Recruiting for Diversity

Your people

We know that diverse teams make better businesses; higher profits, better decision-making and increased innovation are all linked to diversity of thought and background.

But as a small business it can be hard to identify ways in which you can take meaningful action given all the constraints you face. However, even for small businesses there are simple things you can do to embed diversity and inclusion in your business and to make sure the foundations are there to improve on this as you grow. We always recommend that small businesses start by thinking about recruitment. Every role you fill is critical in a small company, and there are some easy and cost-effective steps to optimise your recruitment process for diversity:

1. De-bias the language of your job adverts

Research shows that the way a job advert is framed, and the language used to describe the role and the candidate can make a big difference to who applies. People from under-represented groups, whether that be female or BAME candidates, or those from socio-economically deprived backgrounds, can often self-select out of the recruitment process based on the advert alone.

Gendered language use if relatively well-researched, and tools are available which will help you to check the language of your job adverts. The Gender Decoder by Kat Matfield is free and will give you a quick count of male and female language use in your advert. Total Jobs has also developed a similar free tool.

The upside of these tools is they are free and easy to use; the downside is they don’t give you much actual advice about how to change your text to get the best outcomes. When reviewing the language analysis, you need to keep in mind that studies reveal women to be much more sensitised to male-coded language than men are to male-coded language. So, if in doubt err on the side of more feminised language, as it’s likely to have a better impact on widening the applicant pool.

These tools only focus on gender, and don’t address racialised language. Research shows us that under-represented ethnic groups can be deterred by language which expresses job requirements as personality traits, rather than competencies. So, it may help to consider re-phrasing your requirements: rather than saying “the ideal candidate is organised”, consider “the ideal candidate can demonstrate good organisational skills”.

2. Consider where you’re advertising roles 

This sounds obvious but is surprisingly often forgotten in the rush to get a job advertised. Before sending your advert off to all the usual channels, take a few minutes to think about who you hope to attract, and – crucially – how you might reach them. We often post our job adverts in the same two or three places, usually your own website and one or two trade publications and websites. But in advertising only in these locations, you’re only reaching people who already know about your sector. Instead, could you consider where you might reach a broader talent base?

A quick search will deliver you lots of resources like this one from LSE which breaks down social media usage by age, gender, ethnicity and other characteristics, which could help you find routes to a wider demographic. And remember that if YouTube were a country, it would be the third biggest in the world as it has over one billion users. Recording a two-minute video introducing your company and role could really help you to reach people you might not otherwise – and you only need a smartphone and a few minutes of your time!

3. Offer interview support 

Having done your best to attract a wide range of talent to apply for your role, you need to make sure you’re setting them up for success at interview. A few things to consider are:

  • Can you make a few simple accommodations for the interview stage? Candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds may find the cost of travel prohibitive, so can you interview by phone or video conference? If a candidate has physical disabilities, can you accommodate them?
  • How are you assessing specific skills? Tests can often allow less articulate candidates to demonstrate their skills by ‘doing’ rather than discussing
  • Are your selection criteria fair and transparent? The best way to mitigate against bias is to try to be objective. You could set a list of questions and criteria in advance to assess candidates against.
  • Are you hiring for a cultural fit? Try to guard against this. ‘Cultural fit’ is often just code for ‘people like me’; try to think about how someone could add to the culture and improve it, not just slot right in. And get someone else to meet your preferred candidate, as a different perspective candidate can help you to see if your own biases are driving your decision making

As a small business owner, I know that getting everything right is hard, and the reality is that building a diverse business does effort and intent. By taking these small but meaningful steps however, you can optimise your existing processes to help you attract and recruit from the widest possible talent pool.


This was updated in May 2019 by Umbrella Analytics. We’ve created these resources for individual SMEs to use. None of our content is to be adapted, reused or repurposed for commercial use.