Heavy Lifting, Your Brand & Diversity Specifics (Gender Neutral Sourcing)

ATC Hub’s Managing Editor Stan Rolfe introduces Cath Nolan
Cath and I first met about ten years ago in Melbourne working for a large agency in Accounting & Finance recruitment. We immediately became friends. Her warmth, zeal, and zen like nature were instant draw cards for me. Since then Cath has forged ahead in her own consulting business, which has recently seen her launch Gender Gap Gone. Gender Gap Gone provides women with insights and resources to live stronger, brighter, more rewarded careers through monthly webinars, support forums, and Q&A sessions. In her blog – Gender Neutral Sourcing, Cath provides some great examples and a few tips on how we all can not just bridge the gap, but close it.
We’re all aware of Unconscious Bias, but we don’t personally succumb, right? Statistically: wrong. After all, it’s not called conscious bias, is it?
So if people risk making biased decisions, how can we neutralise the potential bias of that people factor yet still allow humans to make decisions on the right hire?
There are measures you can take at every step. Each measure likely requires push-back on the way your client has always done things. What type of change agent are you? My preference is education and collaboration. Let me walk you through a couple of examples.
Now as I prepare to write this it seems a little patronising, given the audience. And yet. I’m regularly surprised at the calibre of organisations that need pieces of this advice. Even businesses with great profile and exceptional corporate policies don’t get to dictate the actions or decisions of every line manager. Nor would they want to. As recruiter your role is part ‘do’, part educate.
Have you ever been knocked flat by a left of field, 7-kinds-of-inappropriate question from an interviewer that blows your start candidate from the mix? I sure have. Even with thorough client education upfront, there’s still possibility of a rogue dinosaur stepping in at the last minute to influence your process for the worst.
Rather than apologise for telling you the basics, let me give you some ammunition to plead your case for change.
One of my clients had been grumbling since we met about the poor quality of candidates available for roles across multiple sites but particularly in regional Australia. These branch and line managers had been around. They knew how it worked. Their positions were the same format, the same job titles and responsibilities they’d had for decades. When I asked whether they’d considered changing the format of the role, this was the response I heard time and time again:
“THAT’S what the role is love, it’s what the last bloke did, that’s what we need to replace.” Others would say “That’s what our customers demand. We start shaking it up and our customers will walk.”
Turns out their customers didn’t walk. More customers came in. With a shake-up of the working arrangements they appealed to a wider range of applicants and found MUCH more highly motivated, engaged employees. Word of mouth spread among communities. Turns out that what was good for employees was great for customers and excellent for business.
How did we do it?
They already had tools but they weren’t real to them. The tools they’d had previously were all in HR-speak. So they ignored them and relied on gut instinct and the methods they’d always used. The more frustrated they got with the calibre of candidates, the less appealing their ads became, the more they doubted the value of advertising and so the spiral went.
We identified the central competencies for each role and got agreement that if these competencies were met then missing the other stuff (ie years in an identical role or set hours) could be up for discussion. Then we created a PD, enticing job ad, an interview guide a list of reference check questions and a decision matrix for each role, all around these core competencies. The key is that it was all in language they understood. It was real for them. The interview guides held only 5 questions each.
Is it a perfect process? No. But it’s effective.
Remember at the start their ads were all “You must have… and be available 6 days/week and… If you meet all this criteria send your resumé to the boss.” Their interviews were off the cuff, decisions all gut feel.
Twelve months on I was rolling out leadership training for a different group within the organisation. I overheard one of the table discussions. Oh my. You know those moments when every other noise fades and time slows?
An Ops Manager was complaining about the quality of his hires. The Ops Manager next to him pulled out one of our guides (unaware of our involvement) and said:
“You’ve gotta look at it with a fresh perspective mate. Set it up right from the start then your quality of new hires goes through the roof mate! We did that nearly a year ago and you wouldn’t recognise the place now. We’ve got a totally different mix of people, we’ve got heaps more women and different ages. Business is doing great.”
My reaction might seem dramatic but this had been a struggle to implement! Success was sweet.
The takeaway?
Get to know them. Work with their pain. We used their language and we didn’t fight their gut instinct. Instead we let them know that sticking to these competency based questions from PD to interview to references is how they were going to VALIDATE their gut impressions and reduce the risk of dud hires.
An objective sourcing strategy is not just good practice for gender diversity. It’s good for business.
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The quality of your people drives your capability to perform, right? Sitting in the driver’s seat of Sourcing gives you enormous power of the ability of the organisation to deliver on its goals. You’ll be clear on the impact your general public interactions has on the employment brand of the business. But your line and possibly even business managers likely haven’t thought of it.
A mid-sized technical Consulting firm asked us to evaluate and repair their candidate attraction strategies. The initial audit painted a grim picture of their employment brand. Their approach had an air of ‘if you’re just like us let’s get down to business, otherwise leave us alone’.
We implemented a competency matrix with, you guessed it, accompanying interview guides and reference questions. Three major impacts have been realised.
1. The demographics of their people have transformed. Previously it was 95%+ ‘in my image’ recruiting. With objective language in the attraction and screening phases that figure reduced to 40% in the 1st 6 months and further gains subsequently.
2. The sales team representing these candidates did a much better job at selling the business and the candidates when putting people out to market. Using the competency matrix for comparing candidates they were far better able to articulate just why their candidates were a must-see.
3. In order to attract a higher quality of people to their brand, we first got them to evaluate and determine their employment brand – what did they want to be known for. From there, all processes could be assessed to determine if they were supporting or sabotaging.

