This blog post was first published on our Swedish blog and you can read the original article here (link to article in Swedish).
There is a lot of talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. But are companies good enough at focusing on diversity right from the start when recruiting new talent?
We had a chat with Ebba Hagander Mir, who is a political scientist and founder of the company Diversity Group. With Diversity Group, Ebba helps organisations and companies increase their awareness about diversity in recruitment, implement changes, and develop over time.
What does the concept of ‘fair recruitment’ mean to Ebba and how important does she believe it is? Do companies today prioritise diversity in their recruitment processes? And what role do HR departments play in ensuring that these issues are prioritised in recruitment and the company culture in general?
How important is ‘fair recruitment’–both for the organisations and the candidates?
“I immediately start wondering: fair for who? From a candidate perspective, the simplest definition is that everyone should be assessed on an equal basis. But what is an experience worth? Does it have different values depending on the person’s age, gender or background?
All humans are governed by our prejudices. The question is how much we let prejudice control our actions. I don’t think ‘fair’ is the right word to use. Yes, the concept of fair recruitment is desirable, but I would rather see that it is the business gain that is in the front seat because fair recruitment is also smart recruitment.”
You might also be interested in reading: Why is diversity important for your business?
How important do you think it is to strive for smarter recruitment?
“As an employer, you need to reflect on what you think is important. Are issues such as diversity and inclusion part of the values and something you want to strive for, or is it something you want to show to the outside world.
The reason I started working on this 15 years ago is my belief that you, as a for-profit company, have a lot to lose if you are not aware of how prejudice, habitual behaviour, norms and sometimes laziness affect recruitment.”
With her company, Diversity Group, Ebba helps organisations challenge restrictive standards and work towards diversity and equality in work life. What made her engage in these issues?
“I have always been interested in issues related to community involvement, and have previously worked with non-profit activities.
When I worked as a recruitment consultant, I saw that many companies were stuck in a loop where they recruited the same type of candidates over and over again because that was the most convenient way of doing it. I founded Diversity Group because I wanted to make a difference.”
How would you say that the general viewpoint of diversity and inclusion has changed, and how prioritised are these questions?
“In the beginning, I could be met with the argument that companies cannot afford to engage in “charity”, or that they had “tried” to be inclusive before, but that it had not worked out with the person in question.
I had to start by explaining that it is not primarily about charity and that increased inclusion and diversity contribute to business benefits.
It slowly began to sink in that they couldn’t afford to be ignorant about these problems. It’s not about taking on the role of a passionate advocate, it’s about these companies having to take this question seriously to survive.
Today there is a big difference; there are far fewer companies and organisations who question why this is important. The attitude towards diversity and inclusion has changed, and there is generally greater openness and awareness around the topic. Companies understand that they have to do things differently, and they just need a little help along the way to get there.”
What kind of barriers do you see among companies today?
“It can partly be about fear of trying something new, and partly it is about lack of time. We like to do the things we are used to doing, as it is faster and easier, and then we are happy to recruit new talents the way we have always done.
The culture in the organisation can also have an impact on this matter. If you have a coffee-break culture where it is common to make disparaging remarks about a particular minority, then you may be reluctant to hire someone in that relevant working group. Then we must try to change that culture.
A common problem many people end up with is that they think short-term. They want to fill a position and are happy to find a replacement similar to the previous one. Instead, you should look at the whole picture and think about how you can build your team and organisation, and what you want the company to achieve in the long run.”
Additional reading: Hire the right candidate first time around
How do you motivate the companies where you face opposition?
“I tend to point out the customer benefits. For many companies, the markets and customer groups have changed. The company should, therefore, develop in line with the market changes over time. If not, they end up standing still. You simply cannot continue to lag behind in the old ways of doing things.
I try to motivate them to take chances for every recruitment process and get them to see the possibility of removing vulnerabilities.
Inclusion and diversity are about so much more than just recruitment and how people are hired. In the end, it is also about being able to retain existing employees and attract new ones.
When I motivate companies, I try to be educational and get an understanding of what kind of challenges have hindered the company so far, and talk about how we can remove these together.
It is important to go in with an open mind, and listen and be responsive, to be able to help that company or organisation to achieve its goals in the best possible way. You must also be fearless and sometimes dare to tell some unpleasant truths.”
What role do HR departments play in ensuring that these issues are prioritised when it comes to recruitment and company culture in general?
“In a good company with a good culture, each department is allowed to be an expert in its field and has no problem ensuring that these issues are prioritised. Unfortunately, my experience is that HR functions in many cases have to struggle to convince management that this is important.
I have met many people wanting help and support in explaining to the management group that inclusion and diversity are crucial to the outcome and that it is about removing vulnerabilities. We try to give them the tools to do so.
I think it is important that more people in the workplace dare to start the discussion, explain why it is important and build a bridge over the obstacles that have been created.”
Finally, what is your advice to companies that want to get better at these problems but for various reasons feel that they are not succeeding?
“I think you have to realise that you cannot be the best at everything, but that you can get help. Many people want to get better at increasing diversity and inclusion in their recruitment process, and you can also get help from experts and consultants who specialise in this and simply acquire more knowledge.
It is also good to go through your processes and governing documents and think about what obstacles exist in the current situation.”