· 2 min read · Features

We are investing in the wrong diversity initiatives


Initiatives such as name-blind recruitment and women on boards don't address underlying diversity issues

Recently it was widely reported that a group of top employers, including the NHS, HSBC, Deloitte, the BBC and the civil service, have agreed to adopt ‘name-blind’ recruiting at graduate level in a bid to reduce discrimination.

If this was intended to be a headline-grabbing initiative it has certainly succeeded, with the majority of observers swallowing the official line that removing someone’s name from their CV is a significant step towards tackling discrimination and levelling the playing field for people from BAME backgrounds.

But the cynic in me sees this as another eye-catching token gesture from the wrong people investing in the wrong things around diversity. Saying we can end or reduce discrimination by taking names off CVs is like saying we can end famine by changing the menu – an employer is still going to ‘discover’ that an applicant is not white at the interview. While it may get more BAME candidates to interview stage it does nothing to address the underlying issue, which is one of unconscious bias.

Diversity is too important and complex a subject to be reduced to lowest common denominator gestures. Why, for example, has there been so much focus on increasing the number of women on boards rather than working to help them enter senior management and building inclusive pipelines for leadership? It’s political expediency – people trying to win votes by using diversity as a political football. There might be more women on boards now than there were a decade ago, but the overwhelming majority are NEDs and the pipeline of senior executive female talent remains as tenuous as ever.

This token approach creates an illusion of inclusion and diversity that ticks the right boxes but whose claims (unlike financial details) cannot actually be checked, which renders the entire process largely worthless.

So we’ve reduced gender to women on boards and ethnicity in the workforce to graduate entry – which coincidentally is where most organisations perform best. But focusing on graduate entries creates a dangerous precedent because it’s based on trying to 'fix' the talent pool as opposed to addressing the internal issues that stop businesses employing a broad selection of people. Instead of dealing with the issues on how we recruit and how this disproportionately affects diverse candidates, companies are transferring the outdated process further down into the selection journey.

Most HR professionals understand that there are no instant fixes for culture change. Genuine equality and inclusion requires investment, senior stakeholder involvement and behavioural change. And because each organisation is different there are no shortcuts. It’s no good building diversity and inclusion into an organisation’s strategy if it doesn’t translate into tangible output. Worse still, this can create a lack of trust around the process.

Raj Tulsiani is CEO of Green Park Interim & Executive Search