The express guide to recruiting a more heterogeneous workforce
As someone who has spoken and written about diversity in the workplace quite a bit (https://soundgirls.org/how-to-find-the-best-candidate-for-the-job/, https://soundgirls.org/the-financial-case-for-increasing-diversity-in-live-audio/), I find it really encouraging to see more and more efforts to hire a wider variety of people in our industry. However, like anything that’s (somehow, still) in its early stages, I’ve seen quite a few missteps and realise that a lot of people need some more guidance on best practices. I also understand that most hirers are extremely busy, especially in the post-lockdown rush of live events, so I will get right to the point and then expand on the steps after.
The whys and wherefores of building diverse workforces is a massive and often messy subject that is beyond the scope of this article. Maybe your company has come to the conclusion that it’s the morally right thing to do, maybe you’ve seen the positive effect it has on profits, maybe you’re doing it for the kudos or maybe a client has specified that they want certain types of people on their jobs and you personally think it’s political correctness gone mad. Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that you need to find different people to who you usually hire. For the sake of brevity I’m going to call these people Diverses, but do remember that individuals are not diverse, only groups of people can be diverse. Diversity and the benefits that come with it can only be achieved in the collective when everyone’s differences and strengths are combined. So how do you find them?
- Write your job ad, describing the skills you are looking for in a candidate, not their intrinsic characteristics like gender, race, sexuality, or socio-economic background.
- Post the ad where lots of the type of candidate you want are likely to see it.
- Choose someone suitable from the applicants. If there isn’t anyone suitable, go back to steps 1 and 2 and see what you can improve so you can find the right person for the job.
- Don’t tell anyone that they did/didn’t get the job because of their intrinsic characteristics (because they genuinely didn’t. You can find someone who is Diverse and also the best person for the job). If unsuccessful applicants push you for a reason, just say they weren’t a good fit for the role. Our industry is so idiosyncratic that this can be true.
That’s it! Does it sound familiar? It’s the same technique that’s been widely used in our and other industries for decades if not centuries. The only difference is this time it’s benefitting underrepresented groups instead of the established majority.
If you have the time to explore this topic in more detail, here are my unscientific opinions and extra tips:
Choosing your words:
Advertising that you need (or are being *forced* to hire!) a Diverse is not helpful. From the job posts I’ve seen, this just spawns a whole bunch of “is this legal?”/devil’s advocate arguments that achieve very little. Besides, this often isn’t legal. The UK Equality Act 2010 states that you can only use positive action in recruiting when you already have applicants of equal merit, so you need to leave applications open to everyone in order to find the best person for the job. If the best or joint best candidate happens to have a characteristic that you’re looking to recruit, then great, but you can’t prevent people from applying or hiring a less suitable applicant just to fit your diversity goals. Affirmative action in the US is a bit different but you could still end up in a tricky legal situation if you’re explicitly recruiting people because of their protected characteristics.
Specifying certain characteristics that you want can be problematic. In the era of publicly tagging friends under job posts, you risk inadvertently outing individuals as gay or trans, for example. Quite a few are difficult to prove anyway. Are you going to ask applicants for evidence that they’re homosexual? That their parents were poor enough to count as coming from a ‘disadvantaged’ background? Is one type of Diverse more desirable than another? Having a shopping list of protected characteristics that you want in candidates feels like you’re treating them like commodities rather than humans, which is surely what we’re trying to leave firmly in the past. You need to find the sensible middle ground between Pokémon-style ‘gotta catch one of each type’ and “Oh but all these middle class, straight, white men have such different personalities!” You should be looking at varying your crews in as many ways as possible, without artificially enforcing quotas or defining people solely by intrinsic factors that they can’t change. It can be a challenge but it is worth it in the long run.
If you’re worried that too few Diverses will apply for the role, you can say that everyone, including (I would not recommend saying ‘especially’ because it’s still implying that they’ll get unwarranted preferential treatment) XYZ type of person is encouraged to apply. If the rest of your diversity policy is effective enough, for example advertising roles widely and having a reputation for an inclusive and supportive work environment, you shouldn’t need to do this step anyway. Often just saying that you value diversity itself is enough to show people from underrepresented groups that it’s worth applying. The best way I’ve seen of dealing with this is Britannia Row Productions’ diversity statement that they include at the end of every job post (https://www.britanniarow.com/careers). It is simple but effective:
“We’re building a diverse, inclusive team
You’re welcome at Britannia Row wherever you’re from and whoever you are. We know that sometimes, people don’t apply for a job because they don’t have every single skill listed in the job’s requirements. So if you’re interested in a role here and believe you could be a good fit, we encourage you to apply.”
