Segment but don’t pigeonhole your diverse employees

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Speakers at the WIG Diversity & Inclusion Conference 2018 spoke of the D&I challenges in both public and private organisations

HR must strike the right balance between drilling down into different diversity characteristics but not going too granular, according to Rupert McNeil, chief people officer for the civil service.

Speaking at the Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) Diversity & Inclusion Conference 2018, attended exclusively by HR magazine, McNeil commented that “with diversity and inclusion you go down into one cave and come into this big new cave you never knew was there”. This means there is a “big debate” around “segmentation” of diverse groups, he said, as it’s important to “make sure all groups are represented but also respect that people don’t want to be pigeonholed”.

McNeil gave the example of the civil service’s push to “completely re-engineer” its fast-stream graduate programme after criticism that it wasn’t “socially diverse”. This is the “jewel in the crown” for ensuring its future talent pipeline, so it revamped the fast-stream recruitment process, put a recruitment centre in Newcastle, and “focused on branding and time to offer”.

“We thought things were getting better for ethnic minorities as a whole but then, when we broke it down by segment, we found the Afro-Caribbean population was not doing anywhere near as well,” McNeil admitted. “This forced us to look very intensely at the process”, he explained, pointing to the introduction of new techniques such as video interviews and bias training.

“On the one hand it’s about not going too granular, but what is too granular?” McNeil added. “If we hadn’t gone granular we wouldn’t have found that out about our fast stream.”

While ethnicity can be segmented it’s not as simple to segment disability, McNeil continued: “We don’t have data for say visual impairment or mental health [issues],” he said.

The civil service has set targets to increase representation of ethnic minorities and people with disabilities at senior levels, McNeil added. “Maybe our targets aren’t ambitious enough,” he conceded, but they provide a “mechanism” to force the organisation to recognise its issues.

Speaking to HR magazine at the event, president of CGI UK Tara McGeehan said that drilling into the data can be even more of a challenge in the private sector. “The public sector is more theoretical,” she said, whereas there is a need for a “commercial edge” in all private sector targets.

In her keynote, McGeehan outlined that the tech industry was historically gender-diverse but has become less so over the years.

“We seem to have picked up the shorthand of some very old industries in how diverse and inclusive we are,” she said.

“It’s not always been that women haven’t been in the sector,” she continued, giving the examples of Ada Lovelace and the Enigma codebreakers. It was the “norm that women did computing” in the 1950s, she said, explaining that the rise of gaming led to more male interest and a “point where the ladies lost it”. “I’d call for a return to the 1950s in this sector,” she mused.

McGeehan encouraged firms to be “more creative” in how they attract diverse groups. At CGI the focus is on attracting junior women, something McGeehan admitted may negatively affect the firm’s gender pay gap in the short term.

“More women in the lower quartile isn’t a bad thing for now,” she explained. “We need to bring more women in at the bottom but then fast track them through the organisation, so once their skills reach a certain level we move them up as quickly as we can.”

Other steps CGI is taking to improve gender parity include unconscious bias training and name-blind CVs, so if someone has an “unconscious bias against women or an ethnic group, they won’t be able to identify them from their CV”.

While gender is “the big one for us”, McGeehan said it’s “not the only thing”. “If people don’t feel able to bring their whole selves to work then shame on us,” she said.

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