This article explores measures that can be taken to encourage a diverse and inclusive recruitment process while recognising the professional challenges intersectional groups face in their work.

We spoke to three leading women to gain their insight on creating an inclusive culture: 

Nuzhat Ali is a National Health Improvement Lead for Public Health England and is also Chair for PHE’s Muslim Network Collaboration. She was awarded the inaugural Civil Service Championing Faith and Belief Inclusion Award in October 2019. 

Caroline Colistin is a member of the DWF Diversity Steering Group and CSR Leadership Group. 

Vicky Johnson is the President of the FDA, the trade union representing professionals and managers in public service. 

Across the EU, “women are underrepresented in positions of responsibility in all domains”, reports The European Women’s Lobby [1]. Women are still outnumbered by men in leadership positions in most fields. Of the FTSE 100, only 5% of CEOs are women. The FTSE 250 is even further behind, with just six female CEOs. [2] 

Women are discriminated against with regard to the wage gap, pregnancy, and motherhood. Along with this, they also suffer from a glass-ceiling effect, an invisible societal barrier that prevents women and minorities from being promoted in their careers. Women’s access to power and visibility, as far as their professional careers are concerned, is often limited [3]. 

Women with multi-layered identities are more vulnerable to discrimination 

The European Women’s Lobby report continued: “Not only Women from every group are at risk of poverty, but they are particularly vulnerable when facing other forms of discrimination” [1]. 

Intersectionality identifies discrimination to go beyond sex and gender, to recognise multiple forms of discrimination. These factors can include race, ethnicity, religion or belief, health, status, age, class, sexual orientation and gender identity. As emphasised by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee): “Discrimination on the basis of sex or gender may affect women belonging to such groups to a different degree or in different ways to men” [4]. 

Nuzhat says it is a lack of understanding of her faith that has been the most significant barrier to her career. “We are not all one woman,” Nuzhat argues. “We are all very different with our various intersections. It is important to recognise and support those women who may not receive the same opportunities that other women in society are.” 

Research conducted by CSI and the GEMM project echoes Nuzhat’s statements. The study made fictitious applications to nearly 3,200 real jobs, randomly varying applicants’ minority background, but holding their skills, qualifications and work experience constant. Their results concluded that ‘ethnic minorities needed to send 60% more applications in order to receive as many call-backs as the majority group’. Furthermore, the research also identified significant religious discrimination. ‘Employers were reluctant to invite any applicant originating from Muslim-majority countries, whether or not they disclosed their religion in the job application.’ [5]. 

So, what can we do? 

Caroline and Vicky provide key tips on what you can do as an employer to be more inclusive in your recruitment: 

  • Know your unconscious biases. We are always in danger of recruiting in our own image. Caroline recommends using the Harvard test to understand your implicit biases. Alternatively, Catalyst has just launched its own plugin, #BiasCorrect, which they describe as similar to ‘spellcheck but for gender bias’. They continue: ‘this equality tool helps users spot their own unconscious bias in everyday conversations and empowers them to actively work against it.’ [6] 
  • Understand how your recruitment process may favour a singular group. Adapt on what basis you recruit. Vicky discussed how she found that the way their recruitment tests were pitched resulted in women falling down at the analysis exercise stage. However, if women got through to the final stage, they tended to do better than men. So they increased the number of places in the assessment centre so they could invite more people. As a result, the diversity, at the end of the process, was much more equal 
  • Don’t bring suppositions to the table. This comes through the understanding and knowledge of other people. Adopting and reinforcing Diversity Charters will help acknowledge and address discrimination  
  • Educate employees. The Forgotten Women report recommends that employers should issue guidelines and organise training on women’s rights, and religious and cultural diversity in the workplace. They recommend specific focus is given to Muslim women in the workplace and the specific intersectional discrimination they may face. Nuzhat agrees, stating that ‘organisations must do more to increase faith literacy’. She argues that education and communication surrounding faith needs to be implemented at every level within an organisation 

We must continue to acknowledge diversity. Through acknowledging intersectionality, we can begin to understand the challenges an individual may face. To understand others, we must be educating ourselves on diversity, intersectionality, and the possible barriers that can arise in the workplace. Diverse employees bring different perspectives, experiences, and skills. Workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives help employees feel accepted and valued. Reports show that a diverse and inclusive team often leads to increased engagement, faster problem solving, increased profits, and reduced employee turnover. It is clear to see that it is in the company’s interest to be diverse and inclusive. 

[1] 2015. 20 years of the Beijing Platform for Action. A European Women’s Lobby review of the activities of the European Union. [Accessed 17/02/21]. 

[2] Makortoff, K., 2020. Lack Of Women In Top British Corporate Roles Persists, Study Shows. the Guardian. [online] [Accessed 17/02/21]. 

[3] 2016. Forgotten Women: the impact of Islamophobia on Muslim women. [online] [Accessed 17/02/21]. 

[4] General Recommendation 28. 2010. Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women. [online] [Accessed 17/02/21]. 

[5] Centre for Social Investigation (CSI). 2019. New CSI research reveals high levels of job discrimination faced by ethnic minorities in Britain. [online] [Accessed 17/02/21]. 

[6] Catalyst Unconscious Bias Plugin [online] [Accessed 17/02/21]. 

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