How to create a more diverse workplace: 10 actionable tips from industry leaders

1. Think carefully about job descriptions

You might be putting off a whole raft of people that might otherwise apply for your position simply by using the wrong language, or overloading the job description with too many required skills and experience. Ravleen Beeston, head of sales, Bing UK, suggested: “Look carefully as to whether you’ve used too many masculine words that might put off women. Then get others to review your job description who are completely different to you, for feedback on the language.”

Beeston also pointed out that men and women do not perceive job descriptions the same way – a man will apply for any job he is interested in, while women carefully read the descriptions and will only apply if they feel they have all the qualifications needed. With this in mind, at Microsoft they’ve been careful to limit skills required to crucial only.

This point was reinforced by Melanie Eusebe (businesswoman, professor, broadcaster, chair of Black British Business Awards, board member of the Creative Industries Federation) who suggested stripping out everything that isn’t essential as many things can be taught in-house. This will result in a more diverse selection of applicants.

2. Make diversity integral to your company

Tokenism doesn’t work. Having just one diverse person on the team isn’t enough, Laura Jordan Bambach, creative partner at Mr President and co-founder SheSays, pointed out – be that a woman, someone with a disability or BAME. Indeed it can have a negative effect of making individuals less able to express their identity in the workplace. Eusebe also pointed out that companies should have diversity written into their brand DNA; it should be an integral part of that company’s cultural values and not something to be fleetingly thought of.

3. Be aware of unconscious bias

Everyone has an inherent unconscious bias based on their experiences, pointed out Beeston. From hiring talent to once you have your team in-place, there are many decisions that happen on a daily basis without us even realising. Recognising this can often be a taboo subject but acknowledgement is the first step towards removing negative effects. Emma Perkins, executive creative director at MullenLowe Open and co-creator of Token Man, suggested checking out Facebook’s open source training on this called Managing Bias.

4. Pay interns and mentor

Everyone is striving for innovation and to create the best work. One way to bring in fresh talent is from entry-level up. By breaking down socio-economic barriers like unpaid internships, you’re more likely to attract people from diverse backgrounds. Equally, by providing mentorship and ‘passing it on’ to the next generation you’ll be supporting and encouraging new talent.

5. Make the funnel wider

You should ensure you interview a representative set of candidates for roles. This can be as simple as advertising your job in a variety of places, suggested Eusebe.

This is one of the main reasons I founded The Dots as in my previous career at MTV I was finding it really difficult to connect with quality diverse talent.

Making actionable change can also mean just looking around you and networking. Creating a diverse board? Bring in people from a lower rung of seniority suggested Perkins which can soon change the diversity makeup. As Laura pointed out, “It’s called glass ceiling because you don’t see it” so being aware of visible barriers to diversity is crucial.

6. Hire people based on shared values, not culture fit

Hire people on shared values not a cultural fit – a policy that Facebook recently amended to increase diversity. Hiring people on cultural fit means you tend to hire people that you’d like to hang out with socially which often leads to homogenisation. Shifting focus to hiring people on shared values acts like a glue to ‘connect’ the team and align them around shared goals.

7. Create a policy and shout about it

Once you have started to take actionable steps on diversity and made them part of your brand values, it’s important to have a coherent policy as most advertising agencies do not, mentioned Perkins. In creating a policy, there will be actionable steps that everyone in the workforce is aware of and can buy into, rather than assuming they are inherent, which is when diversity slips off the agenda.

8. Focus on hiring teams, not individuals

Think about hiring teams rather than individuals too, suggested Perkins particularly at an entry level where experience and skills are less important. When questioning your team’s diversity look at what a person’s background and perspective can bring, rather than appearance suggested Beeston.

9. Educate clients

It’s the responsibility of senior management to encourage organisations to look at their target market; find out what is happening in the local communities and gain their insight, pointed out Eusebe. Indeed Debarshi Pandit, director of OMG Ethnic at Omnicom Media Group UK, pointed out that according to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising 77 per cent of British Asians stated that they felt mainstream advertising did not relate to them, yet the so-called ‘brown pound’ is worth £300bn. Creating diverse briefs will not only produce more interesting work but it’s also a hugely untapped market.

10. Create a cultural calendar to celebrate diversity

Fostering a more inclusive environment internally can be brought about by a simple hack like creating a cultural calendar and celebrating different cultures, suggested Pandit. From Passover to Black History Month, Ramadan to Diwali, Chinese New Year to Eid these key moments act as a trigger factor, allowing different people from different backgrounds to feel their authentic selves and celebrated in the workplace.

Cultural consensus doesn’t lead to good ideas. Jordan Bambach highlighted that it’s important to remember that once you have diversity in a team there will be messiness, friction and play - in fact this is central to innovation and should be celebrated.

Pip Jamieson is founder of creative professional networking site The Dots. The article was written in collaboration with Natalia Christina

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