How to get more young working-class and BAME talent into your industry


09 Jan

I woke up at a very leisurely pace this last Sunday to a fantastic BBC Radio 4 programme by Lenny Henry called Class Act. If you’re eagle eyed, you’ll have noticed that this show was on at 1:30 PM (I do like a lay in on Sunday!).

Lenny Henry’s programme discussed how to get more young working-class and BAME actors into the industry. Everything discussed in his programme made so much sense to me and can easily translate into the business world.

Lenny’s programme is only 28 minutes long but full of golden nuggets — I summarise the most pertinent points for you below with some practical actions you can take.

Partner up with organisations to attract and recruit talent into your business — don’t struggle on your own. In the acting world, Lenny referred to Open Door and Talent First but in the business world there’s Rare Recruitment and The 5% Club. Don’t be afraid to work with smaller organisations. You may well be able to make waves working with a local charity or school than say a big national or government campaign.

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. Small organisations can have a big impact.

Exclusion from the workforce is often created by micro-barriers (not necessarily big barriers) and they often start from a young age. Businesses should focus on attracting future talent from a young age by working with local schools and colleges and investing in apprenticeships.

One of the barriers often faced by job applicants is the high cost of travel to and from job interviews. Consider how you could minimise this barrier to entry, for example, contributing towards people’s train fares or sending your recruitment team to regional hubs so that applicants have less distance to travel.

One of the experts that Lenny Henry interviewed talked about the “working class mindset” where individuals tell to themselves “people like me don’t…” and feel inferior to other candidates. This isn’t just a “working class” thing — as a disabled person I’ve often felt this way. Businesses play a critical role in reflecting society and giving candidates confidence that there is a place for them in their organisation and that there are people just like them in leadership positions. This can simply be done by ensuring that diversity is reflected in your recruitment marketing materials and having a diverse range of your people conducting job interviews.

“Why should we play into what we usually see? Why can’t we have an Asian David Copperfield?” This is an interesting question posed by one of Lenny’s guests as we know unconscious bias can play out in recruitment. When recruiting talent into your business it’s really worth reconsidering what preconceived ideas you have about a “successful candidate”. What kind of person could you hire if you didn’t have these preconceived ideas?

There is definitely a commercial business case to having a diverse workforce and investing in inclusion. Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians have done incredibly well at the box office. In the business world, McKinsey continue to demonstrate that there is commercial advantage to diversity and inclusion in their regular Why Diversity Matters report. If you’re a business leader then this report really should be in your reading list.

My favourite quote in the whole show was “create what you want to be” — if you’re struggling to break into industry then just start to create your own work and demonstrate your talent — don’t wait for your big break. I’m doing this with my own diversity and inclusion agency right now where I can develop programmes and ideas and consult, advise and teach clients. I’m finding that once I start creating things I start to attract opportunities and clients.

In summary, the key areas you could focus on are:

Forming partnerships to reach talent

Reducing barriers to entry. Paying particular attention to micro-barriers.

Helping candidates overcome limiting mindsets and making sure they can see themselves in your business.

Challenging preconceived ideas about your “ideal candidate” and not play into what we usually expect to see.

Understand the commercial business case of investing in diversity and inclusion. Making sure that your senior leaders are aware of this.

That if you yourself are trying to break into an industry or new role that “creating what you want to be” could be a way forward for you.

I would love to know your thoughts on this article. Please do add comments below or get in touch with me on LinkedIn.

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