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Shifting Mindsets for Inclusive Hiring

Shifting Mindsets for Inclusive Hiring

There’s no doubt that systemic bias exists in hiring – but sometimes, even with the best intentions, it’s really difficult to improve diversity. Quite often, you’re simply dealing with a shallow pool of talent.

For example, in engineering and technology-based industries, the pool of candidates is still predominantly male. And this probably starts quite early on in life, as girls have traditionally been steered away from the STEM disciplines in their education choices. 

This seems to be changing fairly rapidly, but when I was running CS Energy, only 13% of the engineering talent graduating from universities were female. Is it any wonder that you don’t see women dominating the leadership ranks of these types of companies?

The difference though, isn’t as simple or as obvious as it might seem. Sure, we had issues with being able to find females who had the experience or background to fill many of the more senior roles. But there were forces acting in the organization that made this harder than it should have been—even allowing for the scarcity of the female candidate pool. 

Let me give you an example of selection bias in action:

We were looking for a strong project manager to lead an overhaul project at one of our power stations. There were several candidates, one of whom was female. She was an excellent project manager – probably better than most we had at the time. 

The hiring manager who was accountable for the overall asset management process was two layers removed from me, and he had some pretty firm ideas about the requirements of this project management role. 

One of the requirements was that the project manager had to live onsite in Central Queensland for the duration of the overhaul itself. With a young family, it simply wasn’t possible for that female project manager to spend a couple of months away from home. And, to be fair, it may not have been possible for a male with a young family to do that either.

And the hiring manager, like all of us, tended to hire in his own image. 

So, he recommended a guy who was able to relocate for the duration of the project. The asset manager typically worked long, hard hours and he was a good operator, but I wasn’t happy with the selection. 

The one-over-one sign off fell to an executive who reported to me. So I had a quiet word to him and suggested that the project manager didn’t have to be onsite for the full duration of the overhaul project. I asked him to go away and think about a way to build some more flexibility into the role, so that we could appoint the superior female candidate. 

He came back to me a day or two later, reinforcing all the reasons why the role needed to be filled by someone who could live on-site full time.

The moral of the story is: when you have entrenched beliefs and attitudes at lower levels of the organization, it acts as a barrier to progress – not just for women, but for any minority group that’s not the typical appointee. 

The homogenous, safe candidate is effectively ‘green lit’ all the way through the process. It’s sometimes hard to find the right candidate, who will improve outcomes by offering greater diversity. But it’s even harder to change the mindset of the decision-makers who occupy positions of relative power, at all levels of an organization. 

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