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Forgotten diversity: Making organizations truly inclusive, with Jenifer Lambert

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There can be no denying the need for diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. But, when we use the term “diversity,” it’s important to remember what this actually means. According to Workable, the types of diversity are ‘theoretically infinite.’ They encompass every characteristic that appears with variations among a group of people. So, if we are to make organizations truly inclusive, we have to look beyond a limited definition of diversity. We need to expand the scope to include EVERYTHING, like socioeconomic backgrounds, cognitive diversity, class, etc.

Luckily we’ve enlisted some help to decode this a little further. Jenifer Lambert is the Chief Strategy Officer at TERRA Staffing Group and was a recent guest on our weekly show – The Shortlist. But she was also kind enough to partake in a Q&A, digging further into the topics of social mobility, disparity in job postings and bias.

Q1. One of the key forms of forgotten diversity we spoke about was in relation to socioeconomic background and social mobility. How are organizations failing those who may come from the lower end of the economic scale?

When we (employers) fail talent, we fail the organization. We deny talent an opportunity first and foremost. But a by-product also sees us losing out on the contributions that talent could bring to our organization. The biggest failure I see is the failure of imagination. Instead of approaching an applicant with curiosity and goal of screening in, too often employers have preconceived notions and instead look to screen out. As TA professionals, every time we agree to source and screen for qualifications that are based on preference, or any criteria that doesn’t clearly map to delivering the business outcomes required of the role, we’re participating in closing that door.

Q2. You mentioned on the show the issue with disparity on job postings between what is asked and what is actually required for roles. How big a barrier does this create?

After recording the show, I spoke with a colleague whose father is a very successful executive in the banking industry. She shared with me that her father had dropped out of high school to help support his family. He started in an entry-level role in the bank and worked his way up to his current post. Today, a Master’s degree is the minimum qualification for the job he holds as a high school dropout. In fact, by the bank’s current hiring practices, he wouldn’t even be eligible for the entry-level role he accepted all those years ago.

Data indicates that women are particularly affected by inflated job posting requirements. Shockingly to the point that they are less likely to even apply if they are missing some of the listed qualifications. If an employer’s goal is to be more inclusive, be very thoughtful about what you post as job requirements. And push back on any requirement that isn’t truly essential. Most employers are, wisely, cautious about adding any pre-employment testing or assessments that haven’t been validated and proven to correlate to actual job performance. But most give very little thought to adding in requirements that have the same talent discouraging affect as an unvalidated test.

Q3. Has COVID just exacerbated the issues of employment for those from disadvantaged backgrounds? Or did the pandemic create any opportunity for change?

COVID put all our systems under stress and so the cracks and gaps are more evident than ever. This is the great opportunity. But with this visibility, will we create meaningful change? I hope so. The opportunities I see are around thinking bigger about what it means to be truly inclusive. How can we extend more flexibility in work arrangements and schedules for more of our employees? What job requirements create barriers and don’t actually contribute to success? As we continue to work our way through COVID, and employers are being faced with talent shortages, epidemic levels of turnover and low employee engagement, there is a true business case for thinking bigger and bolder on these issues. It’s no longer just a “nice thing to do,” it’s a business imperative.

Q4. There are other forms of “forgotten diversity” that companies overlook too. Examples like neurodiversity, people with criminal backgrounds, and even age often fall by the wayside in terms of consideration. How important is it for organizations to become more rigorous and inclusive in their DE&I initiatives?

Over my career I’ve had a “backstage pass” on employment practices across a wide array of companies. I have seen very clearly that when employers adopt a mindset of inclusion, they can open new talent pools for their organization. And often these are talent pools that are overlooked and undervalued.

One of my favorite examples is a distribution center who decided to be more inclusive and specifically target candidates who have physical or cognitive challenges. By setting aside preconceived notions about who could be successful in the job, they started being more curious and asked applicants what support they would need to perform the job. The support and accommodation that people needed was so much less than this employer had imagined. Fast forward to today. They have a workforce that is highly productive and engaged, turnover rate is significantly lower than other distribution centers and their safety record is better than ever. It all starts with being curious and believing that more is possible.

Q5. You used a great phrase when we were chatting – “advocating for talent”. Talent should be the measure of success but is often clouded by bias or lack of opportunity. How can we better advocate for talent in all forms?

My starting point on talent is that there is a “right fit” for everyone. Every human being is a bundle of potential which is a combination of their unique personal attributes, acquired skills, demonstrated experience and foundational skills (what we sometimes call “soft skills.”)  This worldview has been shaped by more than 30 years in the staffing industry where talent is our “product” and we have a built-in incentive to screen in and look for what an individual can do versus what they can’t.

In TA we have a unique opportunity to deliver talent that will help the company achieve its goals while opening doors to help individuals improve their lives. Call bullshit on job requirements that don’t map to actual success. Be relentless in rooting out bias in all its forms, including judgements about what is an actual disability or what a criminal conviction history really means in terms of future performance. Question the true value of a degree in a world where new skills and lifelong learning is the norm. Call personal preferences out by name. Stop hiding behind the vague label of “culture fit.” Any of these would help move the needle.

Catch Jenifer’s full appearance on The Shortlist here:

Having the right people will always make a big difference. The SocialTalent learning platform can help your company achieve hiring excellence. Get in touch with us today to find out how. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter.

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