Candidate debate

Being explicit about wanting to recruit from a diverse pool of candidates is the crucial first step in tackling systemic racism within the housing sector and beyond


Image: Istock

Dawn Matthews

Senior Consultant, Campbell Tickell

At Campbell Tickell we manage executive, non-executive and interim recruitment for a range of clients and are often told that we do it well, which is something to be proud of. For us, it’s not just about supporting our clients – ensuring our candidates have a positive experience throughout a recruitment process is equally important. We know how intense a process can be, so we want to make it as stress-free as possible for everyone involved.

We enjoy what we do and take pride in working with clients to design a robust recruitment process, compelling promotional material and maximise market positioning. This ensures a narrative which portrays the appeal of the recruiting organisation, while being careful not to mis-sell an opportunity.

Diverse pool of candidates

When speaking to clients about their recruitment needs, we are often asked to source a diverse pool of candidates for their roles. This is common for both executive and non-executive recruitment, which is a good thing, as research shows that organisations that pay attention to diversity in leadership are more successful.

However, clients are not always clear about what they mean by ‘diverse’. To be frank they often seem nervous or unsure about being precise when it comes to accurately defining their requirements.

There are many protected characteristics that come under the umbrella of ‘diversity’, so it would be remiss of me to make a judgement about which strand clients are seeking to target. Unfortunately, I have many conversations where clients are not explicit about which element of diversity they want to improve in their management teams or on their Boards.

In fact, it sometimes seems like clients deliberately refrain from stating that they want to increase diversity in terms of ethnic origin. In effect they want me to ensure the pool of candidates sourced has a good quota of ‘non-white’ individuals (although defining people by colour is a social construct, but that’s a whole other article!), but this only becomes apparent after having a more in-depth conversation and I fail to understand why.

I appreciate that you can be ‘white’ yet categorised as an ‘ethnic minority’ because you are not ‘white British,’ but the harsh reality is, the closer your proximity to ‘whiteness’ the more access you have to opportunities.

For me, if you are uncomfortable discussing the need to improve the specific protected characteristics you feel are lacking in your organisation, then I question if you are serious about tackling the matter.

Be direct

The first step to solving an issue is to name it. You need to talk about issues despite the discomfort it may bring – get comfortable discussing the uncomfortable. Black Lives Still Matter, and the fight against systemic racism borne through colonialism continues, as evidenced soon after the recent UEFA Euro 2020 event.

We want to support organisations to reflect the wealth of diversity within the housing sector and beyond. We confidently challenge the status quo when speaking to clients about a new project. Good recruitment is not restricted to appointing those who perhaps ‘say the right things’ or are the same ‘colour’ or ethnicity as the existing team.

“You need to talk about issues despite the discomfort it may bring – get comfortable discussing the uncomfortable.”
“If appointed, will somebody from a different ethnic background really have a chance to help influence, or are they invited to the table but prohibited from taking part in the meal?”

Opportunity knocked

Appointments should be made on merit. The reality is that you could be missing out on some excellent diverse talent, because your requirements are too prescriptive and inadvertently exclude individuals of Caribbean, African or Asian descent.

We all have to start somewhere, so why not consider those who may not present in a certain way but have potential which can be nurtured? How else do we make the much-needed change that is required to dismantle barriers formed by systemic racism and tackle inequality?

Consider countries across the globe in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. It’s fair to say those who hold senior positions are inhabitants of those countries, typically ‘non-white’: chief executives, directors, politicians, etc. So why are these opportunities not afforded to such individuals in the UK? I doubt it is down to lack of capability, experience or skill. Organisations need to be intentional in their objective to diversify their leadership teams and small steps could eventually make huge strides.

We can help organisations increase diversity by finding a diverse pool of candidates, and this is a good starting point. But it is counterproductive if those organisations are then limiting how they make use of the diverse talent that is on offer.

Listen to an extract from our podcast, Honest Conversations: Rethinking diversity and inclusion

Questions to consider

  • How willing are you to give candidates from a different ethnic or socio-economic background a chance to join your management team?
  • If appointed, will somebody from a different ethnic background really have a chance to help influence, or are they invited to the table but prohibited from taking part in the meal?
  • What are you doing as an organisation to tackle the lack of diversity?
  • How many people that are not the same ‘colour’ as you are in your network?
  • How many have you reached back for, to help them climb that ladder?

These questions are simple, but your response to them could start to engender change – why is it somebody else’s responsibility to address the issues you are experiencing? You can help to change the narrative by being intentional with your actions.

New approaches

Diversity engenders innovation, and creativity through harnessing different perspectives, and if you want different results, you must try different approaches. As Albert Einstein said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

We can help by sourcing a diverse range of candidates, but the onus is on you as the hiring organisation to ensure everybody is given a fair opportunity to bring their authentic self to a selection process, work, and around the Board table.


CT is pleased to launch a new podcast series: CT Brief: Honest Conversations. Listen to episode one: Rethinking diversity and inclusion: Looking within first


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