Olympics Special 5/7: diversity-focused recruitment and a vision to inspire social change

A vision to inspire lasting social change was central to London’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

So when the flame is lit this July, will the world see Olympic-inspired workplace diversity and inclusion at its best?

In HR terms, filling 177,000 jobs (paid and voluntary) in a way that both reflects the diversity of the six host boroughs - Barking & Dagenham, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Greenwich - and showcases how dynamic and inclusive the UK can be, is a major undertaking.

LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, says between 18% and 29% of the 7,000 paid employees (the rest are volunteers or contractors) will be from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, while the target for disabled people working at the Olympics is 10%.

"The diversity of the capital was one of the reasons London was awarded the games and, as such, we wanted to create a working environment that would enable everyone to be a part of this event," says LOCOG's HR director, Jean Tomlin. "So we put together policies, such as Attitude over Age and Access Now [see Box], which would allow us to recruit a workforce representative of London and the rest of the UK."

LOCOG wants to recruit a most diverse workforce - from age, race, disability, sexuality, gender, to gender identity and belief - and, from the start, diversity and inclusion have been woven into everything the organisation does. "We knew we had a huge opportunity to set an example and help inspire other organisations to make diversity and inclusion a key part of their business," says Tomlin.

Diversity is desirable for commercial as well as ethical reasons. People who feel comfortable in their workplaces are more productive, and diversity can drive innovation, says Laura Doughty, deputy chief executive at lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) campaigning charity, Stonewall. "LOCOG is a member of Stonewall's Diversity Champions programme, which helps employers make sure they adopt equality and diversity policies that support their lesbian, gay and bisexual staff," she says. "So LOCOG's commitment to 'diversity champions' means LGB people can play an important part in helping London stage the Games," says Doughty.

LOCOG is orchestrating its recruitment drive in line with its vision to make the event 'everyone's Games'. Special outreach programmes - Attitude over Age, Access Now and Action on Inclusion - form the basis for ensuring minority groups are encouraged to apply for jobs at all levels. LOCOG also runs a recruitment leader programme, using recruiters from a number of ethnic minority backgrounds, as well as talent pools for disabled and BAME applicants.

HRs are watching with interest. "This is such a globally-scrutinised event the organisers simply have to get it right," says Sarah Churchman, head of diversity, inclusion and employee wellbeing at PwC. "Accusations will certainly fly if they don't."

The bid for the games was based on a strong commitment to improving social mobility and leaving a legacy of social and environmental improvement, notes Churchman. "So now the stakes are exceedingly high for London 2012 to deliver fantastic improvements and, in particular, show the world that diversity-focused recruitment can change lives."

So can this be achieved? The key to recruiting to reflect the diverse population of London is to take a practical approach and track progress every step of the way, says Steve Girdler, director of London 2012 partnership at Adecco, the main recruitment provider to LOCOG. "Working on this massive project - the biggest labour mobilisation since the second World War - is of necessity incredibly focused, because we have a clear deadline, 27 July 2012, by which time we must have the right workforce in place," Girdler says. "Adecco's responsibility has been to provide practicable, measurable tools to ensure the attraction and recruitment methods deployed are delivering the right results."

As well as developing the recruitment website www.jobsforthegames.co.uk and working to reach out to local communities, Adecco has designed systems that measure progress of recruitment across the six streams of diversity, and monitors progress on a monthly basis. Monitoring means, where problems are spotted, Adecco and partners can intervene. "Some 18 months ago, we were attracting good numbers from ethnic backgrounds, but many were dropping off before the hiring stage," says Girdler. "This led to us developing a talent pool, giving people who were willing to reveal their ethnicity the chance to be considered for other jobs. We don't want people to feel rejected in one role, when they could be suitable for something else within the organisation." He thinks the talent pool idea, and the focus on close monitoring of diversity numbers, will be ideas other employers could adopt and benefit from in the future.

"Making clear you are an inclusive employer, and want to encourage people to come and work for you, is incredibly powerful," says Girdler. "With LOCOG policy to guarantee interviews to disabled people with the right qualifications, we are putting out that positive message. The scheme shows we're serious about diversity, and because of that we've had a really encouraging response from disabled people. We've had cases where, out of 30 people shortlisted for a job, a quarter have a disability. They have the talent we want, so it is right for them to feel confident enough to apply."

Offering training will also leave people who have worked through London 2012 the skills for long-term job prospects. Sharon Glancy, director of the People 1st training company, hopes the games will provide strong opportunities for a more diverse range of individuals, "particularly the young, those looking to return to work having had a career break, and the long-term unemployed, for example". She adds: "This is pertinent to the hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism industry, which needs to fill up to 133,000 vacancies every year, and which can play a role in raising social mobility and providing opportunities to get people into work." People 1st is working with LOCOG to offer its Employment 1st pre-employment training programme, designed to equip individuals with the basic skills hospitality employers want. It is particularly aimed at those living near the Olympic venues who are looking for employment opportunities from the Games. "We hope this will create a new pool of trained individuals that employers can benefit from, not only during the Olympics, but beyond," says Glancy.