Another aspect of publicly saying that you want a Diverse is that people will assume that the successful candidate got the job because of their Diverseness alone. This can make the Diverse question their abilities and value as a person and can give license to bullies to throw it in the Diverse’s face at every opportunity. I know quite a few people who won’t apply for jobs with this kind of wording because they, understandably, don’t want to be seen as just a box ticker, and want to be hired for their competence in the job.
Getting the word out
A major contributor to the “old boys’ club” aspect of our industry is that one of the main ways people land jobs is through word of mouth. Lots of roles are never openly advertised; the hirer will just think of who they like and find the first person on that list who’s available. If no one’s available, the people on the list might recommend their friends. It’s not hard to see how this results in an insular, homogenous workforce. Of course, the nature of live events means a large proportion of roles are filled by freelancers, often at the last minute, so companies don’t have the time and resources to put into recruiting for these jobs that they might for full-time positions. Long, challenging days and spending nearly all our time in very close proximity to each other also means that it is important that people work well together, so it is understandable why personal recommendations are highly valued. It’s also a more reliable way to judge aptitude for the job than formal qualifications, in a field where real-world experience and quick thinking are essential.
So how can we reconcile these factors? Companies need to start treating their freelance call list more like their full-time employees. Recruitment needs to be an ongoing process and not left until the last minute when everyone’s too busy to think about it and desperate to fill a role. If you do the work to have a balanced, varied talent pool, you’ll have options if a client suddenly demands to have a certain type of Diverse on their crew rather than having to specifically advertise for them, which can backfire for the reasons outlined above. This also means that you have the time to take a chance on people who you might not be sure about because they don’t have the personal connections that others do. You can put them in a junior role at a quieter time of year, or give them a chance to shine while there’s a more senior colleague present to support them, to see how they fare.
Where you advertise is as important as how you advertise. If you post in the same old places you’ll get the same old candidates. As a rule of thumb, if a forum seems quite ‘bro-ey’ or cliquey, it’s unlikely to have that many members from underrepresented groups. Seek out online groups and directories that represent certain communities, visit schools and places of worship other than your own to encourage more young people to join the industry, and see if there are local employment schemes that are looking for collaborators. If you’re struggling to think of places to find Diverses, you could ask other Diverses whom you already know, but please acknowledge the work they are doing to help you.
The best candidate for the job
As previously mentioned, you shouldn’t give someone a job they aren’t ready for just because they’re a Diverse. It is usually illegal, it breeds resentment in other people and it sets them up to fail, further compounding prejudiced people’s beliefs about that type of Diverse’s suitability for the role. It also implies that you don’t believe that there are any Diverses out there who are qualified, which is almost never true. If you aren’t getting applications from a wide enough variety of people, cast your net wider (or – whisper it – pay better).
On the other hand, what makes someone the ‘best’ person for a job can be highly subjective. There is more to suitability for a role than qualifications and experience. They could have a great attitude, get along well with the rest of the team, bring new perspectives and cultural knowledge (a major benefit of diversifying your crew) and have the people skills that a degree in audio can’t teach. When assessing applicants, bear in mind that a Diverse might have less experience than a non-Diverse of the same age because they have been discriminated against already, systemically or personally. Don’t put them in a role that they can’t handle, but don’t perpetuate the cycle of discrimination by presuming non-Diverses are better because they have more experience. It takes time and effort but getting to know candidates better than what their resumé can show can pay off massively over time. Surprisingly, interviews are actually quite a bad way to do this (https://vervoe.com/predict-job-performance/). From reading the literature and going through some interviews myself, it seems that they’re great for finding people who are good at interviews, but not necessarily good at the job. ‘Job auditions’: asking applicants to do practical tasks as they would at work, are a much better predictor of long-term performance. It has also occurred to me that it is the most conscientious employers who are making the effort to be more inclusive and formal with their hiring practices, including inviting people to interview, instead of straight-up offering jobs to the usual suspects. Paradoxically, this ends up as an extra hoop for the Diverse to jump through, while the boys club carries on as usual.
Tick a box, get a medal?
Sorry to say it, but you don’t get special recognition for doing what we all should have been doing all along. Don’t boast about how you hired a Diverse and put photos of them on your company website to show how woke you are. Finding the best candidate for the job and the benefits that come from diverse crews (a wider pool of knowledge, higher productivity, and profits, etc.) is reward enough in itself. Keeping these people is as important as recruiting them in the first place, and making them feel like a freak show or a charity case is not the way to do it. The best way to avoid accusations of tokenism or box-ticking is to hire as many different types of people as possible, so it becomes normal to work in diverse teams. Hiring one Diverse, or one Diverse at a time, is not enough, and being the only ‘other’ in the workplace is a very, very lonely place to be. It also makes it much easier for bullies to undermine them and convince them that they have nothing to contribute except their Diverseness. The way to get the best work out of your crew is to build them up and value them for what they each bring to the table, wherever they’re from and whoever they are.