As recruiters, we often sit at the coal face of workplace market trends and the consciousness of broader society. It would not be a surprise to hear that for the last two weeks the main topic of conversation between candidates, clients and recruiters has been COVID-19. At other times in my career it has been the dot.com crash, the GFC, royal weddings or Liverpool winning the Champions League (again).
To this end, I can say with some authority, that when I left Australia to take up a role in China in late 2014, Diversity and Inclusion wasn’t a topic at the forefront of conversation in corporate Australia.
Whilst in China, I was surprised at the transparent bias which existed in some organisations when it came to the hiring process. Usually the bias focussed on gender e.g. “please find me a male candidate between the ages of 35 and 45” but at other times the bias could be based on race or other more nefarious labels.
It was fairly confronting to be exposed to such blatant exclusion in a recruitment process but certainly enabled me and the business I was working for to be very selective with the organisations we chose to partner with.
At the same time, this experience in China reminded me of multiple occasions in Australia when presenting shortlists and seeing people from the “right school” getting moved to top of the pile for interviews. Is this more furtive bias any worse than the explicit bias I encountered in Asia? For my mind, the answer is “no”.
Upon returning to the Australian market three and a half years later, I was pleased to discover that the dial had moved on Diversity and Inclusion. The majority of organisations were now talking about the issue and what needed to be done. A number of organisations actually had meaningful inclusion policies in place and were executing the same and then seeing the benefits as well.
At Hydrogen Group, walking into my new role running in Australia, I was received by an office of 100% white-Anglo Saxon males. So, I set the business on course to change our demographics and make our consultant base reflective of our customers. I’m pleased and proud to say that within our leadership group, 50% of the team are female and at a consultant level we have a healthy gender profile allied to a varied ethnic demographic with people from the UK, Ghana, Croatia, Turkey, India, Iraq and even a couple of Australians!
We know for a fact that diverse teams perform better. We have work to do though and certainly need to be conscious of our representation across the age spectrum. But as a business we are attempting to lead the charge on D&I.
In 2018 we began a blog series called ‘Inspiring Business Women’. The genesis of this blog was to interview senior female talent, find out more about their career journey and then share their stories to inspire others. What we found by undertaking this initiative was incredibly valuable, as we were given access to so many do’s and don’ts when it came to inclusion and some sensational D&I agendas which are being further implemented across corporate Australia.
Interestingly though, the biggest learn from conducting these interviews was that whilst the IBW series was well intended, we were getting the concept wrong. D&I is so much bigger than just gender, it is about race, age, disability, sexual orientation, whether someone has children and the list goes on. Focussing on diversity is equally as folly, because you may have the most diverse workforce out there but if you don’t include it then you are missing the point. As Siobhan Hayden said to me (COO of Hashching at the time), “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”
That is why we started the #Elements interview series which is focussed on this broader notion of D&I. We hope it can become a go to website for D&I topics in Australia and we’re seeking contributions from people of all backgrounds. This can take the form of interviews, content or thought leadership. If you’d like to get involved, please contact me directly.
On a personal level, I was brought up in South Wales by two fiercely proud working-class parents. My mother started life as a paediatric nurse and often worked in aged care as well in order to be able to go back to University to study Child Protection Law. With support from my father, she brought up my sister and I whilst rising through the ranks of the Child Protection system in the UK. I saw first-hand how hard she had to battle to reach the position she has, the obstacles put in her way because of gender or background and I’d like to think that wouldn’t be the case today. I hope the work Hydrogen Australia is doing to further the D&I agenda will go some way to ensuring that. We also want everyone to share their advice and experiences to help our clients improve their own approaches to D&I.