In the UK, we have a good attitude towards diversity in the workplace, certainly compared to China's position in 2008. "We have long had equality legislation in place in the UK, but that just sets a baseline," says Churchman at PwC. "Organisations such as mine don't see legislation as a driver for taking these issues seriously. We are aiming much higher, as we make diversity part of our people strategy and indeed central to our corporate culture. The work of LOCOG is extremely valuable. It shows what can be done, and serves to raise awareness and understanding of diversity across UK workplaces."

The Paralympic Games themselves will help to change attitudes, believes one HRD, who asked not to be named. "So many able-bodied people make assumptions about what disabled people can and can't do, so these athletes will be challenging that directly." Meanwhile Stonewall's Doughty notes there will be only one openly gay British competitor at this year's Games - paralympics equestrian, Lee Pearson. "The next stage for LOCOG is to improve diversity at the Olympic and Paralympic Games themselves," says Doughty.

Diversity is often about embracing and accommodating difference. While there was a time when wheelchair users might not be considered for client-facing roles, this is no longer the case, asserts Churchman. "It is nonsense to assume a wheelchair user can't work in audit, due to access restrictions," she says. "Today we know they can, because we make sure client sites are accessible and give our employees any support they need. So often assumptions are wrong. There is a great opportunity here for the Olympics to show athletes and employees at the events, challenging exactly these kinds of assumptions."

The target of 20% of those employed at the Olympic and Paralympic games coming from ethnic minorities is realistic, says Churchman. "London is so ethnically diverse, and there are so many opportunities at the games, I think this is an entirely appropriate percentage," she says, pointing out that 17% of PwC employees across the UK are themselves from ethnic minority groups.

Girdler at Adecco says London 2012 is on track to meet its diversity targets for recruitment, and he insists the cost of introducing special measures has been minimal. "The key is getting your systems right so that you can measure, and know where more action needs to be taken," he says. "Employers will also get more than a return on investment for having this kind of diversity approach in place, because a diverse workforce ultimately drives innovation and helps give you a competitive edge." He adds Adecco clients often struggle with diversity because they don't know what 'next steps' to take, and how to map out a practical programme to measure and drive diversity in the workforce.

Success stories must be showcased, so LOCOG's measures are seen as potential 'next steps' any employer could take. "They must seize the opportunity and communicate clearly about achievements with diversity," says Churchman. "Organisations such as mine are striving to employ a diverse mix of people, and benefit from all that brings, so anything we can learn from London 2012 will be welcome. By pushing the boundaries, it is possible to change attitudes."

LOCOG diversity initiatives

Paid staff

  • 'Attitude Over Age': This is an outreach programme for older and younger people. LOCOG works with the Age and Employment Network, Employers Forum on Age and Jobcentre Plus to seek older candidates. To engage with younger people, LOCOG is working with Connexions and the Prince's Trust, and setting up a buddy system. Through its recruitment partner, Adecco, LOCOG is also benchmarking recruitment agencies on the age of candidates.
  • 'Access Now': An outreach programme for disabled people has been designed to encourage disabled people to apply. LOCOG guarantees an interview to all disabled applicants who meet the person specification. Disabled employees have access to its Diversity Action Team.
  • 'Action on Inclusion': An outreach programme for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people. LOCOG says it is taking positive action to engage with BAME people and encourage them to apply for paid work at the Games. The aim is to increase the BAME workforce to a target zone of 18%-29%. The online recruitment portal allows BAME people to opt into the programme. Unsuccessful candidates are offered mentoring.


  • By developing action plans and strong relationships with its 500+ delivery partners, the Diversity and Inclusion team has supported HR in recruiting talented London 2012 volunteers - or 'Games Makers' - from a diverse range of backgrounds.
  • A phased application process was developed for disabled people to give them more time to consider their application, and support provided by disability delivery partners.
  • Diversity in Numbers - Minority groups remain under-represented in the UK workplace

Diversity in numbers

61%: ethnic minorities' employment rate in the UK labour market, some 13% lower than that of the population as a whole (Office for National Statistics/ONS)

50%: disabled people's employment rate, compared with more than 75% for the overall working population (ONS)

1.7 million: estimated number of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) employees in UK (based on Government actuarial estimates that about 6% of the population is LGB). Some 600 employers, responsible between them for five million employees, are members of Stonewall's 'Diversity Champions' best-practice scheme