Hiring For Diversity – Part One

Posted on Tuesday, June 11th, 2019 by


Following the government requirement for employers to publish their gender pay gap statistics, the debate has widened to include diversity in general and it is clear there is still much work to be done.


Having a diverse workforce isn’t just good for the company image, it is proven to increase profits.  In the UK, company profits rise by 3.5% for every 10% increase in the diversity of the executive teams. What does hiring for diversity entail? Talent acquisition teams need to take extra care that the application procedure from sourcing, screening and shortlisting, is free from bias whether conscious or unconscious, and any personal characteristics unrelated to the job performance should not influence hiring decisions such as age, race, gender or religion.


The elusive diversity goal


Achieving a diverse workforce, is however, much more complicated and difficult to achieve than it would at first seem. Age, race, gender and religion may be the most obvious and most talked about criteria at risk of hiring prejudice, but there are many areas that need to be considered and prepared for to ensure the hiring strategy of any organisation is totally free of bias. For example, it is against the law to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of:

These are called protected characteristics, and you are protected under the Equality Act 2010 from these types of discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as a physical or mental impairment which “has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities”. But disability is only one of many areas that are at risk of prejudice and even within the disability label, there are huge variations – visible disability for example being in a wheelchair to invisible such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis. Then there is the split between physical and mental disability known collectively as neurodiversity.


Then, to make it even more complicated, there are aspects of workplace discrimination that have nothing to do with disability but would still come under the umbrella of achieving a diverse workforce and are still protected characteristics under the Equality Act.


As this is such a large and complicated topic to cover in one blog, we are going to concentrate in part one on what’s new in the diversity and inclusion arena around neurodiversity and discuss some interesting and very encouraging new initiatives in this area within talent acquisition.




Neurodiversity has been receiving significant positive attention recently, mostly because research has shown that it can have a positive effect on the creativity of a workforce. Neurodivergence includes Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. Being neurodivergent will usually amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010, which means if an employee falls under this act, an employer has a legal obligation to make sure the workplace does not present a barrier to the accomplishment of their job.


Although some time and effort are required to reduce any difficulties, there are many advantages to having a neurodivergent workforce. Some companies are now recognising that hiring people with neurological differences could give them a competitive edge. SAP, Microsoft, EY, JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor and DXC Technology formed the Autism at Work Employer Roundtable to raise awareness around autism and help other firms with their hiring processes. Since then, the initiative has grown to 15 companies. Ambitious about Autism are a charity involved in helping promote this and they are currently running a 3-month work placement with SAP UK, who will be offering paid work placements for four young people with autism aged 21-25 with an interest in software IT.


It is estimated that about 15% of the UK population is neurodivergent. However, findings from a study carried out by Westminster ‘AchieveAbility’ commission for dyslexia and Neurodivergence (UK) found that 88% of neurotypical candidates felt discouraged from applying for a job and for those that did apply, 52% were left feeling discriminated against during the selection process. More needs to be done to help address the balance.


Positive developments


High-functioning individuals on the autism spectrum are now known to often have extraordinary cognitive abilities linked to memory, concentration and analysis and they can outperform in areas that are strongly rule-based, such as mathematics or engineering. The work that has been going on within the tech industries is how to attract, recruit and subsequently retain a neurodiverse workforce.


Catherine Leggett, is the Employment Pathways Coordinator at the National Autistic Society in the UK. She has been working with companies on making the interview process more adaptive to autistic candidates.  She suggests that setting up a job trial rather than a face-to-face interview, is preferable as a lot of people on the autism spectrum aren’t comfortable with non-verbal communication, like eye contact, body language and social cues, which can lead to unconscious bias on the employer’s part. The charity offer some really useful help and guidance on their website for employers thinking of improving neurodiversity recruitment.


The Specialisterne Foundation, has been working with the United Nations (UN) and the World Economic Forum (WEF) with the aim of securing one million jobs for neurodiverse people by 2030. The Foundation has so far generated about 10,000 jobs for individuals who are on the autism spectrum. Auticon, founded in 2011 in Berlin, Germany and now operating across Europe, exclusively hires people on the autism spectrum, training them to become IT consultants for firms such as KPMG and Allianz Group. Auticon is the first enterprise to exclusively employ autistic adults as consultants. Their secret? Creating work environments that are specifically geared to the needs of their neurodivese workforce. They offer ongoing support to their workforce and clients and make sure the promised workplace adjustments are made. The business model is based on the traditional IT consultancy model; their highly talented IT experts are employed by auticon on a permanent basis, and each individual’s skill set is then matched to a specific client project who are then charged an industry standard day rate.


Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which is also a client is one company who has backed and benefitted from the initiative. Auticon currently employs more than 200 professionals across the UK, Germany, France, Switzerland and the US.


Sustaining a diverse workforce


Actively attracting a diverse mix of candidates is great, but if they will be entering a work environment that doesn’t support or interest them, the hard won diverse workforce won’t stay. The culture needs to change too so that diversity recruiting isn’t existing in a vacuum but is part of a pre-organised diversity programme throughout the organisation. Prospective employees from a minority background will be more encouraged to apply to a company if they can see evidence of a diverse workforce already in place or at least visible efforts to improve.


Employers need to understand and adapt to the needs of neurodiverse individuals, and that’s where advice from charities like the National Autistic Society can be invaluable. For example, small changes like creating pods to block out noise in an open plan office, or providing a more flexible schedule can really help, and not just for neurodiverse individuals!


Another great initiative, started by Citigroup who have adopted the stance that diversity and inclusion isn’t enough, there must also be a sense of belonging for all employees. Sam Lalanne, a senior vice president of Global Diversity and Talent Management at Citi and Eric Solomon, a chief marketing officer in residence at Blackbird Global and a former executive at Google, said that in order to achieve a sense of belonging, it’s important to lay the groundwork by creating an atmosphere of compassion and acceptance, to amplify everyone’s voices, clear barriers and appreciate each other for their unique backgrounds. Rebekah Bastian, a vice president of culture and community at Zillow Group, said that the superior business outcomes often associated with having diverse teams can’t be achieved without a sense of belonging. They all agree that a sense of belonging means that people can bring their full selves to work, and not feel like they’re a different person there than at home.


Citigroup have gone one step further from their original initiative in 2017, when they made a major shift in their diversity and inclusion strategy. Previously all messaging came from the chief diversity officer rather than the CEO, so they redesigned their affinity groups (internal employee advocacy networks focused on minority groups). Under the new arrangement, each affinity group has two leaders: one who identifies as part of the group, and one from the CEO’s executive management team. The change, was a way to link diversity and inclusion efforts with the organization’s top leadership. The executive management team individuals also serve as “allies” for the affinity groups.


Next steps


It is encouraging that initiatives are being developed and there are signs that both the organisation and the employee can benefit enormously. As Andrea Keirn, the Managing Director of Black Rhino Marketing Group said “Diversity of thought is important for creativity, and you can’t have diversity of thought without the diverse backgrounds of your employees.” She suggests that improvements in workplace diversity can be split into three main areas: Hiring – creating the diverse workforce, Internal Communications – making sure everyone feels part of an inclusive and caring community, and External Communications – letting the outside world know that your organisation has a diverse, supportive and highly successful working environment so people want to become a part of it. To quote Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Change is happening but it is still slow.


At Chapple we specialize in sourcing candidates in external and internal communications, employee engagement, change, HR and business transformation roles.

Contact us on 020 7734 8209 for more information about how we can help you find your next role or indeed find the right people for your business.