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Australia – Clients enforcing their diversity agenda

03 September 2013

Companies are increasingly requesting that recruitment agencies source more diverse candidates for selection. The pressure is mostly to find suitable women, but there have also been instructions for companies to provide a list of candidates with diverse ethnic backgrounds, according to BRW.com.au.

Andy Cross, managing director of Ambition Technology in Sydney, commented to BRW: “I have actually seen a change in attitudes in the last 12 to 18 months from our bigger corporate clients.”

He is often told to make sure that he has a 50/50 male to female balance. It is then up to the client to make the final selection, who may or may not take into consideration the recruiter’s recommendation.

Mr Cross stated: “I have had a couple of people say to me recently that they would always interview a female on the shortlist, irrespective of whether they feel they are as good as their male counterparts.”

Mr Cross hastened to add this does not mean employers are sacrificing quality in order to meet gender-based targets. Anyone who makes the shortlist should have the ability to do the job and do it well. If there are women who have ‘leapfrogged’ up the process to get onto the shortlist ahead of men who may seem more suitable, it is also important to understand that selection is an extremely inexact process, afflicted by bias of some kind or another at almost every step.

“People are so subjective in their hiring decisions,” Mr Cross stated.

Just because someone may seem to fit the job’s criteria better does not mean they will do the job better. There are so many factors that go into job performance that it would be impossible to account for them all in a recruitment process. Mr Cross added that the diversity drive is coming from company boards. “They want to report that they have a balanced and diverse workforce.”

The CEO of diversity consultancy Symmetra, Heather Price, says American companies commonly put pressure on their suppliers to prove they are serious about advancing the cause of diversity. “It is huge in the US and has been for years in most companies that run diversity agendas,” she says. “In this country, it is very new.”

Shareholders are also demanding change. Ms Price stated that recruitment companies are at the frontline of this change and are coming under pressure that is both overt and covert. However, professional services firms such as auditors and lawyers are also feeling it.

She reported that she is aware of suppliers who have missed out on tenders and contracts for work and the feedback was that they did not convince the client they were serious about creating a diverse workplace. Sometimes, it may have been that the bidding team was too male, or too European.

Ms Price continued: “In addition, they are really placing a demand on recruiting companies to train and build their own understanding. If you don’t bring a diverse team to the table, you don’t get cutting-edge thinking.”

“Ramping up the regulatory requirements has been making a big difference to raising consciousness about the issues. Really, they are the reason that [diversity] has been given so much traction,” she concluded.

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