Equality, diversity and inclusion – what we’ve learned in the last six months

Since launching our equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) strategy towards the end of last year we have immersed ourselves in a thorough look at many of the tools available as part of a hiring process. In addition, we have become signatories to Change the Race Ratio, committed to hiring our first black intern via the 10,000 Black Interns programme and launched our own diversity data capture process.

It seems like a good time to share some of what we have learned, what has worked, and what hasn’t been as successful. We have been lucky to partner with some brilliant clients over this time who lead the way on inclusive processes. This enables us to share best practice and innovation with businesses who are at an earlier point in their journey – raising everyone’s game.

Offering a fixed salary

One such client showed us the way on advertising a fixed salary. We are more used to taking a confidential compensation package to the market in a way that means only sharing the details when a candidate has committed to the process, with many businesses still basing the salary they offer on what the candidate is earning in their current role.

This is problematic in a number of ways. It not only perpetuates pay gaps that exist across gender, race, age and between the private and public sector, but it also judges the value of the role in relation to the successful candidate’s salary – not by what it means to the business. This puts the onus on the candidate to ask for the salary they want, which is often harder for underrepresented groups and therefore reinforces the structural barriers that can lead to gender and race pay gaps in the first place.

This process was a dream to run and the feedback from candidates was universally positive too. It reinforced the organisation’s commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion, a great illustration of showing and not telling how important it is to them.

Language matters

This may seem an obvious one but plenty of companies still don’t have diversity statements front and centre in job descriptions. Insurance company Zurich showed just how important language can be by adding in just six words to job adverts – “part-time”, “job-share” and “flexible working” – they saw a 16% increase in the number of women applying for their roles.

In the current environment of flexible working by default for most corporate functions, there is a huge opportunity for companies to use this to their advantage, broadening and diversifying the pool of potential talent.

“Blind” processes

We continue to run some processes in this way, in order to align with our clients’ internal policies, yet we see a limited impact on the outcome. Bias is more likely to come into play at interview stage, and when you have already hired a search firm to do your screening, running a blind process adds little overall.

We already work with our clients to agree key skills – not focusing on academic success or number of years in role – and it clearly makes commercial sense for us to take a role to market in a way that gives us the most potential candidates. Working with an executive search partner and setting clear goals and commitments around an inclusive process should mean that blind applications are not necessary. A recent client even had it baked into our fee structure that we had to meet our ED&I commitments before they would pay our invoice.

The biggest challenge with blind processes is they don’t allow you to consider contextual factors in a positive way either, often leading to less diverse shortlists as a result.

What next?

I could (and maybe will) write a number of blogs on all of the things we’ve tried and learned. I would also love to hear about any initiatives you have tried and the impact they have had in your business or team. Sharing best practice between organisations is a great opportunity for us all to develop our approach more quickly.

The key point for us has been to be intentional about what we are doing, why and how we do it, and what we consider a good outcome. We will not get a more diverse corporate affairs industry by accident and we all share the collective responsibility to do everything in our power to make this happen.

Lauren Tarbit is a Director at Birchwood Knight, leading on equality, diversity and inclusion.


2nd June 2021

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