Focus on strengths to uncover diverse digital talent

Daniel Edwards

By Daniel Edwards

As organisations compete for limited numbers of people with the right skillsets, the war for digital talent rages on.

The moral and business case for building a diverse workforce is well established. And there’s a growing appetite amongst organisations to look beyond the requirement for degree-level education towards diverse backgrounds when seeking digital talent. Despite new approaches in recruitment, from the use of behavioural assessments and gamification, to addressing unconscious bias in humans and AI, there’s still a surprising amount of bias in recruitment. In fact, research has found that 42 percent of employers do not use any strategies to actively reduce unconscious bias when recruiting. In addition, many minority groups are not attracted to, or in some cases aware of their potential for, a digital career. This results in reduced career opportunities for individuals, and a technical talent shortfall that organisations simply cannot afford.

So how can organisations attract the diverse digital talent they desire? There are three areas we believe leaders should focus on to succeed:

Re-imagine what ‘talent’ means

In our experience, high performers are differentiated by the personal strengths they apply to digital roles, for example, enjoying complex problems and an ability to recognise patterns in data. Though it may be desirable, a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Maths (STEM) degree does not automatically guarantee success in a digital role. As more young people weigh up the opportunity versus cost of completing a degree, many decide that the advantages higher education provides fail to stack up against the price of debt. And this is especially true of individuals from less privileged backgrounds. For example, according to the UK Government Social Mobility Barometer 2021 survey, 39 percent of the public think it’s harder for people from less advantaged backgrounds to move up in British society.

It’s important for organisations to profile candidates’ strengths against those necessary for the role. Strengths indicate an individual’s future potential to be successful in role, for example loving complex problem solving, and being energised by the future possibilities of offer an accurate prediction of how an individual will perform in a digital role. Many people may be unaware they have the strengths for a digital role and have never considered this as a viable career option. You don’t necessarily need a traditional technology-driven background to hold these strengths. Someone with the right strengths and a motivation to learn can acquire the technical knowledge they need to succeed in a digital role through blended learning solutions such as on-the-job training, mentors, and personal research.

When using a strengths-based approach to recruitment, it’s possible to significantly expand the digital talent funnel to candidates who have not progressed through the higher education system.

Engage and excite with your offer

Values, purpose, and a sense of personal investment in their career is critical to attracting high performers who are passively surfing new career opportunities – they need to be excited to move out of their current comfort zone. To attract diverse talent, your employee value proposition or ’offer’ needs to stand out. It’s no longer enough to sell candidates the dream role – the whole salary, benefits, career progression, and culture package needs to be correct. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to benefits, so a flexible package will attract a more diverse set of candidates.

It’s also important to showcase the roles on offer, and the benefits you offer, through a variety of non-traditional advertising routes to attract those from diverse backgrounds. We have seen organisations promote their roles in places such as TikTok, Mumsnet, cyber competitions, and at Pride events to widen their talent pool. However, potential applicants will not just be interested in your offer – they also want to see, throughout the hiring process, that you walk the talk when it comes to diversity and inclusion. This could include anything from your policies to your people.

Finally, adopt a collaborative approach

Gone are the days where employees completed their career with just one organisation. People want new and interesting challenges to develop their capabilities. The war for talent implies competition for high performing individuals – but collaboration with other organisations may be the better long-term strategy for this challenge. Whether it’s taking co-sourcing approaches to find talent where organisations share a recruitment campaign rather than competing, to supporting secondments across and between organisations, employees want access to a variety of experiences.

Supporting employees with their career path, even if it means them moving on from your organisation, is a sure-fire way to develop a strong relationship. Embracing the ‘zig-zag career’ and keeping in touch with former-employees could re-capture their interest at different stages of their working life. With this in mind, keeping in touch with and making the most of, alumni networks has never been so important. One senior re-hire can offset the investment of launching an online alumni platform, and your alumni population can actively help those choosing to explore potential career opportunities within your organisation.

The digital talent landscape has shifted. Organisations need to think more creatively and act more collaboratively to ensure a sustainable workforce. Without this mindset shift, organisations are unlikely to build the future digital workforce needed to fulfil their ambitions.

About the authors

Daniel Edwards
Daniel Edwards PA people and performance expert

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