Charities attracting and retaining a diverse workforce

Workforce diversity and inclusion have been hot topics in the human resources industry for some time. However, the third sector could benefit from investing more time and effort into attracting and retaining a diverse workforce. Last autumn the Government launched a website documenting the extent of disadvantage related to ethnicity and culture which included the results of the Race Disparity Audit.

Given that charities often tackle issues which affect society as a whole, it’s vital that they lead by example and include people from diverse backgrounds among their workforce who can relate to their causes from different perspectives.

But what’s stopping charities from attracting and retaining diverse staff? Lack of time and resource are two key challenges charities - especially smaller ones - face when it comes to putting systems into place to increase diversity in their workforce. Often charities have to recruit under time pressure to fill roles critical for the running of the organisation which can lead to a pool of less diverse candidates as these tend to be more easily accessible based on our experience.

The time and resource limitations can also lead some charities to rely on referrals from current employees when recruiting, so if a charity doesn’t already have a diverse workforce, referrals can lead to the recruitment of similar candidates from similar backgrounds.

Helping students fulfil potential

Despite these challenges, charities shouldn’t ignore the benefits of having a diverse workforce. For instance, they can find the talent to take their charity forward while helping students from diverse backgrounds fulfil their potential. Diverse employees bring experiences shaped by their own environment.

This benefits organisations across different levels and it’s something charities can learn from as those employees can offer a different perspective resulting in more creative ideas and solutions to problems that charities face such, as service, sourcing and the allocation of resources.

So what steps can charities of all sizes take to attract and retain a diverse workforce?

Charities should focus on their commitment to diversity and how these values are communicated both internally and externally . From the typical student’s perspective, when recruiting, often charities say that they’re looking for someone who fits their culture, but before making this type of statement it’s important to look into what it actually implies. If for example, the current workforce is disproportionately white and privately educated, it can be off-putting for candidates who may not fit the existing demographic.

Another great way to appeal to candidates is to ensure that employees from diverse backgrounds are visible and are given a platform to talk about their experience working for the charity, including featuring them on the charity’s website or social media feed. Having a range of people sitting in on interviews can also help develop meaningful engagement with candidates.

Looking carefully at the way each new role is marketed – from the language and tone to the design and style - and the selection criteria can help to encourage candidates from diverse backgrounds to apply, if these resonate more with them and their experiences.

Apart from setting up strategies to reach and attract candidates from a range of backgrounds, it’s important to monitor the diversity of the current workforce and of the applicants.

According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters’ (now Institute of Student Employers’) 2016 report on Diversity and Inclusion, in graduate recruitment, 74% of employers have a strategy to improve diversity and inclusion for graduates but only 48% of those employers benchmark the backgrounds of their hires against the student talent pool. This means they might not have a complete view of all the candidates they could have reached while recruiting.

Positive changes through work

When it comes to appealing to younger candidates, charities should really tap into the desire of young people to make positive changes through their work. The 2017/18 report What do the brightest graduates want? surveyed 2,500 of the UK’s brightest students from a range of backgrounds. Nearly 20% of these students said that career success for them means contributing to a cause they believe in and 36% prioritised a good work life balance.

Both of these criteria are often associated with charities, as employees can feel they are making a positive change to the world, while many charities offer more flexibility around working hours and job sharing compared to the private sector, which can make them more appealing.

As well as making the most of these positive perceptions, charities should also tackle any negative ones. The sector can be seen as very competitive, with the belief that anyone without any directly relevant experience would need a professional network of contacts to get in the door. There is also the expectation that staff are often required to work long hours without this being reflected in their salary.

Younger candidates can be put off as there aren’t many graduate or entry level roles for office based work as charities tend to recruit candidates with more experience. The most publicised available roles can seem to be volunteering or street and door to door fundraising, which wouldn’t necessarily be suitable for candidates looking to kickstart a long term career in the charity sector.

In order to challenge these perceptions and attract diverse candidates including younger people, charities should consider reviewing their recruitment processes and communicate more about the type of employees who would thrive within their working environment.

Smaller charities usually need self-starters who can work across many different areas, so they tend to prefer candidates with a few years’ experience, however this excludes a very valuable section of the workforce.

Key business skills

Many graduates will be able to bring a wide range of experience and skills to a role which they acquired while studying. Whether they worked part-time during their degree course, undertook internships and work placements or took part in extracurricular activities, graduates could have acquired key business skills and core competencies such as communication, teamwork, leadership and resilience while still at university.

Graduate schemes tend to run for one to two years but many graduates are looking beyond this, trying to find an organisation which will support their career for the longer term. To gain early access to these candidates, charities could offer more internships, since this is an increasingly popular way to give candidates a feel for working in an organisation and also helps them spread the word about the opportunities to their network.

There are a variety of roles available within the charity sector including marketing, HR, grant application work, policy development and research and volunteer management. Charities should ensure that potential recruits are aware of these varied opportunities.

Truly embracing inclusion

Once a charity has succeeded in attracting and hiring candidates from different backgrounds, it needs to focus on retaining them. Having diversity and inclusion policies in place is one thing, but it’s important to ensure that the organisation truly embraces these policies and that this is demonstrated from the top down. If a new hire senses that there is a disconnect between the policies and the atmosphere and day to day operations in the workplace, staff retention could prove to be a challenge in the long term.

Solutions such as mentorship programmes, ongoing diversity training, and special multi-cultural support initiatives can help with longer term employee engagement. Assigning new starters a mentor from a similar background to encourage and support them as they progress through the organisation can be a good solution which could work for smaller charities, while larger charities could also benefit from setting up support networks for certain groups within the organisation.

Keeping the lines of communication open is also vital as diverse employees can often feel that their opinions are overlooked in the workplace. This can lead to frustration which, over time, can grow more acute, eventually contributing to the decision to seek employment elsewhere. Establishing an open door policy and asking the employees what the charity can do to make them feel more included and valued helps them feel their views are listened to and respected, so can help boost their morale.

Non-hierarchical structures

Feedback from people from diverse backgrounds shows that many appreciate a non-hierarchical structure of buildings and offices, so that senior members of staff are not locked away in large offices making them inaccessible. Developing large open work spaces can allow collaboration and more importantly, can create an inclusive environment which allows open communication.

Developing an attraction process to enhance diverse recruiting, combined with an engagement process which retains diverse talent, might sound like hard work but charities which are willing to go the “extra mile” to recruit and retain employees from all backgrounds will experience the benefits in the long term.


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