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Why a bespoke statement about diversity by your CEO in job ads matters

Speed Read

  • Recruitment advertisements that use a boilerplate or standardised sentence on diversity and inclusion are turning candidates away for fear of tokenism.
  • A bespoke commitment or quote by a senior leader is more likely to attract applicants from diverse backgrounds.
  • Talking about values and principles and a ‘growth mindset’ is more likely to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds.
  • Candidates are actively scanning for flexible work arrangements.
  • Promote photos and stories of employees from diverse backgrounds on careers pages.
  • Showcase specific initiatives in place to support diversity, equity and inclusion on careers pages.
  • Consider anonymous job applications in which applicants’ names are hidden in the initial recruitment phase.

Many of us will have seen words in job advertisements that ‘candidates from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to apply’ and thought that’s a helpful way of signalling a company’s commitment to diversity. But new research shows these boilerplate statements may be turning candidates away, particularly those from under-represented backgrounds who are the most qualified.

Research by Professor Andreas Leibbrandt from the Department of Economics at Monash University conducted in the United States with a company that wanted to attract more applications from candidates with African-American backgrounds, shows that blanket Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) statements on company careers pages or in job ads puts off the most qualified candidates from non-white backgrounds. They don’t even make it into the talent pool as they don’t apply in the first place, because their sought-after qualifications mean they have other options in the market.

Professor Leibbrandt explains that for most qualified candidates, boilerplate statements create concerns they could be perceived as token hires.

So, what are the recruitment practices that make a difference in getting qualified candidates from under-represented backgrounds to apply for roles?

We recently spoke with Professor Leibbrandt and he shared these tips with us.

The number one thing you can do that has the largest impact on applicants is to include a bespoke statement on DEI by your CEO, or the most senior person in the organisation.

‘Most organisations aren’t aware of the initial talent pool and who is deciding to apply, or not,’ he said. “What stood out in our research was that the most qualified diverse applicants who initially signalled interest in a role and then went through to apply for it, depended on the presence or absence of a statement by the CEO outlining why and how the company embraces diversity. Those that weren’t as qualified weren’t as concerned about this.’

That’s why the CEO statement is key as it sets the tone from the top that this is a strategic organisational priority.

What also helps is a statement about the breadth of experiences rather than a specific focus on identity. Professor Leibbrandt says that ‘instead of saying that we’re interested in applications from ethnic minorities, you should say you’re interested in people from different walks of life or different study backgrounds.’

Professor Leibbrandt also says that talking about values and principles required for the role and including phrases like ‘growth mindset’ is more likely to attract candidates from diverse backgrounds.

This aligns with research we’ve conducted with new starters in client organisations about their reasons for joining. They report a desire for meaningful, authentic content around how the company is supporting DEI and, significantly, are looking for ‘people like me’ role models, particularly in the leadership cohort of the organisation.

Many new joiners too share with us that overt messaging around flexible working in job advertisements is a key decider when changing jobs. They actively ‘swipe left’ and move onto another role if it’s not clear that the job can be flexibly.

Another strategy to attract a more diverse talent pool in the initial recruitment phase is to hide candidate names. Professor Liebbrandt’s just published research – finding ethnic discrimination in recruitment of leadership positions in Australia – highlights why this is important (see the box below.)

Case study

Recently we supported a client with an end-to-end review of their recruitment practices to ensure all touchpoints, including systems and hiring manager capability, could support inclusion and encourage candidates from diverse backgrounds to apply. This included a review of both job descriptions and job advertisements.

Our review found that several enhancements could be made to their recruitment process including:

  • Updating their careers pages on their web site to outline the initiatives in place around DEI so that it wasn’t just seen as virtue signalling by potential candidates.
  • Upskilling the capability of hiring managers around the ‘why’ of DEI and their role in recognising and disrupting unconscious bias during the recruitment process.
  • Re-balancing words used, as the Gender Decoder tool used found many job advertisements had a skew towards masculine-coded language.
  • Recommending anonymous job applications in which applicants’ names are hidden in the initial recruitment phase.
  • Ensuring a mix of different skills and capabilities to prevent an over-reliance on only technical skills: consider other factors such as influencing, stakeholder engagement and communication skills.

Your name impacts leadership opportunities

You may be familiar with a study by researchers at Australian National University in 2011 that found ethnic minority candidates would need to apply for more jobs to receive the same number of invitations to interviews. The researchers randomly submitted more than 4000 fictional applications for entry-level jobs. The applications were identical in all respects apart from their ethnicity. The study found that to get as many interviews as an Anglo applicant with an Anglo-sounding name, an Indigenous person must submit 35 per cent more applications, a Chinese person must submit 68 per cent more applications, an Italian person must submit 12 per cent more applications, and a Middle Eastern person 64 per cent more applications.

Professor Leibbrandt’s latest research for a Monash Business School study builds on this study and confirms your name can still impact your access to jobs. This latest study is the first to examine the issue among leadership positions.

The research team sent more than 12,000 job applications to more than 4,000 advertisements for leadership positions in 12 different occupations in Australia. Identical resumes were used, with the only variant the candidate’s name.

Six different ethnic groups were investigated by varying resumes with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Arabic, Chinese, English, Greek and Indian names. All candidates were born in Australia, worked in Australia, and went to an Australian school or university.

The results showed that, despite identical resumes, ethnic minorities received 57.4 per cent fewer call-backs than applicants with English names for leadership positions. For non-leadership positions, ethnic minorities received 45.3 per cent fewer call-backs.

Source: Monash University, ‘Study confirms English sounding names get more call backs from job applications than ethnic names’, 4 July 2023

If you’d like to find out more about Diversity Partners and our services to reduce unconscious bias in recruitment and encourage applications from talent from under-represented and diverse backgrounds, please connect with us.

About Dr Katie Spearritt

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