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Video: Break the unavoidable cycle of exclusion

Why are there more diversity programs than ever, but still no real change? Why is the positive impact of diverse workforces scientifically-proven, but is it still not a priority for executives at organizations around the world?

In his keynote speech at the 2020 Inclusive Hiring conference, Headstart CEO Gareth Jones shares his experience building an inclusive organization, and key takeaways on the future of work, diversity, and the holy grail: a culture of belonging.

Breaking the Cycle of Exclusion Transcript

Gareth:
And I should qualify this all by saying I’m not a poster child for inclusion obviously. I’m 54, I sit in the bracket of stale, pale, male people who are responsible for all the ills that we have in corporate world. I’m well aware of that. But I am a human being and I am rapidly becoming one of the other marginalized groups, which is the aging workforce. Technically I’m probably unemployable now if I was to go and try and find another job. So I want to talk about the potential of inclusive hiring and I don’t think you’re going to hear anything that you haven’t already heard, in terms of… We should all know and I think we all do know what the benefits of having a diverse business, but we’ll run through some of that.

Gareth:
And also then what the reality is and this is probably when you’re going to start hearing some of my opinions, which you may or may not agree with, but there’ll be a few of those. And then I’d like to talk a little bit about our approach at Headstart. We are a small company. We’re not a big organization. There’s 20 of us at the moment, but I just wanted to share some of the things that we do. Just what’s our business like? How do we bring people on board and how do we… What kind of environment do we create in the company? And the reason I want to share that is because actually my belief is that whether you’re 20 or 20,000 there’s really no difference. There are, having worked in big corporate global business, there are of course dynamics that are very, very different.

Gareth:
But actually I think we rely on those dynamics to give us permission to opt out of doing certain things. So I’m sure you’ve all seen these stats. McKinsey, Harvard, Boston Consulting Group, Corporate Leadership Council, there’s a young PWC, everybody that’s in the consulting business. Accenture have produced report after report, done research study after research study, spent millions, many of your companies will be spending millions with those organizations, subscribing to those reports and reading them and nodding at them and sharing them.

Gareth:
There is no doubt that if we have a diverse company, whether that be ethnicity, whether it be gender, age, cognitive diversity, there are hard benefits to be had. It is not a new narrative. It really is something that we can quantify now and has been quantified for a long time. The truth is though, that nothing’s really changing. There are things happening, but despite all of the evidence, we’re either not starting or we’re playing at it, but we’re certainly not delivering against the brief. We’re not taking that opportunity. So again, you can read the reports where the headlines in the organization are, we’re doing all of these great things, but actually Boston Consulting Group did some great research on this. When you go and talk to the people in the business, as far as they’re concerned it’s we’re doing stuff, but it isn’t really happening. I’m not feeling it as an individual.

Gareth:
In one large study they did, only one out of four people in the business saying, “Look It’s a great narrative, but it really isn’t impacting me. I’m not seeing any personal benefit. I’m still feeling like I’m not included. I am still feeling like this benefit or this energy that we’re putting into it isn’t getting to me.”

Gareth:
And this kind of… The reality is we still have leadership that doesn’t understand it. And again, in the reports they’re talking about how as a bunch of leaders we perceive the level of bias and things like that are a lot less than they actually are. We tend to think and deal with diversity and engagement things very, very separately. We compartmentalize them. And for a number of people, if you are in one of those groups, we might think about you at some point in time because we’re talking about diversity in hiring, but actually that individual, if they’re lucky enough to get in the business, they have some challenges, but they get through that experience, whatever they experience that happens all the way through their working life.

Gareth:
And actually if you look at other areas of HR or people, we talk about engagement, talk about performance management for example. I can go and get as many reports from all of those organizations that will tell you the benefit of having an engaged workforce, that will detail how poorly business is performing because of lack of engagement. For example, within the business, how 70% of people in work are not engaged, whatever that means, whatever that measure is, and it’s the same story all the way around the organization, but because we compartmentalize it, we deal with it. We’re dealing with the symptoms all the time. We’re not actually thinking about, hang on a minute, so we don’t, these are all outcomes despite what it says in the top left-hand side, my typo, diversity is not an outcome. Diversity is an outcome. Engagement is an outcome. It’s an outcome of something. It’s a bunch of behaviors, it’s a bunch of attitudes and values.

