They’ve been called the ‘new elite’ – those students and graduates who employers actively want to recruit to improve diversity within their organisation. These include students who identify as: being from ethnic minority backgrounds; being female or non-binary; being LGBTQ+; being from lower socio-economic backgrounds; and/or having a disability. But how can employers actively find and engage with these student cohorts and do students even want to be pursued on the basis of their identities anyway?
We brought together a host of expert guest speakers at October's Breakfast News to discuss this issue and particular thanks go to:
Juggling with chainsaws
Of course, students from these cohorts may be called the new elite but, as Declan pointed out in his economic update, recruiting from more diverse backgrounds is not about creating a new elite, it’s about levelling the playing field for everyone to reverse the decline in social mobility and to harness all of the skills across the nation to boost productivity.
Declan described the economy as a juggler throwing chainsaws, having to manage higher raw material costs, higher shipping costs, higher prices, and a higher number of unfilled vacancies leading to higher wages. And within this backdrop there are particular challenges for early careers recruiters. Early indications from the ISE are that in comparison to last year: the number of vacancies is rising; student engagement in employers’ recruitment activities is falling; and job offer reneges are increasing. Recruiters have also reported to the ISE that they have challenges in recruiting students from specific identities: 82% said they have challenges in attaining the diversity they want in terms of race, 66% disability, 65% socio-economic background and 50% gender and sex.
So what can employers do to attract candidates from these demographics and then retain them in the workplace?
Start with data
It’s important to have a clear-eyed view of the diversity within your organisation. Tanni observed that many organisations do not analyse their disability employment gap, for example. However, she argues that unless you look at the data, how can you tell that you are making a real difference?
If you are looking to attract particular cohorts of students, Stephen also suggests turning to the data. He points out that university student demographic and subject breakdowns available via HESA can help to inform your recruitment strategy and where to put resources: for example, you could allocate more resources to universities with higher numbers of students from ethnic minority backgrounds.
‘Get us around the table, but see us as individuals’
Do students even want to be pursued on the basis of their identity? Our student panel welcomed diversity and inclusive recruitment initiatives, such as careers events and competitions such as the targetjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards, as opportunities to be seen as individuals. ‘I want employers to see that I am as good as the next person […] I don’t just want to be favoured because I’m black,’ Anita said. Francesca agreed, saying: ‘We don’t want to just be token people in organisations. If you want people like us in your organisations, get us all around the table, and then you can talk and then you go, “Oh, actually, I really liked Daniel for the way that he thinks”.’
In fact, Daniel, for one, has never felt negatively targeted and said that these events made him feel like he would be welcome at the organisation.
So, in the students’ views, what sort of events work well? Joining initiatives such as the targetjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards, 10000BLACKINTERNS and SEO London allow students to meet a number of organisations at once. Daniel in particular has found it valuable to attend events open to a range of different identities, not just to those with disabilities; he appreciated hearing about all of employers’ diversity and inclusion initiatives. However, he also stressed how important it was to hear how individual groups would be supported. Reem pointed out how it was particularly important in STEM to attract students before their final year: through first-year spring weeks, for example.
Back up what you say
‘This year, you’ve announced that diversity is at the heart of your brand agenda. How does that address disability?’
‘That’s a terrific question. And the thing is, I think this is all about inclusivity. This year, for instance, Chris, we sponsored a float at the gay parade.’
This is an extract from a video from The Valuable 500 shared by Tanni. It brilliantly illustrates the impression caused when an employer’s words about diversity and inclusion are not matched by action – and our student panel confirm that this generation of students is particularly alert to any gap between words and actions. ‘You can tell when an employer is genuine,’ Francesca said. As an aspiring solicitor, Francesca looks at law firms’ records of pro bono work and long-term support for causes or minority groups; she also looks at what kinds of events employers sponsor.
Be transparent and enable candidates to be
For Daniel, one of the most important actions that employers can take is to be transparent around accessibility and what reasonable adjustments can be made during the recruitment process. Signposting this early on, he said, gives students the confidence to be equally transparent about their own needs. It is also important for employers to stress that disclosing a disability or requesting reasonable adjustments will not affect how an application is assessed.
It’s not just getting students through the door
Alongside attracting and recruiting students from specific cohorts, it is equally important to retain them.
‘The biggest frustration is when people don’t allow you to thrive and join in,’ Tanni said. She mentioned some employer initiatives that enable disabled people to fully contribute: for example, setting a start date for after reasonable adjustments have been put in place and passport schemes for reasonable adjustments so that people with disabilities do not have to repeatedly explain what they can’t do without reasonable adjustments in place.
Challenge conscious and unconscious bias
However, whether you are at the initial stages of recruiting good candidates or trying to retain top talent, Tanni stressed that one of the key elements is to recognise and challenge conscious and unconscious biases. ‘The biggest challenge I face is the assumptions that people make about what I can and can’t do,’ she said. ‘I’m an ex-athlete. I’m a Paralympian. I’m a mum, I’m a parliamentarian. The wheelchair is a part of my life, but it is not everything about me. It defines how I do some things, but it doesn’t define everything that I am able to contribute.’
Our next Breakfast News will be in December.