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How to have an inclusive recruitment process

Author: ICAEW

Published: 30 Jun 2021

As the attraction of diverse talent becomes increasingly important to employers, we hear from those that are leading the way in building a business case for diversity and inclusion within their organisations.

Since 2020, “Attracting Diverse Talent into the Profession” has been a strategic pillar of ICAEW’s 10-year strategy, and hence the recent ICAEW Global Employer Conference was a great opportunity to share best practice of some of our member firms in this area.

ICAEW’s Diversity & Inclusion Manager for Global Student Recruitment, Dr Antonia Sudkaemper, was joined at the event by representatives from two member firms – Jemma Pearson, Strategic Resourcing & Inclusion Manager at Grant Thornton and Fatima Baig, Financial Controller and Head of External Relations of the Cultural Fusion Network at Network Rail – who shared insight into the initiatives they have in place to support a fair and inclusive recruitment process.

One area that both Jemma and Fatima agreed has had a great impact with their early career hires is the strengths-based approach. A strength is something an individual does well, enjoys doing and enables them to feel authentic and energised as they deliver successful performance. Taking the time to understand which strengths are needed for a particular role and then recruiting new entrants based on these strengths has many benefits:

  • Assessing potential - focussing on strengths will speak to a candidate’s current and future performance rather than relying upon previous experience.
  • Increasing authenticity - during competency-based interviews, candidates might be tempted to deliver rehearsed responses. Strengths-based interviews are faster paced with varied questions, so that candidates cannot over-prepare and are more likely to show their authentic selves.
  • Providing a realistic job preview - the assessment exercises contain content about typical challenges and experiences the candidate would experience in the role, providing them with additional insight into role requirements.
  • Reducing bias - as strengths do not focus on past performance, there is a more level playing field for candidates, which is allowing for more candidate diversity.  
  • Matching the organisation - the ultimate objective is to find the right person for the role and the organisation. Understanding what a candidate can and loves to do provides a good opportunity to assess how they fit the organisational culture.

Additionally, both Network Rail and Grant Thornton have either removed or have low requirements of specific academic achievements (for example, Network Rail’s university grade requirement is a 2.2 or above). Both companies draw on a variety of cognitive and behavioural assessments. This allows for a balanced approach to scoring the suitability of potential hires - if a candidate has poorer academic results, they can balance these out by succeeding in other assessments. From personality questionnaires to gamification, and video interviews to group discussions at assessment centres, using a balanced-scorecard approach across a variety of methods to assess a candidate’s suitability will contribute to a fairer decision-making process.

Both Fatima and Jemma further emphasised the importance of eliminating bias wherever possible. For example, removing all candidate information from the application form and ensuring applicants interact with multiple assessors throughout the application process, can help remove any potential bias. Training assessors appropriately is also important. Additionally, analysing outcomes carefully to ensure that there is no adverse impact in the process is also key. At Grant Thornton, the application form is no longer assessed, as it was discovered that assessing hobbies, work experience and volunteering experience was adversely impacting those from low socio-economic backgrounds and black candidates specifically. Focussing on lessons learnt and evaluating candidate feedback to improve the process for next time can also contribute to a fairer process.

Of course, these are not the only approaches employers can implement - it is important these inclusive recruitment practices are embedded within a broader strategy and combined with other initiatives. At both Grant Thornton and Network Rail, an inclusive company culture is a priority that is recognised and honoured at all levels of the organisation. The introduction of reverse mentoring - where senior partners are paired with and mentored by more junior colleagues – has enabled them to reflect upon how they can continue to make an inclusive environment for all their colleagues. Moreover, internal networks and encouraging staff to bring their whole selves to work brings people together to support an inclusive environment, helps to remove barriers and breaks down stereotypes and prejudices. These networks provide an effective way of helping a business reflect and understand the communities they serve.

In short, there are a variety of approaches for organisations to adopt a fair and inclusive recruitment process, which in turn increases an organisation’s chances to attract diverse talent, such as:

  • focusing on candidate assessment
  • guaranteeing that there is a balanced and fair decision-making process during the application process and,
  • ensuring that the right person is selected for the role.

Find more information on diversity and inclusion at Grant Thornton and Network Rail or visit ICAEW’s D&I hub to learn more about industry-wide initiatives.