Facing up to our prejudices when hiring staff

Employers in Scotland need to challenge their own prejudices and bias when recruiting new staff, according to an award-winning champion of diversity and inclusion in the work place.

Sandy Begbie says that despite having laws preventing discrimination, there is a “halo effect” which too often sees people recruiting in their own likeness. “People tend to have prejudices, and set views. A lot of recruitment practices have become very rigid over the years.”

Mr Begbie, group transformation director from Standard Life, won the Inspiring Role Model Award for his commitment to removing barriers to employment and discrimination in the workplace, at the the inaugural Diversity Awards in Glasgow last year.

In an interview to publicise Scotland’s first ever National Diversity Conference in May, he said people were very familiar with the ongoing debate on diversity and issues of gender, ethnicity, religion sexual orientation, and social/economic and educational background.

He said a lot of people used ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ as a strapline,”but putting it in to practice does means you have to think to think about your own policies and practices. You have to ask do they lend themselves to being inclusive?

“We have laws on discrimination, but your policies and practices may have within them unconscious bias, although not illegal or intended, but may drive out a particular set of outcomes.”

He said changes had been made within Standard Life; “For our school and youth employment recruitment practice, we have removed all information regarding a candidate apart from the person’s name. So the manager wouldn’t receive any information about their address, their school, their educational qualifications. All they get is the person’s name. The outcome is that we have recruited people from different social backgrounds with different educational qualifications, than we would otherwise have done.”

“Where were are going to go next is with graduates. You have people who might say we are only going to recruit a first class degree or a 2.1, or on which university they went to. But that is not necessarily an indicator of future success. ” So that would change as well.

He said the age profile of the company was going down. In 2011 nobody under 21 was employed and only 0.5 per cent of the workforce was under 25. That figure had now risen to 8 per cent.

Progress was being made, but he said more could be done across Scotland. A study last year had shown that 70 per cent of women who made had it into senior positions, were from the same social economic background, had similar qualifications and went to the same universities, as their male counterparts.

On ethnicity he said “If you go to New York or London you have a much more diverse base of population than you have in Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Inverness. Scottish Government has a target that they want organisations to have 4 per cent of employees from an ethnic minority. In Scotland that is probably a fairly reasonable target.”

He once described the human resources department as being the conscience of a company, but he said increasing diversity and inclusion didn’t just represent ethical progress “It makes business sense as well.

“No matter what business you are in, you will have a diverse customer base. If you are going to service your customers well, it makes sense to have an employ profile as diverse as your company base.

“We have a good example in Standard Life. With auto-enrol pensions, we have gone from having a very small number of young people paying into a pension scheme, to tens of thousands from age 17 onwards who are now customers. They want to be more engaged and involved with their pension, so you need have a population internally who know what it is like to be a customer at that age. Some of our younger employees have been working on our apps to make it all more accessible to younger customers. We also have some blogging. ”

Our key partners say

Sandy Begbie, Chief People Officer, Standard Life, said;

“At Standard Life we have a fundamental belief that everyone, regardless of background, deserves the opportunity to work and fulfil their potential in an inclusive workplace. Our approach to Diversity & Inclusion is in its broadest sense and over a number of years we have striven to broaden our recruitment and talent attraction strategies to reach into all our communities and to break down barriers to ensure women are represented at all levels of our organisation. We welcome the opportunity to further collaborate with organisations across Scotland to promote the value of a diverse workforce and that’s why we are delighted to be sponsoring the Scottish Diversity Conference.”

Audrey Ross, Sales and Marketing Director for Taylor Wimpey West Scotland said: 

“Following our successful involvement in the inaugural Herald/GenAnalytics Diversity Awards last year, we are delighted to be a key sponsor of The Diversity Conference in Scotland and confirm our support once again for this year’s Diversity and Inclusion Awards in October. We aim to be an inclusive company which values people as individuals and creates a workforce that reflects the diversity of the local communities where we build new homes, so we are delighted to have this opportunity to play our role in developing the conversation around how we embrace diversity and inclusion within businesses in Scotland.”

Katy Wedderburn, Partner at MacRoberts LLP said:

“Following our sponsorship of the hugely successful Diversity Awards in 2016 we are delighted to be on board as a sponsor for the first Diversity Conference for Scotland. Fostering and promoting diversity in the workplace continues to be at the forefront of MacRoberts agenda for 2017 and beyond and supporting this event is very important to us.”

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) Head of National Training Programme Development, Karen Murray said:

“SDS is committed to supporting equality and diversity through working with partners to help make Scotland a more inclusive place to live and work.  Recognising positive, inclusive efforts and sharing best practice helps strengthen the message that equality is good for business.”

Sue Whalley, MD Royal Mail Letters & Network and Chief Operations Officer said:

“Royal Mail are delighted to be sponsoring The Diversity Conference for Scotland. At Royal Mail, we are committed to attracting and employing a diverse workforce and as a large employer we are keen to ensure that our work environment is one that nurtures diversity – diversity of thought, experience and skills. And building an inclusive workplace is the foundation required to ensure our people can thrive.”

Steve Dunlop, CEO of Scottish Canals, said:

“If we are to make the most of the talent we have in Scotland, everyone needs to be able to play their part and this means public, private and third sector organisations embracing diversity. By promoting inclusion at all levels of an organisation, from frontline staff to the Board, not only can we ensure that the services we deliver meet the demand of all our customers, it is good for the bottom line.”

Hamish Watson HR UK Director said:

ScottishPower are proud to be sponsors of The Diversity Conference for Scotland.  This conference is a great opportunity to showcase and learn best practice from organisations that encourage people to be themselves, embrace difference and harness the opportunities that this brings”.

Ed Cochrane, Managing Consultant & Head of YSC Scotland said:

“YSC are delighted to sponsor The Herald and GenAnalytics Diversity Conference. As the world’s premier independent leadership consultancy, we partner with our clients to recognise and leverage the richness of their diverse talent and to support and challenge them in establishing inclusive cultures.”

Wheatley’s Employee Relations Leader Lesley Wilkinson said:

“Too many people, through no fault of their own, still face disadvantage, prejudice and barriers in life. At Wheatley, we believe staff and our customers should be treated fairly and with respect and dignity, regardless of their colour, sexual orientation, ability, gender, culture or religion.  That’s why we are proud to support the Diversity Conference.”

Mr Begbie is one of the speakers at Scotland’s National Diversity Conference 2017 on Tuesday, May 23 at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Glasgow. It is organised by the Herald and GenAnalytics (also sponsors of the Diversity Awards) in association with Standard Life.