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Cobalt Conversations: Getting the recruitment part of your Diversity, Equity & Inclusion strategy right 

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Article posted by Megan Bond on Jul 11, 2023

​As real estate and construction professionals, we are responsible for creating environments for people to live, work and play in. 

However, if we do not prioritise every person’s needs to access and enjoy these environments – the potential owners, occupiers, and users of these properties - then we will always exclude people from them. It is the same principle with our own organisations, if we do not focus on inclusive recruitment practices, we will always be excluding potential new talent from becoming part of our companies. Both commercially and ethically, exclusion does not make sense. 

At our latest Cobalt Conversations event, we explored the concept of ‘widening the gate’ to improve the recruitment part of a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) strategy – not the idea of offering handouts of interviews or box-ticking based on characteristics, but of looking at recruitment and onboarding processes to make sure that the sector can develop, access and retain diverse talent within it. This will ultimately make our workplaces better, fuelled with greater creativity and productivity from a broader pool of talent. 

Joined by an esteemed panel from across the real estate, construction and recruitment sectors, with support from Freehold, the networking forum for LGBTQ+ professionals working within the real estate sector, here are our key takeaways from the event. 

HR and Hiring Managers both have responsibilities in the process 

There’s often frustration between HR teams and hiring managers when it comes to inclusive hiring, with each believing that it is the other’s responsibility.

The answer, according to Lucy Morgan, CEO of Pod Talent, is that it is about understanding your role in the hiring process. For example, if you are responsible for the attraction element of the new joiners – i.e., the Employer Value Proposition (EVP), job description and advert writing - are you ensuring that the language that you are using is inclusive and that you are advertising in the right places? If you are responsible for the interview process, have you ensured that any unconscious biases have been mitigated through training and official processes for every stage? Or if the onboarding and retention of staff is within your remit, are you doing enough to ensure that a new employee’s experience of your organisation and team is as inclusive as it could be? 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Set up a meeting between HR and Hiring Managers to discuss the individual responsibilities of a hiring process. 

  • Ensure that everyone understands the need and benefit of inclusive practices. 

How can you create partnerships between HR & TA teams and hiring managers? 

As Louie-Mae Gibson, Estate Director and Chair of the Gender Equality Board at Knight Frank commented, this issue is rooted in the education and awareness of requirements across the different teams. 

Most HR and TA teams are committed to training their staff on the reasons for prioritising DE&I practices, and how they can practically use some of the skills they learn in their everyday work environments. When it comes to hiring processes however, many successful staff, who are fundamentally very good at their day jobs, may have never had responsibility for recruiting into their team, and therefore have any understanding of how to write an effective job description for an internal hire, develop an unbiased process for the interviews, or onboard a new hire effectively into their team.  

To help strengthen this partnership, it is important that Hiring Managers understand the need for greater DE&I, and any targets and goals that HR and TA teams are looking to hit and why. Regular training on DE&I practices should be undertaken by all hiring managers, and the learnings from this training should be included as part of appraisals, too.  

Reverse mentoring can be a valuable tool for HR leaders to learn more about the understanding that their hiring managers, and indeed all staff, have about DE&I concepts. Having a vulnerable conversation with Hiring Managers around the DE&I knowledge they have creates a safe environment to allow Managers to ask the questions they need answers to, whether it’s about using the right language, how to approach interview processes with marginalised groups that they may not have a lot of experience in managing, or something else related to DE&I. Having this could potentially avoid the risk of losing out on talent across all stages of the hiring process that currently sit with the hiring manager. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Ensure that regular training on DE&I principles is part of a programme for all staff, with a focus on hiring managers. 

  • Have vulnerable conversations that allow all parties to discuss their questions about DE&I. 

Creating and showcasing an inclusive environment 

Echoing the last point, get comfortable with the uncomfortable. At Pod Talent, they have an external resource conduct a confidential survey that goes out to all staff, scoring on wellness, career progression, how included they are feeling and more. The feedback can be tough to hear as a leader but can help you make the changes you need, according to Lucy. 

It is also important to look at how you are being perceived externally by canvassing opinions from those outside your business, commented Louie-Mae, with specialist recruiters potentially a valuable source of information as they will speak with both people managers at similar organisations, and candidates potentially interested in joining your organisation, every day. 

Most of all, be genuine in your external outputs – be careful of overselling and be authentic of where you are at in your DE&I journey. Genuine visibility is something that Dale Hoskins, Property Manager and Chair of REACH at British Land, feels is particularly important – for example, making your website and social media reflective of the organisation you are in both the imagery and language you are using. This must be a genuine reflection of your organisation though, otherwise those new hires will see through it shortly after interviewing or joining you.  

Key takeaways: 

  • Hold both internal and external feedback sessions about how inclusive you are as an organisation. 

  • Always be authentic and representative in your external communications about DE&I. 

What if we do not create inclusive environments? 

If you do not have inclusivity, you cannot achieve diversity, according to Louie-Mae. You will have people coming in, who will then leave after a short period of time, and then you will be recruiting again for the role in a vicious circle.   

Think about those from marginalised backgrounds currently within your business – if they are not feeling included and therefore not valued, they are unlikely to be performing at their best, and more likely to be looking to join a business that is prioritising inclusion, meaning that you lose some of your best talent. 

Again, authenticity is so important here. A post on your LinkedIn about how you value women on International Women’s Day is good, a Pride flag is great, but what if you are not genuinely addressing the concerns and requirements of marginalised groups? Sure, you might look good externally, but internally you will be letting your own staff down and they will be looking to leave. 

Dale also made a valuable point in that we need to think about the future when it comes to our DE&I hiring strategy. Organisations will be appealing to a new generation of talent soon in Gen Z, and Gen A workers in coming years – generations that want different things from their place of work and that perhaps have a different appreciation of DE&I than other generations currently in workplaces in the Real Estate and Construction sectors. The organisations that do this most effectively will have the competitive advantage over others. 

Key takeaways: 

  • Inclusive environments will ensure that you both retain and attract the best, most diverse talent. 

  • Remember that you are potentially communicating to a next generation of employees that may want different things from their employer compared to what you currently offer. 

Addressing the recruitment part of your DE&I strategy 

We went on to discuss more practical elements that can be implemented into DE&I recruitment strategies, from broadening the ‘key criteria’ you have on your job descriptions, to combatting unconscious biases in interviews. We then talked about some of the practical changes that can be made to office environments to accommodate the different requirements that either current or potential employees may have. 

This was followed by an engaging Q&A session with the audience where we talked about the best ways to find diverse candidates, what reasonable adjustments can be offered to candidates with a disability and how we can ensure that those that have one feel able to disclose it, as well as the importance of employee assistance programmes for inclusion. 

Future Cobalt Conversations Events 

If you are interested in finding out more about what was discussed at this event or want to register your interest in attending/working with us on a future Conversations event, please get in touch with me. Previous events have included how we can foster inclusivity at work and how language impacts belonging and diversity initiatives.

If DE&I is also a priority for you and your recruitment journey in general, then we would love to speak to you. Please give me a message and the team & I will be in touch.

Thank you once again to our speakers who kindly donated their Speaker Fees from us to AKT, Mosaic LGBT+ and One Loud Voice for Women.