Gareth:
And we’re not thinking about that. We’re not saying, “Hang on, let’s link this up.” We’ve got lack of diversity over here. Lack of inclusion. We’ve got poor engagement or dodgy engagement across the business. Performance management isn’t great. There’s got to be a bigger issue here that we’re dealing with. If we aim to have a business where you’re trusted and you trust the business because we have all this narrative about how do you trust your employees but how many employees trust the business? What’s an organization done to earn trust when you see a lot of the things that go on in business, but if we can create an environment where there’s trust, where there’s an inclusion, where you’re respected and that’s a joint thing, then you kind of got this sense of belonging and that’s the… At the moment that’s the word that for me feels like the right way of capturing it. I belong. Then if I feel like I belong, then I feel like I’m respected and recognized for what I do or for who I am.

Gareth:
And again, it’s an opinion from me. I could say, “Why don’t we have this, well maybe it’s budget. Maybe it’s just time. Maybe it isn’t enough evidence. We’re constantly calling for evidence when there’s a lot, but I’m going to put it out there and I’m going to say I think it’s incompetence.

Gareth:
In my 30 years, the narrative around people in organizations hasn’t changed a bit. The problems are still the same. Things are a little bit different, but ultimately we’re still saying the same thing. So Headstart, what do we do? Viewer discretion advised on my next slide. That’s me. God, it never gets any easier to look at that photo, so I’m not going to look at it. That’s me 15 years ago, just about clearly I’m two or three stone heavier at the time and that’s my son Oscar, who’s now nearly 17. This was me every weekend, pretty much. I was knackered. The only time I could really spend with my kids was the weekend and I’d get halfway through a Saturday and I’d just sunk out on the sofa and obviously clearly Oscar would sunk out with me and my daughter was responsible for taking the photo and present this moment of history.

Gareth:
But the point was that for me, everything about me and my life preservation of that was make sure I did the best for the job and put everything into it. Career was absolutely everything. And you know what, I can’t get that time back. I’ve got a great relationship with my kids now, but I can’t get those years back. It’s gone. And for me, I guess with Headstart particularly, I don’t want others to go through that. So people with young families. I mean Tom’s here. Tom’s got a young family, I’d hate to think that he had to come home at eight o’clock and grab two minutes with his kids. It just breaks my heart to think about it because as I’ll talk about later, I think that’s the wrong way to deal with performance and to deal with engagement, so on. So what do we do? Thank God that slide’s gone.

Gareth:
So there’s a bunch of things that we do and I just wanted to run through them quickly. So the first thing we said, we try and understand who you are as a person rather than just what you’ve done. And for me, so we use a bunch of assessments and we’re small so we tend to use assessments as much as anything else. But in big businesses now there’s a whole bunch of data that you can gather on people and you really should be gathering that additional data. I mean we do it for clients, but we’re too small to use our own tools because we can’t generate the kind of data. But as a minimum, and as a minimum in organizations, when we’re saying, I’ve got this job to fill and here’s a person I want to match. As a minimum, we should be using science. But still in a lot of organizations, my definition of the job is a job description. My definition of a person is a CV and we use a bit of technologies, try and match them up. For me, that’s just 19th century thinking and we really need to move on.

Gareth:
So we use this stuff. But when we’re using it, we’re not doing a pass or fail assessment bring you. It’s actually something that starts a dialogue. So we use this profiling inside the business, so we profile people and it becomes our common language, right? We want to… Some people haven’t been through it, the original people in Headstart, we are going to bring them all through it, but it means we can kind of, we use it so we understand each other. I’m high fellowship, I’m low detail, I’m low of conformity so I can cut people slack and we can cut people slack each of the way. We know that under pressure I’m going to behave in a certain way and so we just understand each other. It gives us an opportunity to know better who we’re dealing with and we share all the results. It’s completely transparent and we use a third party consultant and yes it costs us money, but it’s a good investment and we make that investment.

