“Diversity is great, but I just want the best candidate for the job”
As a recruiter or head-hunter, how do you respond when a client says something along the lines of: “diverse and underrepresented talent is important, but I just want the best candidate for the job”?
We must have heard that (or variations of it) hundreds of times over the last decade. Sometimes it’s been said by people who frankly don’t give a damn about ED&I or assume that the ‘best candidate’ can’t be a diverse candidate.
More often than not though, that statement comes out of the mouth of someone who just isn’t thinking properly and simply doesn’t understand the importance of ethics, the dangers of risk and what an inclusive selection process means and that the likelihood is, the ‘best’ candidate will become apparent through that inclusive, objective process. Is it the candidate who has worked at the highest-profile organisations?
So, how do you overcome this blind spot and start to influence a change in mindset whilst also maintaining a degree of diplomacy? Sure, part of me wants to yell at the person when I hear this, but frankly, that’s not helping anyone – them, us or the talent we represent fits of performance that is impacted by a diverse workforce.
1.) Ask them to define ‘best candidate’. Best is an ambiguous work, what does that mean exactly? You can prompt your client with some suggestions about what it means to them:
a. Is it the candidate with the most experience?
b. Is it the candidate most similar to you, and/or the existing team?
c. Is it the candidate who has worked at the highest profile organisations?
d. Is it the candidate with the best academics?
e. Is it the candidate who brings new thinking to the role?
f. Is it the candidate who understands your largest growing audience demographic?
g. Is it the candidate with the best (tested) technical skills?
2.) Explain what an inclusive selection process means, and that the likelihood is, the ‘best’ candidate will become apparent through that inclusive, objective process.
a. An inclusive process seeks talent from all available talent pools
b. An inclusive process means that candidates will be asked competency questions, and scored objectively against the defined key competencies
c. An inclusive process means that candidates will be asked the same questions, in the same order and scored using the same criteria
d. An inclusive process means at least 2 interviewers, who score the answers independently
e. An inclusive process may make use of psychometric and emotional intelligence assessments
3.) Explain the dangers of ‘groupthink’ and how homogenous teams fall prey to it, and that diversity helps overcome these dangers. Teams displaying groupthink will:
a. Have illusions of invulnerability – they do not spot risks or opportunities well
b. Make collective rationalisations
c. Believe they are highly moral (when in fact this isn’t the case)
d. Stereotype others who are ‘different’ from themselves
e. Pressurise anyone in the group who displays different thinking
f. Practice self-censorship
g. Have illusions of unanimity – i.e., that we all agree and therefore we are correct
4.) Explain how diverse teams generally outperform homogeneous teams. There have been many experiments and studies in this field that demonstrate that diverse teams (including some subject matter experts) generally outperform homogenous teams of subject matter experts.
These studies show that innovation, critical thinking and robust assessments of different, often conflicting ideas, diverse thinking styles, and varied personal lived experiences can percolate into fresh concepts that drive new products and services to ultimately make for more successful organisations. The evidence is pretty startling and, in my own view, hard to refute.
5.) If all else fails, explain to your client what their competitors are doing – this can either scare them into action (nobody wants to be left behind) or motivate them into taking action to be a trendsetter and first out the blocks. It is not our preferred method of engagement but ultimately we want to make a difference in the world.
6.) Finally, if your client still won’t really consider diverse and underrepresented talent on their shortlist, walk away. We do. If they won’t at least open their minds to what could be done differently, then we are definitely not the right search or recruiting firm for them.