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Five top tips to improve diversity in your workforce

In a recent blog, Catch22 Director of Partnerships Kat Dixon, discusses how organisations can encourage people from diverse backgrounds to apply for job roles, and how organisations like Catch22 can help people facing social barriers to work into sustainable employment and apprenticeships.

12 May 2022

Kat Dixon, Catch22 Director of Partnerships

When I speak to directors and managers in FTSE 500 companies, large business and SMEs, the same question comes up; I want people from diverse backgrounds working in my organisation, how come they’re not even applying?

There’s plenty of evidence to show that improved diversity results in improved financial performance and more and more graduates, apprentices and young job seekers are choosing their workplace based on its diversity, inclusion and equity approach.

But lots of organisations find they’re not even getting applicants from diverse backgrounds, let alone hiring and retaining them.

So, how can your organisation encourage people from diverse backgrounds to apply to your job roles? And once they apply, how can you keep them?

Here are my top tips for increasing diversity in your workforce:

1. Be honest with yourself about organisational culture and commitment

Many a business has come to me asking for diverse applicants, but expect candidates to be punctual, polite and slide easily into the existing culture. Ask yourself, is this realistic?

By inviting people from diverse backgrounds into your workforce, you are, by definition, inviting someone different to the people already in your business. If you do that, it’s up to you to help them feel part of your culture, not for them to automatically mould around you.

Hiring diversely requires commitment from hiring managers, senior leadership and teams themselves. This could be offering flexible working for a worker to attend probation meetings, a lunchbreak at the same time each day for a worker with anxiety, or purchasing software to help with a physical disability, such as blindness.

Many adjustments are basic, but you have to proactively find out what they are and implement them. How ready are you for this?

2. Take a long, hard look at those minimum application requirements

Ask yourself, what does someone actually need to do this job? Is a drivers license essential? How do the skills of 5 GCSEs grade 9 to 4 realistically translate to this role?

Plenty of talented people couldn’t afford to learn to drive. Maybe they are neurodiverse and didn’t get on with exams. Maybe they cared for their Mum, who has a drug problem, and school-learning was hard to focus on. There are many reasons that people miss minimum requirements which have nothing to do with their skills or potential.

If you’ve got hard minimum requirements, you’re probably missing out on amazing talent. Go back through, and take out minimum requirements that aren’t genuinely essential. Look at the jargon in your job adverts, where you’re advertising, whether the job titles you’re using are accessible or intimidating. Challenge these and suddenly, your talent pool will get bigger.

3. Work out your why

Why are you seeking diversity? Is it to bring in new perspectives? Do you want to improve the S on your ESG commitments for customers? Is someone C-Suite or board-level pushing for it?

If it is profit-driven – you’ve seen the evidence on increased productivity and retention – that’s great. Own it, and make your decisions based around it. Ask yourself, what level of investment will get you the return your need on productivity and retention? Could you consult experts on the best way to get this return?

Consider investing in new roles in your HR division and basic diversity training for hiring managers. Then you can move on to bias-reducing hiring platforms like briqspartnerships with organisations dedicated to diverse hiring or internal projects like Salesforce’s partnership work experience programme. There’s plenty out there if you invest your resource wisely.

4. Offer in-work support

Recruitment is the beginning of a diversity journey. When someone starts a new job, the critical timeframe is 6 weeks. If they stay past 6 weeks, they’re more likely to make it to 6 months. Past 6 months, the likelihood of retention goes up.

Can you remember the first 6 weeks in your last job? What was it like? Plenty of new jobs are a blur of meetings, new faces and confusing acronyms. If you have mental health challenges, been out of work for a long time or are disabled, imagine how much harder those first 6 weeks are.

To successfully retain someone from a diverse background, you have to actively (and sensitively) find out what their needs are and build in support.

Sometimes problems will manifest in unusual ways – maybe they’re showing up for work late, or seem suddenly withdrawn. Chances are, there are good reasons for this. Good managers proactively find out what the cause is and work with the individual to make reasonable adjustments, together.

Many third sector organisations have programmes to help you with this. Catch22, where I work, is funded by amazing organisations who are committed to helping employers improve diversity. We run programmes with TikTokMicrosoft, SalesforceBarclaysJP Morgan & ChaseNational Grid and others to help employers improve their diversity and empower people from diverse backgrounds to find a fresh career path.

5. Be loud about your success

People from diverse backgrounds have a story; some of them find telling that story therapeutic and empowering. Some dislike being defined it and would like to preserve their privacy. Both views are equally valid, and should be respected.

If, however, you hire someone who feels empowered to tell their story, be loud. Reports like this one looking at perceptions of race and gender discrimination in the tech sector, show that plenty of people don’t apply for jobs, because they can’t see anyone that looks or sounds like them.

Role models are important. We aspire to be what we can see. If you are the kind of organisation who cares about being future-proofed, socially responsible and with a sustainable workforce, be loud about it.

The more you demonstrate your commitment to diversity, the more potential candidates will see your door as open and welcoming, the more diverse applicants you’ll get, and the more sustainable your business will be.

Clarification point: I use the words ‘diversity’ and ‘from diverse backgrounds’ interchangeably here to represent protected characteristic or social barriers that makes finding and retaining work challenging. Every individual barrier is different; each person is unique. I use these terms to open up a conversation on a broad range of challenges, not to reduce them. If you have thoughts about these terms, please comment. The conversation is important.


Kat Dixon is Director of Partnerships at Catch22. She builds socially-responsible programmes which support people facing social barriers to work into sustainable employment and apprenticeships. For more information, see our partnerships page.