many ingredients in a good salad as you’d have in a stew but [with a salad] you can still see that that's a piece of roast pumpkin and when you taste it, it tastes quite different to the tomato or the feta cheese.” It’s the sum of all those ingredients that make for a rich, beautiful and enjoyable experience. If organisations continue to focus on the idea of a cultural fit and recruiting people to a homogenous environment, they will continue to get the same outcomes.

2. Disrupt the recruitment process

In order to ensure diverse applicants are given a fair go throughout the recruitment process it’s worthwhile to carry out a complete evaluation of the organisation’s existing processes. “We've had to be disruptive,” explains Rona. “A couple of years ago we made the decision at [Brisbane City Council] that tinkering around the edges is not going to effect change.” Providing unconscious bias training, removing personal information from CVs and setting quotas can be effective to a point but don’t transform the overall culture of the workplace. “We use scenarios to recruit people where we try and actually see them live.  How do they communicate? How do they solve problems? How do they deal with conflict?” This helps hiring managers to break down their unconscious biases and observe first-hand how applicants would fit into the team and the skills they would bring. Brisbane City Council also set out explicit inclusion and EQ goals within contracts, which are assessed during annual performance reviews. For example, leaders will be asked to provide detailed examples of how they have deliberately removed any barriers to addressing unconscious bias in their team.

3. Share stories 

Many Australians have minimal contact with minority groups. As Andrea pointed out, 50 per cent of the population have either nothing, or very little, to do with indigenous people. “All they experience is what they read in the newspaper. And [what you read there] is often not particularly good.” Storytelling, she argues, helps to build empathy and relationships. It fosters positive connections with people from different backgrounds and perspectives and changes attitudes throughout the recruitment process. “We all have a tendency as human beings to stick within our little social networks. The more we can actually get out and meet people who are different from us, the more positive societal value we will create.” Organisations should strive to create environments that facilitate cross-cultural interaction and collaboration and celebrate diversity. This might include hosting social events, diversity networks or mentoring. Additionally, it’s essential that employees are encouraged to call out and report discrimination when they see or hear it. This impacts workplace attitudes in general, which will in turn have a knock-on effect on the recruitment process.

As Lance Hockridge, ex CEO and Managing Director at Aurizon, reminded us, you cannot treat inequality equally. “If you're going to make that kind of shift in culture, if you're going to make the kind of shift in outcomes that we're all looking for, then it's going to take real effort and it’s going to be a real challenge.”

Talk to the experts at Six Degrees Executive to learn more about ensuring fairness in your recruitment process.

*Elias A. (2016), Counting the billion dollar cost of racism in Australia