After studying to be a fashion designer, Cynthia Davis went into the recruitment industry. 18 years later she founded Bame Recruitment. We talked about her drive to help organisations become properly diverse and inclusive, and how we can all help.
When she first started working in recruitment, Cynthia Davis took a good look around her office. “Out of 120 recruitment consultants,” she says, “Only five of us were women. And I was the only Person of Colour. I’m not talking about the office staff, or the receptionists, or the kitchen staff. I mean the actual consultants working in the business areas.”
This, Cynthia says, was the story of her life. “No matter what organisation I worked in, there were never many people who looked like me working in similar positions. Lots of times I faced barriers in my career and, when I wanted to move up the ladder, the only way for me to move up was to move out.”
The diversity data
Cynthia started asking other people about their experiences. “I found that it wasn’t just myself. A lot of people who had similar backgrounds to me, who came from ethnic minority backgrounds, or from other, under-represented backgrounds had similar issues. So, I started looking at organisations more closely. What are the demographics at different levels?” Once Cynthia started delving into the data, it became clear to her that a lot of organisations aren’t as diverse as they think they are. “While there are loads of people who look like me at a certain level, once you start going up the hierarchy, numbers reduce. You’re lucky if you get one or two higher up.”
“I’m a great believer,” she says, “in being part of the change that you want to see. You can’t expect everyone else to change things for you so you can just enjoy the benefits!”
Cynthia realised that her recruitment experience, excellent market knowledge and work with diversity networks could enable her to make a difference.
Keeping diverse talent
“The gap in the market is at mid to senior level,” she explains. “Organisations can spend lots of money getting the grads in, getting them through amazing internships and programmes. It’s fast-forwarding their careers, six or seven years later that’s the problem. The pool of diverse candidates shrinks, or even disappears.”
She set up Bame Recruitment to address that market. The company specialises in recruitment, diversity and inclusion at mid-to-senior level. “We help organisations build that talent pool, so they can encourage growth further up and ensure they are more diverse and reflective of the society we live in.”
Cynthia’s company works to help clients look at organisational structures and processes to identify and remove blocks to diversity. “We ask how they promote people within the business. How do they retain them? How can they support diversity and inclusion by putting in processes that allow people to stay with, and grow in the company?”
“The problem is,” she explains, “no matter what you do to bring people into your organisation to increase diversity, if the culture, policies and practices aren’t there to support them, they will leave. You have to address that before you start bringing in diverse talent, otherwise you just end up going round in circles. So, how do you celebrate, support and promote disabled people? People with different religions? Different nationalities? People with different sexual orientations? How do you make everyone feel comfortable within the working environment so that they can be their true selves at work? If your company is not set up for that, it doesn’t matter how brilliant a candidate is, they won’t stay.”
Collect the right data
Collecting the right data is key. “That way you can say ‘this is the journey we are on, this is the breakdown of who we have, and now we need to move that up a notch by a certain date and this is how we’re going to do it.’ You can also track your progress, and use evidence of your progress to attract and keep more diverse talent.”
Conversely, without that data, it’s possible you’ll have a false impression of how diverse and inclusive your organisation is. “I’ve had clients tell me that their company is very diverse,” says Cynthia. “’Look around the office.’ And I have to point out how that’s just support staff. That’s people on reception or security. Then I ask them for the stats in terms of their senior partners and directors. You can actually see them thinking, ‘oh, all right, when you ask like that, you put it in a different way’.”
Barriers to diversity and inclusion
“Sometimes,” says Cynthia, “the biggest barriers can be getting that buy-in from the top people. HR get it, but if the top team – the people who are making the strategic decisions – haven’t bought into what you’re trying to do around diversity and don’t understand the benefits of it for the business, you’re fighting a losing battle.”
In some instances, senior managers and leaders simply don’t understand the issues. “They say things like ‘we’ve got a strong brand, people should want to work for us, therefore we’ve got no issue.’
Well, you might be a strong brand. You might be an iconic brand, but if people don’t see that you’re inclusive, or that you are open to people that are different, the perception that builds up around that brand, is that it’s for specific types of people. And, as you can imagine, that doesn’t only affect recruitment, but sales too. You can be limiting your market.”
Is your organisation properly diverse?
“A properly diverse and inclusive organisation,” says Cynthia, “reflects the society outside that organisation. It’s not just women, it’s not just men, it’s not just ethnicity. It’s different faiths, it’s different sexual orientations. It’s people that have different attributes that they bring in.”
3 steps anyone can take to improve diversity and inclusion
1. Create a network
Get together with people from different backgrounds. Not only people who look different to you, but also people who have different ways of thinking. Have a monthly catch-up to talk about what’s happening in the organisation, so you can all gain an understanding of how others are feeling.
2. Put together a calendar of different celebrations
Ask people to talk about their faith or culture and the celebrations they have on that particular day. Get everyone involved. You don’t need a budget for that!
3. Highlight the good diversity and inclusion work your company’s competitors are doing
Ask whether you can implement some of their practices in your own organisation to help reduce staff turnover.
Three steps that leaders can take to improve diversity and inclusion
1. Listen more
“Leaders need to listen to their employees. They need to listen to diverse groups of people and understand the issues they face, and ask what the organisation can do better to support them and make them feel more included.”
2. Support your organisation’s networks
“It’s one thing having a group of employees coming together in networks, but if they don’t have support or buy-in from the senior leaders, they’re sometimes seen as groups of people making trouble. So, leaders need to understand why that network exists, what its aim is. Sponsor the network, communicate its messages to the board and/or senior partners so they understand the employees they have from different backgrounds.”
3. Work closely with HR
“I know that sounds like the most obvious thing to do, but sometimes there’s a disconnect between what HR’s agenda is, and what the board’s agenda is around diversity and inclusion. And make sure the board have the data they need to really understand how diverse (or not) the organisation really is.”
About Cynthia Davis
Cynthia V. Davis is CEO and Founder of Bame Recruitment. She is an award-winning Diversity and Inclusion specialist with a passion for helping organisations to better reflect our diverse society.
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