Practical tips to improve the diversity of your workforce

Practical tips to improve the diversity of your workforce

The conversation in housing, and more broadly, has focussed for some time on increasing representation from diverse groups. Diversity is uniqueness, what makes us different. Increasingly, organisations are focusing ever more on inclusion. The sweet spot that can be defined as ‘belonging’...  A feeling of being valued for who you really are.

From the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development:

“Diversity recognises that, though people have things in common with each other, they are also different in many ways. Inclusion is where those differences are seen as a benefit, and where perspectives and differences are shared, leading to better decisions.”

The benefits of creating diverse teams are clear and evidenced. Research commissioned by McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Harvard Business Review has found that:

The National Housing Federation (NHF) 2023 report exploring diversity and representation in the housing association workforce found that:

  • Female representation in leadership positions has increased but is still not reflective of the workforce or residents. Only 47% of executives and 44% of board members are female compared to 54% of the workforce.
  • The ethnic diversity of the workforce is not reflected in executive positions. 10% of the workforce is Black/African/Caribbean/Black British but only 3% of executives. 5% of the workforce is Asian/Asian British but only 1% of executives.
  • Only 9% of the sector’s workforce have a disability or long-term condition compared to 24% of the population and 29% of residents.
  • Staff are more likely not to disclose their religion (6.4%), sexual orientation (6%), marital status (4.2%) and gender identity (4%) choosing to prefer not to say for these characteristics. This highlights the need to create more inclusive workplace cultures where people can bring their whole selves to work.

The report acknowledges big gaps around data on socioeconomic background and caring responsibilities, lacking 90% of data on all these characteristics for the housing association workforce.

From Generation Y (who by 2020 made up half of the workforce) through to senior executives, an inclusive recruitment lifecycle has never been more important. With a view to supporting organisations on their journey to becoming fully inclusive, Odgers has created an Inclusive Recruitment Diagnostic (IRD). Led by acknowledged diversity expert, Sue Johnson, the IRD is a unique and bespoke tool to help organisations create a holistic recruitment and onboarding process to improve the performance and address inequality. The first of its kind and based on the findings of over fifty pieces of academic research, the IRD assesses and improves the six steps of the recruitment process from advert and application through to offer and onboarding. It helps eradicate unconscious bias, upskill hiring managers and realise the full value of recruiting and retaining a truly diverse workforce.

So, at the organisational level, let’s talk about some practical tips on attracting and retaining talent to the sector through inclusive recruitment.

Build an effective, long-term DEI strategy

  1. What is your commitment?
  2. What changes will you make?
  3. How will you track progress?
  4. How will you sustain progress?

Before you start

Even before a decision to hire, there are practical elements to consider for the organisation. 

External perception: Your website is your window to the world. 

  • Is there a career pathway section? Because then prospective employees can see if they can make it. 
  • Are there role models with different diverse characteristics talking about their experiences? Because if we see people we identify with, we are more likely to apply. And you can’t just showcase middle management.
  • Is there a message from the CEO setting out the culture and values so people can get a feeling for whether they are aligned with their personal values, whether they could belong there?
  • How much is there about ESG? Gen Z in particular is far more purpose driven and may score you on EcoVadis before engaging.

Role and Advertising

Smart talent management starts before day one. How often has an old job description been copied and pasted?

  • Give thought to the transferable skills that are required in a job and where and how people may have developed those.
  • Look at language and tone. Studies have shown that women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to see themselves as qualified for a job, unless they meet every single criterion. Have you used a gender de-coder? Hiring requirements such as ‘good communication skills’ could have an impact for neurodivergent people, who might not identify with that description.
  • Reconsider having university degrees as a must. There is a considerable ethnic gap in university level degree attainment which has persisted for at least the last decade (Advance HE).

27% of transgender young people who experienced transphobic bullying left education early (LGBT Youth Scotland).

  • Reframe years of experience at board level. It excludes younger people from the process. 
  • Be open and honest about the package. Broadcast your offer from the start. List salary band and incentives up front, talk about flexibility, wellbeing support, enhanced family leave.

Shortlist and Interview

Our research tells us that organisations who consistently make the most diverse hires, have the most diverse CV selection and interview panels. 

Consider who reviews the CVs and how your interview panel is selected. How does that panel prepare for the interview? Who has the final hiring decision?

There are some useful bias interrupters to mitigate behaviours and systemic unconscious bias:

  • Consider no name CVs (affinity bias)
  • Remove extra-curricular activities (affinity bias)
  • Ensure interview questions are asked in the same order to all candidates (stereotype / confirmation bias)
  • Have standard scoring matrices and agreed them in advance (stereotype / confirmation bias)
  • Agree that nobody speaks for one minute following the candidate leaving the interview (anchoring bias)
  • And consider having two people involved at each decision point (affinity bias)

Can you make your interview process more engaging and relevant? The CEO of a retail business that we know, insists on meeting senior hires whilst walking the shop floor. He believes candidates need to see and share his passion for customers and the insights he obtains that way. There can be value in escaping the conventions of a stale interview meeting room.

And remember, think about the candidate experience. If you want to hire dynamic people, show-off a bit of your own dynamism in the hiring process!

Offer and onboarding process

  • Communicate positively to teams and stakeholders in advance of the new joiner(s) starting. Reference their background, skills and provide details on their reporting lines, location and job specifics.
  • Adapt the induction to individual requirements regarding the work environment, facilities, and technologies, making adjustments that accommodate specific individual needs.
  • With new leadership appointments from out of sector, it is vital to regularly check-in with the new hire, ensuring they feel supported and enabled. Having an internal buddy system or mentoring scheme alongside external buddies can help people get up to speed on the nuances of the sector.
  • Survey all new joiners. Collect data on the levels of engagement and satisfaction with the onboarding process, track trends and review feedback and adapt the induction process if required.
  • Lastly, while focusing on the successful candidate is as obvious as it is important, we must remember that when hiring, we are in the business of disappointment. More candidates will not get the job than are successful. So how to disappoint positively is key. We all know bad news travels fast: a bad experience can taint the view of a whole organisation for years to come. Turning down a candidate requires the input of time, effort, proper insightful feedback and acknowledgement of the time and energy that is put into a job interview.

Other things you can do? Track the diversity of candidates throughout the recruitment funnel. Analyse the data on a regular basis and implement interventions if required.   Communicate data with hiring managers, with leadership, defining accountability for change. Have a clear and stated ambition.

The housing sector offers abundant career opportunities and access to a huge variety of jobs. Housing is rewarding, complex, and an inspiring place to work that impacts real lives on a daily basis. The war for talent is still very much on. Widening the gate on diversity and attracting interim and permanent talent to complement the bright minds already in the sector will be essential to help address the challenges being faced.   

We will be running a series of free webinars with Sue Johnson, Managing Partner, Inclusion and Diversity, Odgers Berndtson. For further information on this or to find out more about Odgers Berndtson’s Inclusive Recruitment Diagnostic Tool, and how it might help your organisation, please feel free to reach out to me at:


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