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Ambition's diversity arm adds revenue stream

This article was originally featured in Shortlist on 1st December 2016.

Technology and finance specialist Ambition is reporting tangible benefits from adding a specialist diversity arm to its business.

Ambition's diversity consulting services, headed by Diana Hewitson, is now a drawcard for large clients seeking to diversify their workforces and adding to the group's revenue, CEO David Bamford says.

It also puts Ambition ahead of the pack when tendering for business, he told Shortlist.

"I'm noticing more and more there's a specific section [in tender briefs] dedicated to 'what do you do around diversity and inclusion and how will you help us achieve that target?'. That wasn't there three years ago."

The dedicated service helps Ambition overcome what is a common problem in recruiting for diversity, which is that many recruiters simply reshuffle candidate shortlists to meet diversity quotas for clients.

But failing to change "what happens at the supply level" weakens meritocratic hiring, says Bamford, so Ambition is addressing this issue with better talent pool development.

"As long as you've done enough at the [candidate] supply level, you can shortlist in equal balance naturally, without needing to force it."

Any organisation can recruit for diversity, but that doesn't mean new hires will be "retained, engaged, or developed", Bamford says, and this has inspired Ambition to expand into post-hire services to clients, by partnering with 25 specialists in the diversity space.

Some organisations, for example, find they can't simply initiate a diversity recruitment drive without working on their employer brand first, so Ambition consults with them for this purpose.

Cultural changes

Ambition's diversity arm has also triggered internal changes within the company's culture, says Bamford.

More often than not in the recruitment industry, "an uneducated workforce of recruiters will roll their eyes when a client says 'we need X type of candidate' if it makes their job harder as a recruiter", he says.

"Bringing in someone to focus on our diversity and inclusion desk has played a really big internal role about getting our consultants to understand exactly why clients are doing this."

The biggest obstacles for diversity recruitment are ones of bias, Bamford says.

People like to recruit candidates in their own image and this is a natural bias, he notes, so a recruitment company without a diverse workforce can perpetuate a lack of diversity.

Unless someone breaks the circuit and devises an interview methodology from start to finish to overcome unconscious bias, they can end up contributing to the problem, he says.

Dealing with client resistance

It can be difficult to convince clients they should focus more on inclusion and diversity in their recruiting, Bamford says.

"There's only so much pushing back you can do to somebody before they say, 'we'll just use another recruiter'," he notes, so Ambition trains its consultants to challenge clients' assumptions about what they need.

"But they've got to come on that journey before you're fighting a battle that you can't [win] as a service provider."

For consultants, learning how to challenge clients in this way contributes to their self-development, says Bamford.

He notes diversity recruitment strategies are typically focused on long-term shifts in awareness more than immediate targets, especially as other factors such as government policy also play a significant part.