Gareth:
The other thing we do, which I think underpins everything we do is have an adult approach to running our business an adult hiring policy, but we basically bring people in. We trust first, verify later. That’s not my phrase. I thought I heard it, somebody brought it up and I think it’s really, really good. We want people to come in and do their best and we see everybody as a peer and there’s no room in our organization for I’m better than you or I know you. We want adults to do the job and we want to trust people to say, “We think you’re really talented. We think you’re really good. Come in and show that.” It’s up to you, how you deliver that. We’re not going to tell you, I’m not going to tell Tom how he should do his job on a daily basis. I’ve hired him to do the job. Why am I going to do that? I’ve got better things to do.

Gareth:
And I wanted to pull this out because I think this still goes on in a lot of companies. The whole parent/child relationship in organizations is, I call it a weapon of mass destruction for trust and respect. This is one of the reasons why we don’t have it, and I don’t mean really overt parent/child behavior, I don’t mean people really talking down to people, really, I mean it only takes the most subtle of words and particularly where you’ve got a leader and there are people in their team, it only takes a couple of things. Somebody wants to ask a question and you kind of close that conversation down in the tiniest to patronizing way, they won’t ask another question again.

Gareth:
And we run a fully flexible working environment. I know there’s a big push for four-day week at the moment and I’m a big fan of that because I think it’s going in the right direction. But I’m actually not a fan of the four-day week. I just think we’ve got to… It’s a bit of a hangover from structured weeks. So it’s a bit like when I was in my first job, dress down Friday, don’t know whether anybody remembers that, suit and boot to work then you came in your jeans and then that was, you’re going to make snow. It’s one or the other, why would you do that? And four-day week for me is a very similar thing. So we have this approach, which is we don’t care where you work, we don’t care when you work and we don’t care how you do it. And that’s literally how our business runs.

Gareth:
So clearly we have expectations and that’s the crux of it. It’s outcomes focused. We’re all different people, we all get up at different times. Some of us are rockstars in the evening. Over the years I’ve probably done my best work at night, that’s just kind of me. Again, I’m a bit of a role as I’m getting older, I’m getting up earlier, so maybe I should just start doing some stuff early in the morning. But we really don’t want to create a bunch of constraints about when you do this stuff, we’re a remote business, there’s no need to clock in and clock out. We just need to focus, agree, all of us agree what we’re going to deliver and then deliver it.

Gareth:
And that is, I guess the key message is the kind of thing I say to people when they’re coming into my meeting, which is just, you got a bunch of outcomes so deliver those outcomes. And as long as you meet the commitments to the company and the team and yourself, which is the most important one, I’m happy. And the reason we put… Because this for me is a hierarchy of, it’s a foundation. And this goes back to my picture. In myself 15 years ago, I wasn’t meeting commitments to myself. I wasn’t the best self, which means that I couldn’t deliver my best self to my team and I couldn’t deliver the best team to the business. And so it all starts at the individual level. It all comes back to us as individuals. And so for us it’s about how do we make sure people feel that they’re doing great work, they feel healthy, they’ve got a work life balance, they’ve got a working pattern that suits them and gets the best out of them.

Gareth:
And the other things we do, unlimited holiday, which is unlimited, we only ask that you put it in our HR system. So we’re gone to Germany, know when you’re away, but you can take as much time as you like. When you are on holiday, you are on holiday though. So last summer was the first time I’ve been away on holiday for as long as I can remember and I didn’t work. And we also are running an internal mental health program because we want to be able to give people, if they are feeling a bit stressed in our environment, who knows? Maybe. We’re running a program that allows them to access counselors and stuff like that. And we monitor, the idea is to try and monitor our mental performance and mental health and the business.

Gareth:
And the values thing. I struggle with values. As I’m sure a lot of you have done this sort of value workshop, sticky note workshop, put them all up, gather them in and come up with the posters and everything else. And we kind of have done a session like that. But actually we haven’t and I haven’t purposely driven any more work on it. What we’ve kind of done is just let’s see what bubbles up, what do we care about? So what comes up when you look at the narrative on our chat sites, what comes up when we talk amongst each other. And really there’s just a small bunch of things that seem to be really important for us. And a lot of them are based around transparency, honesty, being fair, fair’s in our sort of DNA. It’s our purpose as a business anyway.

