To say that the public sector has been challenged in recent months is an understatement. Organisations that were already under considerable pressure to deliver were suddenly seen as a vital lifeline for many, providing critical help in a time of national crisis. Many employers could be forgiven, therefore, for losing their focus on areas that were previously high priority, such as equality, diversity & inclusion (ED&I).
However, one of the many things that the pandemic and shift to greater remote working has highlighted is the varied needs and requirements of employees, and so in order to operate effectively, public sector organisations need to ensure that their workforce truly represents the communities they operate in and serve. When those from diverse backgrounds work together to create the public services we all rely on, the outcome is much more likely to be a service that works to benefit everyone.
Profiling the diversity of more senior professionals in particular, and seeing how it compares to the wider workforce can help to indicate how well the public sector nurtures and retains diverse talent and its commitment to realising the positive change that greater ED&I can bring to the workplace.
How do current perceptions of career opportunities in the public sector vary according to background?
Despite the well-documented advantages of greater workplace ED&I at a personal and organisational level, according to our most recently published Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Report, nearly half of public sector professionals (48%) believe that their chances of being selected for a job have been limited because of their background or an identifying factor.
In particular, 66% of those with a disability have felt that their chances of being selected for a job have been limited because of their background or an identifying factor, as have 62% of carers, 60% of neurodivergent professionals and 61% of BAME professionals, rising to 70% when looking specifically at those who identify as black or black British.
For public sector organisations to become more reflective of the society they serve, it is vital that progress must continue to be made towards removing any perceived or actual impediments that might inhibit credible professionals from gaining equal access to opportunities in the world of work.
What can public sector organisations do to help facilitate opportunities for candidates from a range of backgrounds?
Actively seeking and engaging communities of diverse talent is key to creating opportunities for those who perceive that they may have unequal access to career progression. Investing time and cultivating these relationships helps build trust in the public sector’s demonstrable commitment to creating an unbiased recruitment process.
If looking to recruit more junior talent, this could mean visiting colleges and universities with higher populations of underrepresented demographic groups, organising or participating in targeted recruitment events, or building relationships with organisations that provide employability support. Involving strategic community groups, recruitment partners or agencies in seeking to both reach a much wider audience, and proactively engaging a more diverse selection of credible candidates is also a practical step towards facilitating opportunities for a wider pool of talent.
For public sector employers to encourage those from a broad range of backgrounds to apply to their vacancies, it’s important that diversity is reflected in their recruitment and marketing materials.
Using diverse imagery and inclusive language that avoids bias in recruitment brochures, microsites and display materials helps prospective applicants from potentially underrepresented backgrounds to visualise themselves in a role in that profession and at that organisation, making it more likely that they will apply. Senior HR managers should therefore make sure that website designers and content writers understand how important visual and linguistic inclusion is, and are equipped with the knowledge to action this when they are creating content.
Appropriate ED&I training for those employees with recruitment responsibilities is key to ensuring that hiring decisions are based on merit only and not on any characteristics that sit outside the assessment criteria. Regular reviews of this training should be undertaken in conjunction with the collection of diversity data to measure its overall effectiveness. Is it translating into a more diverse range of appointments from underrepresented groups?
An intersectional approach to this training, especially in light of current ongoing events, is key. It’s important to recognise that characteristics like race, class, gender and sexual orientation can’t be viewed in isolation, but combine in unique ways when it comes to perceived disadvantage and discrimination. The pandemic has highlighted the difference in needs and likely concerns of different employee groups and acknowledging employee preferences regarding flexible working practices will make a crucial difference both for public sector organisations and their teams.
As public sector organisations continue to revise and reform their working practices to meet the ongoing challenges caused by Covid-19, employers may be in a position to reconsider requirements for previously essential roles. In order to gain access to the most diverse pool of candidates possible, it’s important for public sector employers to evaluate and challenge what is absolutely critical to success in the roles they are hiring for and take a more open, values-based approach to hiring.
These requirements could include location - with agile working methods looking to take centre stage for the foreseeable future, it may be that employers are able to be more flexible on the candidate’s geographical location and therefore be able to cast the net much wider in terms of potential applicants. Regularly re-evaluating the skills and experience needed from the right hire and demonstrating flexibility with this is also crucial - if a list of compulsory learned technical skills is too prescriptive and narrow, organisations may find themselves with a more homogenous workforce and risk a limited approach to problem-solving.
If you have any questions or require support with promoting your public sector vacancies in the new era of work, please contact your local Hays consultant, or to find out how the diversity and inclusion landscape is evolving in light of this year’s challenges, request your copy of the Hays Equality, Diversity and Inclusion 2020 report.
Matt Lewis, Director Hays Public Services, has worked in specialist recruitment since 1994, the last 10 years of which have been spent working specifically with the public sector. Matt’s role has developed into leading MSP and RPO recruitment solutions to best position organisations to attract and retain high quality talent.
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