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What are the values your organisation is looking to engender? Particularly if diversity and inclusion is one of them, are these policies reflected in the sourcing documents you rely on? Are these reflected in the Job Description?
What diversity policies are currently in place and how do your practices support them? If they don’t, how can you exert influence to make that happen?
The greatest challenge in ensuring diverse workforces with inclusive, supportive talent policies is that most of us do think it’s someone else’s problem. Survey after survey reveals men and women both will choose a man over a woman. Yes the Bias is indeed Unconscious. More on that in just a beat.
Note that in my experience the most effective gains are made by removing gender from the voiced agenda altogether. Objective sourcing practices are good for business. They have fewer fallouts and quicker on-boarding successes. The boost to diversity merely a great bonus.
1. BECOME CONSCIOUS OF YOUR UNCONSCIOUS BIAS. We all hold biases about all sorts of things, not just gender. But it’s Unconscious, so what can you do about it? We recently had Lori Tyrrell run a short webinar for us on uncovering your own Biases. This link will take you to a replay. http://pages.gapgone.com.au/unconscious-bias-mastermind-webinar-1115
2. SELL IT! If you’re kicking off a new process with the intro “You’re all biased so we need to compensate”, you’re going to have trouble. Draw on the case study above. The processes are about tapping in to the full market.
3. USE SYSTEMS TO ELIMINATE GENDER. You might number applicants on a shortlist rather than naming them. Or perhaps you’ll consider separating the data-taking from the decision making in creating the shortlist. Removing decision makers from observing assessment centres for instance. Then the shortlist can be more reliably objective.
4. NOT MORE THAN. If targets don’t sit well for you, try this instead. On any shortlist there can be not more than 2 of any demographic. Perhaps it’s not more than 2 21-25 year old women or not more than 2 35-50 year old white men.
5. WHEN ALL ELSE IS EQUAL APPOINT THE WOMAN. This works when you need a tie-breaker. When the last two candidates standing are a man and a woman with nothing to separate them, appoint the woman.
6. MIND YOUR LANGUAGE. Stephen Shearman quotes a great list of research based masculine-themed words and feminine-themed words http://www.eremedia.com/ere/you-dont-know-it-but-women-see-gender-bias-in-your-job-postings/ you should be aware of in job advertisements and PD construction- along with some examples.
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If you’re looking to attract more women to a shortlist, use more words with feminine appeal in internal and external job ads.
Some great gender-neutral strategies exist: some of these are blatant and really interesting, others are downright pedestrian. The most successful in our experience are the ones that are pitched as ‘good for business’ rather than ‘good for women’. Seriously, fly that flag at your peril.

Cath Nolan is Managing Director of Gender Gap Gone. http://www.gapgone.com.au
Business leader, passionate entrepreneur, corporate coach, key-note speaker and responsible for Gender Gap Gone’s online flagship, the Career Empowerment Program. http://pages.gapgone.com.au/membership

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