Gareth:
Flexibility, clearly an individuality and we kind of, I guess they, maybe they’ll change over time, I don’t know. But those are the things that kind of feel important to us. So those are the things that we try and major on as a business. And this was pointed out to me, this is one of our Glassdoor reviews. You can read it yourself, I won’t read it out, but this is indistinct contrast to our business two years ago and a number of other businesses. When I read this sort of stuff, it’s obviously, it’s great you read it, you run a business and this is the kind of thing, but to me this is how it should be. This is normality. So what we should have is normality, where people can feel like, you know what I want to contribute because I feel valued and I feel trusted and I can say what I need to say.

Gareth:
I would leave you with these things. First of all, I think we have to change the narrative a little bit. The term diversity and inclusion it does still have a thing, [inaudible 00:16:55] it keeps it narrow. And I think we need to broaden this stuff out, cognitive diversity, neuro diversity, we need to start thinking just a little bit more about, be much more open-minded and challenging ourselves. Face into our own biases. So there’s a direction of travel in technology and in products like ours, so do you anonymize CVS? Do you strip out everything that could lead to me making a biased decision? We don’t do that. Probably we’ll end up having it in the product. It’s not for me to say it’s fit, there are people who use the product to say.

Gareth:
My own personal view is that stripping all of that out, particularly at the top end of the recruitment process, is simply kicking the can down the road. You’re effectively saying, “Well, I’m going to abdicate my responsibility for any of this shit to a piece of technology.” And if we don’t deal with it at the top of the funnel, it’s only going to come out at the bottom of the funnel. When that person walks in the door and they’re from an ethnic minority or they’re older or whatever it is that is still going to exist and I think we have to start facing into this stuff and I think we have to start saying, “Hang on, I’m going to be aware that I’m looking at CVS and they do have names that seem different to me or this person is older.” Because unless we start facing into it, I’m not going to make any changes.

Gareth:
You should, however use technology to help. I can guarantee you if you’re using one of the standard flavors of applicant management technology, it is not helping you. It’s way, way inadequate. I mean come on. Nobody likes him anyway. It’s shit, isn’t it? The quality of technology in HR and recruitment is poor. It’s the poor cousin of enterprise technology and we need to change that. The fish rots from the head is one of my favorite sayings. People either lead particularly they don’t care or competent is one of the two. Everything about an organization comes from the top. If there’s problems in the company, you’ve just got to look further up the food chain. There is no other, I just… I’d argue with you for a fortnight over it. It is not the people at the middle. It is not the people at the bottom being moen as somebody an event last night said, 25% of our workforce and that moment is, why can’t we just tell them that they need to get a life.

Gareth:
So I’m listening to this thing, I’m thinking, “What the fuck.” And share the evidence, let’s get a little bit punchy with it. Let’s get the reports and let’s get on, wave them in the faces of our leaders. You can bet your bottom dollar that if a CFO went to the CEO with a bunch of evidence reports as quantified as this stuff and said, “If we adopt this new supply chain process, this new way of moving our goods around the world, we will outperform our competitors and we’ll see a rise in our revenue and a drop in our costs.” They’d be all over it like a rash. But why aren’t we doing this? Ask the question and look in the mirror. You guys are in the chair for this stuff, ultimately. It’s not your monkey ultimately, but you’re in the chair for it.

Gareth:
And I’ve written a comment on the board, please put a comment on that blackboard that’s down there and mine is that, I try and look in the mirror because I am, stale, pale, male. I try and look in the mirror every day and say at least once, “Am I doing enough?” What little bit more can I do? Can I say something that’s probably a bit more controversial and anger somebody or I don’t know, share another bit of information just to make people think, and I think that’s, if we can all do that, we can all make a bit of a difference.

Headstart is on a mission to transform the way organisations hire! We are the world's first diversity driven Applicant Matching and Management System. We use Machine Learning and Data Science to transform the recruitment process, enabling clients to find the right high potential employees regardless of gender, ethnic status, sexual orientation or age.

With major brands like Accenture publicly supporting our mission, Headstart is already improving the recruitment experience for candidates around the world.

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