"There was a lot of scepticism from potential applicants (from all backgrounds) regarding the selection process." Tromans

There are many people who quibble over diversity recruitment. Some argue for advertising in certain minority media and specialist websites. Others call for changes in the law that would allow them to fast-track under-represented groups.

 However, what no one would quibble with is the fact that employing a diverse workforce enables an employer to use a wider range of talents and skills which lead to greater innovation, networks and productivity. The people behind the retail banks’ creation of halal financial products are Muslim employees. Our supermarkets’ choice of products on their shelves isn’t necessarily to do with market research but diverse employees who know exactly what their different communities need. Minority groups have been in this country since the 1950s and market research never influenced such big changes in the past.

Similarly, recruiters have always existed in this country but have not managed to bring about diversity in their clients’ organisations. Most still don’t get it and don’t have the know-how or the relationships in the diverse candidate market.

However, there is an approach that works and if adopted correctly could produce real diversity results for employers.

The issues
In August 2008 an independent report by the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Lord Ouseley, found that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) had laid itself open to the charge of being institutionally racist.

Specifically a lack of ethnic minority employees at the SRA, particularly in management positions, and the absence of diversity expertise on the SRA management board itself meant that the SRA was neither representative of the legal profession nor those who complain about it.

In response the SRA’s Chair, Peter Williamson, commented that:

Among other things, we need, through enhanced recruitment procedures, to improve the diversity of the SRA’s people – both staff, particularly at senior levels, and its board and committee members.

Following failed attempts to recruit diverse candidates with regular consultancies, the SRA realised they needed to change how they recruit and Waterhouse Consulting, a specialist diversity headhunter, was retained by the SRA not only to recruit adjudicators on merit but also to address the diversity of their adjudicator pool.

In the case of the SRA adjudicators are board-level individuals who play a critical, front-line role in determining whether those lawyers brought before them have complied with SRA regulations, and must be seen to be unbiased, fair, and representative of those they judge. It is imperative that they and their decisions stand up to public scrutiny.

The Challenge
The challenge was to manage an inclusive campaign that would identify and motivate significant numbers of qualified, credible candidates so that the SRA could appoint purely on merit.

Various previous diversity recruitment projects have been unsuccessful because of a reliance on advertising, and we needed to go beyond simply attracting the ‘usual suspects’ that respond to advertisements to enable first-class appointments to be made.

Also, with the SRA having received so much negative press, we had to be prepared to address potential applicants’ assumptions and preconceptions about the SRA, and motivate individuals to apply – that the application process was fair and it was worth their investment of time, and that if they were successful the role was a worthy one.


The Approach
The approach was designed to capture maximum diversity, whilst the selection of a short-list would be based purely on talent.

We designed an inclusive advertisement to ensure all potential applicants would have the opportunity to apply. Furthermore we worked with the SRA to ensure that the selection criteria were set so that candidates who did not have experience of working within a regulatory environment, but still had the fundamental decision-making experiences, were able to put forward strong applications.

Rather than advertising in the costly Sunday papers a small advertisement was placed in the Law Society Gazette and on our own web site.

Using the resultant savings from the advertising budget we were able to proactively promote the roles and the SRA’s new mission and vision to diverse / minority candidates that are on our database (we have mapped the majority of diverse / minority talent in the UK) and those that we researched from scratch.

We received 350 applications of which the majority were from under-represented groups. Once all the applications were in we then rated the applications (ranking evidence of each required skill) and presented a long-list of the top 30 to the SRA board, who reiterated the selection-process to result in a short-list of 12 that were invited for interview.

The Difficulties
There was a lot of scepticism from potential applicants (from all backgrounds) regarding the selection process. There were concerns that the adjudicators had already been selected and that the advertisement was only a charade; there were also assumptions from other sections of the community that the positions would only be open to ‘one-legged, single mother, mixed-race, trans-gender lesbians.’

This goes to show the increasing lack of trust and confidence that candidates have nowadays in many public sector bodies. However, in order to ensure equal opportunities for all, the profiling information that we were required to collate (which would measure our success) was collected in a separate online exercise, and was entirely detached from the application. As the application form did not request details of an applicant’s age, gender, ethnicity, faith or lifestyle there was no way that application forms could be positively or negatively discriminated, consciously or otherwise.

Because of our reputation in the market, and through engaging personally with all the applicants that contacted us or requested information, we were able to explain how the selection process was managed and that selection was based purely on merit. As a result we had a very high strike rate amongst those individuals that we contacted actually applying for a role.

What was the success?

  • 70% of applicants derived from under-represented groups.
  • A highly qualified and credible shortlist of 12 candidates was presented for 5 roles.
  • The short-list was so strong that 6 adjudicators were appointed on merit, with 5 being from diverse under-represented backgrounds.
  • The project was delivered to the proposed time schedule with a 30% cost saving on similar historic projects.

The results were so impressive that it led their Director of Policy & Inclusivity, Mehrunnisa Lalani to comment:

Waterhouse delivered an excellent piece of work. The quality of all short-listed candidates was incredibly high, and enabled us to achieve our twin objectives of appointing outstanding adjudicators on merit, and ensuring that our adjudicators are representative of both the profession and the legal sector’s clients.

Analysis written by Andrew Tromans, Director of Search & Selection at Waterhouse Consulting Group.