The perceived 'risk' of non-traditional job candidates is holding back brilliant talent

The perceived ‘risk’ of non-traditional job candidates is holding back brilliant talent

Diversity in Australian workplaces can’t happen if ‘non-traditional’ job candidates continue to come up against hurdles during the recruitment process.

And there are plenty of such hurdles in organisations, including lazy recruiters, homogenous HR teams, narrow job descriptions, and non-diverse interviewing panels.

Now we can add to that the fact one female chairperson (one of very few on the ASX 200), has been stood down in recent weeks, leading some commentators to question if women are qualified for such positions at all, and to further cement the idea that ‘non traditional hires’ are risky hires.

According to Diversity First managing director Theaanna Kiaos, that means organisations are missing out on unique employees who could be of tremendous benefit.

Kiaos has researched the diversity and inclusion of 42 organisations across Australia, including in the corporate, not-for-profit and government sectors.

She found that despite all the talk on the benefits of workforce diversity, the race to make it happen is falling over at the first hurdle: recruitment.

Much of it comes down to outdated selection criteria methods, with job briefs going to recruiters requesting the same level of experience and qualifications over and over again.

That’s creating homogenous teams, which become homogenous selection panels in interviews, who continue to look for a homogenous selection of new hires.

And that means anyone outside of what’s already known, tried and tested, can seem like a risky bet.

The cycle repeats, over and over again.

According to Kiaos, the issue is particularly noticeable in the male-dominated organisations and teams that she researched, like IT, engineering and finance.

“In some of the organisations I researched they had homogenous HR teams, and were running non-diverse interviewing panels,” she told me. “That’s a big problem. When you’re advertising jobs, you need to be able to word them in a way that all cohorts feel connected to the role. The same as when you’re interviewing candidates.”

She also shared stories of women who had stepped into acting roles following the departure of a male. They fulfil the temporary role successfully and are well-liked and respected, only for the permanent position to later go back to a man once the formal recruitment process has occurred.

“Often the issue is that employers are expecting years of experience to do roles with specific skills that can be taught in three to six months,” she said.

Kiaos adds that some of the organisations she studied were lacking basic diversity initiatives — such as policies to prevent all-male interviewing panels.

A broad approach is needed at all points of the recruitment process for sourcing talent, if we’re going to fix this problem.

Indeed, Kiaos says employers should better consider segments of the population that may have experienced bigger challenges in life, and to consider the skills and learning they’ve acquired in getting through them.

“These are the people that need to be put forward more often for jobs, the ones who have proved their struggle, survived and thrived,” she says.

“Anyone who has struggled has probably had to think creatively to get through their life problems and they are the ones you should look to hire more often. Perhaps it is time to think a little deeper about the types of people that start the race way behind the starting line.”

So what can be done to get a broader range of talent?

Theaanna suggests a number of immediate actions organisations can take to help in hiring diverse talent.

The first is that HR must push for diverse panels when interviewing job candidates, and challenge the jobs ads and briefs they’re given for new hires.

The second is that employers should ensure job ads are written in such a way that they will encourage a diverse range of candidates. This means addressing language style and word choice.

The third is to better consider ‘deep level character attributes’ of a job candidate — including things like honesty, integrity and reliability, while also addressing a candidate’s untapped potential.

They’re simple things that don’t require a huge amount of money and resources. But they do take work, and require a longterm commitment from multiple levels of an organisation in order to work.

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