In his new book, Rebel Ideas, Matthew Syed introduces us to Stanley Sedgewick, a quietly spoken, crossword-solving clerk who spent much of the Second World War cracking Nazi codes alongside mathematical geniuses like Alan Turing. It turns out that the powers-that-be at Bletchley Park recognised that the ability to solve crosswords had much in common with cryptography. By embracing what Syed calls cognitive diversity – the ability to bring together teams of rebels (crossword-solvers and others) rather than clones (yet more mathematicians) – Bletchley Park became home to teams who could draw on multiple perspectives to create a powerful collective intelligence. The rest is history.
An average publishing recruitment decision may seem a million miles away from the darkest days of the Blitz, but ponder, for a moment, a very common first response when any of us is faced with the need to recruit a new colleague: ‘Who do I know?’. More clone than rebel, perhaps.
I’d go as far to say that, as an industry, we are terrible at recruitment. Like other management tasks, it’s often seen as mere admin, something just to be ‘got through’ and certainly not to be viewed strategically or seriously. But I’d argue that imaginative recruitment based on a fair, transparent and consistent approach and process is the very foundation of those more diverse teams we all say we want and need – and that we know make business sense. Here are some simple tips to bear in mind.
Do the thinking
Back to that first knee-jerk reaction. Do you really want a clone or could a rebel bring a fresh perspective? If your company has diversity data, or an inclusivity policy/strategy, take them on board (if your company doesn’t have any data or policies, lobby for them). Being aware of how your next recruitment might contribute to wider diversity goals – and showing intent - is a great starting point. It’s always crucial to have a clear business case for any recruitment, and recruiting for diversity should be part of that case.
Be open and transparent
Have a clear process and selection criteria and communicate these properly to potential candidates. State clearly your company’s commitment to inclusion. List benefits like flexible work, maternity and shared parental leave, any carer/childcare policies. Making these things clear up front means that you don’t disadvantage candidates who may feel awkward asking about them.
Get the paperwork right
Yes, you do need to review the job description and job spec, and think carefully about the job ad. This is the perfect opportunity to make them as inclusive as possible. Consider the language you use; avoid unnecessary or unclear requirements (do you really need a graduate?); take out references that could be narrowing (to specific books or types of books, for example); focus on the ‘must haves’: looking for the ‘perfect’ candidate will only create a barrier for people who don’t exactly identify with the criteria.
Mind your language
As publishers, we know how much words matter. To state the obvious, use ‘you’ and ‘we’ rather than masculine nouns and pronouns. There’s also a wealth of research that shows that more certain words and phrases – like ‘expert’ or ‘ideal candidate’ - can be excluding and reduce a sense of ‘belongingness’. Avoid jargon and acronyms that will mean little outside your company or the industry. Demonstrate a commitment to developing candidates’ potential rather than asking for that fully formed ‘perfect fit’; beware those clones again.
Counter your biases
If you’ve already had some unconscious bias training, take into account your own biases. If not, take this free test from Harvard to give you a better sense of your underlying prejudices. When sifting applications and interviewing, ask yourself critical questions and involve others who can counter your biases and bring different perspectives. Consider blind recruitment (removing things like names, gender, age and education details from CVs). Might using an agency help?
Done properly, recruitment takes time and effort. Once you’ve appointed someone, reinforce all the good work by making sure they’re supported and made to feel welcome. Create cultures that value and champion inclusion and where non-inclusive behaviour can be challenged.
We may not be cracking the Enigma code, but publishing has plenty of its own complex and multi-layer challenges. We could all use some of the collective intelligence that diversity brings. Shining a light on recruitment is a good place to start.
Clare Grist Taylor delivers the PTC’s Getting to Grips with People Management in Publishing course with co-tutor, Nancy Roberts. Recruitment and bias are just two topics covered over the two-day course that provides delegates with the self-awareness, tools and techniques to become active, empathetic and effective managers.
Follow Clare on Twitter @claregt