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Positive Discrimination: Positively Good for Business

By March 21, 2013No Comments

Due to your usual blogger currently schmoozing his way around Christchurch, blogging responsibility has again fallen to me for another week. Please note that there was no mention of this in my original position description.

My twitter feed this week as been alive with talk of gender equality, with BNZ recently being awarded the Inaugural UN Women’s Empowerment Principles “Benchmarking for Change” Award.

Admittedly not the snappiest awards title ever, but essentially an acknowledgement of their success in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. A big “well done” to BNZ for an incredible achievement; they were one of only five award-winners globally. BNZ’s CEO Andrew Thorburn dispels the notion that this was an exercise in political correctness, instead stating that increasing the ratio of women at management level “simply makes good business sense”.

In practical recruitment terms, BNZ now ensure that there are female candidates on every shortlist, and it would seem from the above that the policy is working. At the time of writing, I’ve yet to hear back from BNZ regarding the mandatory gender testing process, but I’m assuming it’s pretty strict.

Personally, I see the logic in this; every big corporate I’ve worked with has benefitted from a diverse management team. However, would I feel the same if I was a jobseeker perceiving myself to be on the losing end of what is essentially positive discrimination?

BNZ are not alone in this. Previously, I’ve worked with a client who unofficially informed me that 50% of candidates presented to them must be male. I’m assuming that the other half should be female, but I’m a broadminded guy who’s travelled extensively in Thailand, so it’s open to interpretation.

Perhaps there is an argument for applying the same principles to recruitment within our own industry. Recruiting for Recruitment Agencies, we recognise that a number of our clients like to recruit candidates with a certain “look”. It’s naïve to think that this certain “look” isn’t in some way connected to gender, age, and perhaps, dare I say, ethnicity.

If we focus purely on age, the majority of candidates we place into recruitment agencies are aged between 25 and 32. Are these the golden years for an agency recruiter, or do these comparative youngsters just look better in a suit? Working as a recruiter in London, we used to wonder what happened to recruiters on their 30th birthday. Perhaps turned into glue like an old nag?

It also seems clear that in most cases, the candidates us recruiters place are older than ourselves. Being a sprightly 31, this is certainly true for me. In my case they’re also female. It makes sense that a more seasoned (maybe female) recruiter would build rapport faster, have more life and work experience, and possess more candidate/client credibility  than I currently do. They’d also probably bill more money. Likewise, most of my clients are typically mid-40s. Fingers crossed that it will become easier for me to do business with these clients as I reach middle age, as I’ll probably need the cash to pay for the second-hand Porsche and younger mistress by then. My partner reads this and yes dear, I am joking.

The highest biller I’ve ever worked with was an unassuming fifty-something mother of three. Whilst the younger members of the team lorded it around the office talking loudly into our Nokia 3310s, she worked respectfully and diligently (mostly from home), and had both candidates and clients queuing up.

So what do you think? Should we start positively discriminating so that our staff better mirror the demographic of our clients and candidates? Or does effective recruitment in a tough market require the brash energy of youth?

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.