20th September 2019

The drive for more diverse workplaces has been in the news, with this piece from the BBC covering how job applicants are sometimes screened by their university ranking.

It exposes a lot of interesting gaps in the graduate job market, as reported by the graduate recruiter Milkround. But it raises a lot more questions about diversity in the workplace and the extent to which the systems we have in place promote the hiring of diverse talent.

On the graduate level, screening by university ranking or by grade level can leave out a lot of students from under-privileged backgrounds (who are more likely to not afford additional tutoring or attended a top school necessary to enter a Russel Group institution). In Lincolnshire, for example, the 2011 census showed that 26% of the adult population held no qualifications at all; and only 21% held a qualification at level 4 or above. Figures for the 2018 APS qualifications showed an improvement – 30% of the adult population was shown to have a qualification over level 4, however, what this means is that there is 70% of the adult population in the county that did not graduate from university or has equivalent qualifications – something which could have a detrimental effect on talent acquisition for local companies, if they were to screen their job applicants by the method described by Milkround and the BBC.

Lincolnshire, as a county, is very diverse – among its Local Super-Output Areas are some of the most deprived in the country, as well as some of the least deprived ones. But what this does mean is that local school leavers have fewer opportunities to go to a Russell Group university.

As we look at other data – most notably from the Annual Workforce Survey 2017-2018 – further barriers to the hiring of diverse talent are revealed.

LORIC’s report on gender offers multiple examples:

Women make up nearly half of the total workforce in the East Midlands, but they represented over 70% of the part-time positions in the whole district, which in turn has impacts on average lifetime earnings.

Women were also significantly more likely to be out of work because of caring responsibilities, or looking for work after an early retirement.

What this means for employers is that there is a large proportion of the workforce and talent in the county is not even going to apply for full-time positions and leadership positions, as these are perceived as being in conflict with family and caring responsibilities.

For the entrepreneurial sector, the figures look even less attractive – among those who were self-employed, full-time self-employed males represented by far the biggest group of managers, outnumbering female entrepreneurs at a rate of 2.6 to 1. Self-employed women, on the other hand, made up nearly all the staff in administrative and secretarial positions, as seen from the table below.

Self-employed
OccupationMales, full time self-employedFemales, full time self-employedMales, part time self-emloyedFemales, part time self employed
1 Managers, directors and senior officials24,2009,2006,0007,200
2 Professional occupations14,1004,4005,8009,500
3 Associate professional and technical occupations11,5008,9008,10011,600
4 Administrative and secretarial occupations~1,700~6,300
5 Skilled trades occupations71,2002,30011,4003,000
6 Caring, leisure and other service occupations4,50010,3009009,800
7 Sales and customer service occupations2,300~1,2002,500
8 Process, plant and machine operatives18,1009003,5001,400
9 Elementary occupations12,4003,2003,9006,700

Other barriers to creating more diverse workplaces can be found in the data surrounding disability and reasons for claiming DLA. The figures released on successful applications show that, in Lincolnshire at least, the most common reason for claimants under the age of 49 to have DLA were learning difficulties, followed by behavioural disorders and hyperkinetic syndromes, as seen by the annual population survey. Such populations could have valuable workplace skills, but once again, are likely to be put off from applying for job listings because they perceive the employers as being inflexible, or because the listing does not increase their confidence that their conditions would be accommodated.

Under 1616 – 2425 – 4950 – 6465 and over
Learning DifficultiesLearning DifficultiesLearning DifficultiesArthritisArthritis
Hyperkinetic SyndromesHyperkinetic SyndromesPsychosisLearning DifficultiesHeart Disease
Behavioural DisorderNeurological DiseasesNeurological DiseasesPsychosisBack pain/other
Neurological DiseasesSeverely Mentally ImpairedDisease of the Muscles, Bones or JointsBack pain/otherCerebrovascular Diseases
Diabetes MellitusBehavioural DisorderPsychoneurosisDisease of the Muscles, Bones or JointsDisease of the Muscles, Bones or Joints

DLA claimants, it is worth pointing out, only make up a little part of the overall population with disabilities in the county, though. According to the annual population survey (dated 12 months to March 2019) 87300 people in Greater Lincolnshire were in employment with a work-limiting disability (compared to 387700 people with no recorded disability in employment). Those figures went up when examining all economic activity (including self-employment and jobseeking) which suggests there is talent – but the question of whether that talent was going to the right company is not so easy to answer.

What can employers do to encourage diverse candidates to apply for their positions?

A common challenge to employers with regards to diversity in the workplace is the pool of candidates they have to choose from. A company might pride itself on its diversity policy, but many potential employees might shy away from applying in the first place. As such, a few useful questions when promoting diversity in the workplace might be:

  1. How friendly is this role to people who value flexibility in the workplace? (Because of medical needs, caring responsibilities, or religious observance.)
  2. How accessible is our office? (For people with work-limiting disabilities)
  3. Does the job offer benefits that might appeal to carers in employment? (Such as daycare vouchers, or accessible parking in case someone has to dash off quickly)
  4. Are we communicating these points clearly enough in our call for applicants?

Talent and opportunities for growth are not measured just by one’s university ranking or availability to do full-time work, as the BBC article points out. And there are many very talented people in Lincolnshire and elsewhere who will be an asset to any company, but they are are self-selecting out of fear their potential employer would not accommodate them. What companies can do is be transparent about supporting their diverse staff – not just with policies, but with also concrete actions.