Recruiting for Airport Diversity: Challenging Requirements

Editor's Note: As part of the Airport People Power series on New Airport Insider, Dan Parsons explored the benefits of discipline, development and diversity to getting the best out of people. In this article, developed in concert with Airport Talent, Dan takes a deep dive into the relationship between recruitment and diversity.

No business, including airports, operates in a vacuum. The environment in which each of us works is constantly changing. Competitive tension, evolving customer requirements and the ever-present stockholder expectations of growth and increased profit. This all comes together to put pressure on airport managers to do more with their limited resources, including people.

Then why would we limit ourselves to only a portion of humanity when it comes to building our teams?

What are generally considered the benefits of having a diverse workforce were outlined in my earlier article but actually getting a diverse workforce was only touched on in the diversity post. So let’s take a deeper look at recruitment and selection.

Diversity is often short hand for greater representation and better treatment of women in the workforce but it doesn’t just have to mean that. Gender diversity is vitally important as it represents one of the biggest ways we segregate our society but race, age, education and previous work histories are also diversity issues which managers of the future should consider.

A great case study, although fictional, in non-gender related diversity issues is the television show Suits. For those not familiar with the show, it follows the drama surrounding a New York City law firm after one of its partners decided to recruit someone against its stringent recruitment policy of Harvard graduates only*. While extremely entertaining to watch, I believe that the roller coaster ride depicted in this series is closely tied to a steadfast belief that their ongoing and future success was closely tied to a heavily restricted human resources pool.

To help us avoid the pitfalls experienced in this show, let’s go through a couple of ways we are currently restricting ourselves and how we might broaden our opportunities.

Challenge What You (think you) Want

Challenging our preconceptions was also a theme in the original article, so it’s not a surprise that it appears here again. In this case, we’re challenging what we think we require of our new recruit.

Many organisations carry standard requirements for positions. On the education front, they typically vary between levels of study, particular qualifications and sometimes, even specific schools or colleges. They sometimes also have requirements on specific experience including roles, time, and even, again, working with specific companies.

But why?

Reasonably, these requirements have probably evolved over time, based on the positive experience of the organisation. Previous good and outstanding team members serve as a good template of what leads to success and so, we look to copy them in our future recruitment drives.

So our job requirements become things like “a degree in management from a top 5 university” and “5 years experience in a Fortune 500 company” because they are easy to identify, to describe and assess against - you either have it or you don’t.

But we have missed the point of what it takes to succeed. While people are a product of their experience, that experience includes much more than their resume’s highlights. It was the job they did that made them a success. What is takes to do the job should be the focus of any job description.

What Got You Here, Might Not Get You There

I’m not a big fan of clichés but this one is a nice, short way of reminding ourselves that we can’t rely on history on its own to ensure our success in the future. As stated above, our environment is always changing - rules, technology, threats - and we need to grow, adapt to and change with it.

This is where recruiting for things like life-long learning, growth mindset and interpersonal skills becomes important. However, I can understand this is difficult to document and assess in potential team members during interviews.

But let’s talk about the job advertisement first.

Reading Between the Lines

Perhaps we skipped a beat above. What is wrong with advertising for someone with a specific degree and specific experience if that has worked in the past? Well, in addition to missing what matters in terms of individual performance, we are also creating a homogenous team - a team full of sameness.

As described in the earlier article, the benefits of a variety of experience, of a variety of viewpoints and of a variety of “soft” skills are what we are after. If we advertise for the same thing, we’ll get the same thing.

Even after we have figured out what our “requirements” actually are, we still need to be careful that the language in our job advertisement is open to all those that have to potential to succeed in the role. Our unconscious biases may work against us here with our choice in words sending signals to potential applicants that you have specific requirements that they don’t meet.

A second and diverse set of eyes can help you here. Asking a colleague to review a job advertisements for cues and signals that may discourage a diverse group of applicants to apply is a great way of weeding them out. Some organisations have gone so far as to mandate this step in their recruitment procedures.

Aligning HR with Your Objectives

While diversity is commonly a program driven by the Human Resources department, that doesn’t mean that each step or process within it has diversity in mind. One of the most essential steps in the recruitment process is the filtering done by a hiring manager’s HR business partner or recruitment consultant.

However, as a service provider, especially in the case of an external provider, this person wants to make the hiring manager happy and once they figure out how to do that, they are going to do it again and again - it’s only human. So, once they build a profile of the candidates you like, you can expect to get those candidates again.

Recently, this author wanted to inject some diversity into his operations team. On average, what had worked for the role was a 20-something male from the British Isles and that is what the labour hire agency** was on the lookout for and sent to the airport for work. But this is where our flawed memories as humans and the reasonable actions of the service provider to give the airport “what it wanted” worked to stifle diversity.

So, the labour company was challenged to send us some different people. Women especially but also different nationalities. Instead of using 20-something male as shorthand for fit, active and likes the outdoors, the requirements became fit, active and likes the outdoors.

In addition to being challenged, the labour company had to be assured that they wouldn’t be judged if these people didn’t work out. The purpose of the change of direction was explained. In addition to this, an important fact had to be acknowledged - not every 20-something male previously engaged at the airport had been a success. Not all of them like the outdoors (especially in -5 degrees C with sleet), some lacked self-motivation while others were distracted in their work.

Not all the new recruits were a success but on average, there were about the same amount of misses as under the previous process. The payoff will come when the broader perspective and talents of the team are needed to solve the next problem. And there is always a next problem.

To Be Continued...

With roles higher up in an organisation, further screening, vetting and assessment is required. But a discussion of these processes and how to carry them out with diversity in mind will have to wait for the next article.

Diversity is a great topic to discuss. No one has the definitive perspective and a variety of viewpoints are the objective. So, please leave a comment below and get involved. It’s even okay to challenge!

* He also violated that the requirement that his candidate be a lawyer.

** A labour hire agency provides a client company with workers either for the short or long term. These workers are not employees of the client company but hired out to the them. The labour hire agency maintains the employee payroll.

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