Addressing the ‘opportunity divide’ in the UK jobs market

Peter Linas, EVP of Corporate Development and International at Bullhorn discusses why employers keen to tackle diversity should not overlook the need for diverse economic backgrounds.

Diversity is an important topic for employers – and not just because it’s getting more attention. Diverse organisations are simply better at business. Numerous studies have found that they are more productive, more collaborative, and generally more creative, which makes sense when you consider that they have people with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and skillsets.

One area of diversity that is still often overlooked is economic background. In fact, there is now a term for it. ‘Opportunity divide’ was coined by Year Up to denote the gap in job opportunities for young adults from low-income backgrounds, by comparison to those from more affluent backgrounds. According to the organisation, there are five million young adults in the US who can’t access the economic mainstream.

The recruitment industry agrees that the problem exists. According to a global survey of more than 2,000 recruiters by Bullhorn, over half (57 per cent) think there is an opportunity divide in the current jobs market.

For many organisations, embracing truly diverse hiring practices is challenging, as a lot of companies still prioritise experience over ability, or simply don’t recognise the opportunity divide as an issue. The good news is that there are some practical steps to help address the issue right away.

Broaden the definition of ‘diversity’

Diversity is a broad term that encompasses more than people realise. It includes race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and disability. By broadening the definition of diversity, you can increase the number of potential candidates you put forward for the role in question.

Another area of diversity is ‘diversity of thought’, which focuses on the candidate’s life experiences, culture, background, and personality. This is in addition to qualifications and work experience but shifts the focus away from those two attributes alone.

Understand your client’s diversity goals

A good place to start is to understand what the business leaders believe are the diversity goals for the company. That will give you an idea of what type of candidates they want but can also prove whether they even consider it an issue that needs dealing with. If they don’t have any diversity goals, you’ll need to show them how it can benefit their company, both on a commercial and cultural level. Then you can work with them to create diversity objectives.

Call out unconscious bias

Unconscious biases are stereotypes and judgements that people have without realising. It plays a huge role in stifling diversity in organisations, because people unwittingly rule out candidates from the beginning. By taking time to understand the extent of it at your company, you can put systems in place to mitigate it.

One idea is to use blind CVs, which have details like name, gender and educational institutions removed. That way, people will only make decisions based on the information that really matters, like experience and qualifications.

Gather relevant data and research

Customer relationship management (CRM) and applicant tracking system (ATS) software can provide meaningful diversity data analysis. It’s worth using to highlight trends in their hiring and gaps in certain groups of people, and it will also help you strengthen your case for more diverse hiring. In addition, keeping tabs on research that shows diversity is good for business will also help to make the case for more diverse candidates.

Watch your language

Another trick is to keep an eye on the language used in your job specs. Gender neutral job descriptions alongside explicit statements supporting diversity will help to encourage a more diverse set of candidates applying for jobs. It’s also worth reiterating to candidates that you’re interested in becoming a more diverse company.

Another way to encourage more underrepresented groups to apply is to highlight critical benefits. These include flexible working and back to work training, which generally suit working mothers or others returning to work.

Give clients realistic timelines

Finding diverse candidates generally takes time and patience, while requiring you to focus more on core competencies and skills rather than specific experience. Make business leaders aware of these additional requirements and expected timings.

It’s worth spending time becoming a trusted advisor on diversity as it will only become more important for organisations to commit to. It means taking a bold stance and talking more frankly, but it will ultimately encourage more diverse hiring, which will only benefit businesses.

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