How has the pandemic impacted hiring trends and diversity initiatives?

When the pandemic first struck, we all quickly came to realise just how profound an impact it would have on all of our lives. What was less clear at the time was the seismic impact it would also have on hiring trends and diversity hiring initiatives, Juliet Turnbull, founder of 2to3days writes.

I wanted to get a better handle on how the pandemic has impacted the employment market, so I reached out to my network of senior recruitment, HR and diversity and inclusion executives from across the market. They kindly gave me their time and we enjoyed catching up on overall market trends, how diversity and inclusion drives have been impacted, the knock-on effect on the hiring of flexible and remote workers and the expected impact this will all have on staff retention.

My thanks go to everyone who took the time to speak with me and participate in this assessment of the last year. Without your insights this review would not have been possible. 

Hiring trends for 2020

Everyone I spoke with reflected on the dramatic change that we've seen in the volume of hiring being undertaken. In some in-demand sectors, there have of course been major surges in hiring demand; but for the most part, volume of hires has dipped noticeably. This drop in hiring activity has coincided with a significant increase in candidate application volumes, driven by redundancies and by people still in work fearing that their current roles are at risk. 

That may make it sound like we're currently in an employers’ market, where recruitment teams can pick and choose from a large pool of their ideal hires. But the picture isn't nearly as rosy. Quite the opposite, recruiters are finding it’s a challenge to entice skilled employees to switch employer. Many in-demand employees are reluctant to consider a career move because:

  • They are fearful of moving to a company where their position may not be as secure as their existing position

  • They are anxious that another employer may not embrace remote working, flexible working and staff wellbeing as fully as their current employer

  • They feel a sense of loyalty to their employer for how they have stuck by their staff during the pandemic

So, despite challenging economic conditions and the biggest recession that we've seen in our lifetimes, the challenge of hiring top talent remains acute.

Alongside this, the pandemic has changed the way we hire forever. Nearly a year of interviewing candidates (and often onboarding new hires) remotely has opened everyone's eyes to the fact that hiring cycles’ timescales can be greatly reduced. What’s more, the newfound ability to hire remote workers for positions that have historically been office-based has also expanded the pool of potential candidates for any particular vacancy. 

For many businesses that have historically found hiring challenges to be a brake on their growth, this broadening of the available talent pool will fundamentally change their growth trajectories and hiring outcomes from this point on. For help with reaching a more diverse talent pool click here

Diversity and Inclusion to the fore 

During our conversations it became clear that diversity and inclusion continues to be viewed as critically important. In the early phases of the pandemic, there was a concern that the sheer scale of the challenges that HR teams were having to face would mean that other initiatives might easily suffer. Whilst that may have happened to a degree, the bigger picture is that the determination to address diversity and inclusion is still very much alive and remains a top corporate priority. Bravo!

Nonetheless, it is recruiting teams’ bandwidth that emerges as the biggest obstacle to progress here. That’s to say, the biggest challenge is not a lack of desire to address this issue, but more ensuring a business has the sustained bandwidth to do so. Anyone can have a big goal or ambition but it is the execution of this that is absolutely key.

Companies told me they don’t know where to go to advertise their vacancies to reach a more diverse audience, or don’t have the time to do so. In-house recruiters being too stretched to prioritise this was also cited as a key challenge. Consequently they’ll often rely on i) LinkedIn and ii) on their company websites being scraped by aggregators such as Indeed to get a good quantity of applications.

Taking a more targeted approach and working with niche job boards and candidate sources was highlighted as one way of helping to address this.

In terms of the bigger picture, anecdotal evidence suggests companies are in practice focusing on addressing gender, race and ethnicity above other aspects of diversity and inclusion. Blind CVs and the removal of minimum exam grades from graduate hiring programs are also steps in the right direction. Progress is being made!

What is perhaps most encouraging is that increasingly, corporate clients are demanding greater gender equality initiatives and diversity hiring initiatives from their supply chain. So if a business wants to continue to win work with major corporates, showing how you are proactively implementing diversity and inclusion hiring initiatives will be increasingly key.

More flexible, more remote

As ever, I always look for the silver lining and I can see a great shift in working practices being pushed by the pandemic! Remote working opens up our ability to tap into a geographically larger pool of talent than before. It means talented parents who would otherwise be limited by the time impact of distance from the school run can now apply for roles which would otherwise have been off the menu.

The most progressive companies are working collaboratively with their employees and their supply chain to work through not only who wants to work remotely, flexibly andon site, but also looking at preferred patterns of working so that staff can integrate home life more effectively. 

That both increases the candidate pool under active consideration and impacts on the remuneration needed for any given position. For example, London businesses may find they have a broader pool of talent to choose from, whilst simultaneously being able to trim salaries if staff don’t have to either live in London or pay to commute to London five days a week.

There’s a ‘but’

All of this is encouraging. However, the flip side is that in many companies there’s still a lack of genuine belief that having more women in senior positions will make a difference. There’s an unconscious bias against a three days in the office, two days at home pattern doesn’t work, even though Covid19 has shown that it does, with many companies actually reporting increased productivity.

The mindset of presenteeism is a big obstacle to achieving more here. As are the mindsets of leaders who don’t trust their staff. This is being borne out by the number of companies implementing technologies that allow their staff to be “snooped on” whilst working remotely, to check that they are indeed putting in a full shift. So the battle to fully embrace both flexible and remote working is far from won - but the pandemic has at least opened some business leaders’ eyes to the reality that it could work far better for their businesses than they might previously have believed.

Retention gets a shot in the arm

The last topic of conversation that came up is a little more speculative, because we will only know in the fullness of time just what effect everything else has had on it. But unquestionably, staff retention is a key element in the hiring equation and often gets forgotten about. Greater acceptance of remote and flexible working as a result of our experiences in 2020, means companies are likely to be able to keep staff for longer. This is especially likely to be true for parents and those with caring responsibilities, if this means businesses are now more able to support them to do their work around school runs and other caring needs.

Time will tell just how pivotal this proves to be in dramatically improving staff retention. Obviously any significant change in this metric would have important knock-on effects for recruitment activity. I’ll return to this topic in the coming year when the data is there to start drawing conclusions. For now, I hope this has given you some good food for thought.

Thank you

This assessment of the current hiring landscape wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of many of my LinkedIn contacts. A special mention to the following whose experiences and expertise were especially important for this piece of work:

Chris Maurice, Chair of the Diversity & Inclusion committee at The SR Group

Essie Russell Butler, Global Talent Acquisition at ERB Consulting

Christina Lambi, Diversity & Inclusion consultant for The Law Society

Tony McCaffery, Founder of Diversity Scotland

Jo Sweeney, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Manners Maclean Group


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