The importance of diverse hiring

Who remembers Andrew Sabisky? Admittedly 2020 has had its fair share of unusual events and happenings but maybe the name still rings a faint bell.  Way back in February 2020, almost in another world when COVID-19 was not the subject of every newscast, Sabisky enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame. Or rather, infamy.

Andrew Sabisky had been hired as part of a recruitment drive by the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor, Dominic Cummings, that became famous for its objective to hire ‘weirdos and misfits’ (his words not mine) who were going to offer diverse thinking to the government and bring new ideas.  Unfortunately for Sabisky, journalists quickly discovered some of the alleged past remarks that he had made on subjects such as eugenics and compulsory contraception.  Sabisky promptly resigned and has not been heard from since.

But setting aside the emotive language used (probably deliberately and provocatively by Cummings in his blog where he announced the recruitment drive), is the subject of diverse thinking in hiring worthy of more careful consideration?  You do not need to look very far in the recruitment world to see many examples of carefully curated criteria which adhere to the model which can be summed up as ‘Let’s do more of what we have done in the past, with the same sort of people we have always hired’.  The proxy often used for this rather clumsy message is ‘Prior experience of a partnership environment (control environment, industry sector etc) is preferred’.  What the weirdos and misfits drive was really about was questioning that notion; it was about suggesting that the traditional means of hiring of recruits from similar backgrounds and experience will only ever result in similar results in the medium term.  Whatever your views on Cummings, his belief that this was the case with the government and the civil service may well have currency further afield.

The problem with a candidate field that is socialised and accustomed to the nuances and prevailing ways of doing things in, say, professional services or the law, is that groupthink kicks in and there is no real cognitive diversity; by which I mean the differences in insight, manners of thinking and information processing models of the world that can produce real breakthrough thinking.  In sectors like professional services and the law, innovation and the ability to effect strategic change are now, more than ever, critical competencies to acquire and firms must redouble efforts to hire people who can creatively and quickly question models, challenge monolithic systems, analyse data and forecast outputs in a way that has rarely been done effectively in the past.  The consequence of hiring candidates who can do this well is that some of those people will, undoubtedly, make some partners feel uncomfortable.

There is an onus here on the recruitment sector itself.  As suppliers of candidates, all too often recruiters fish familiar waters and, unsurprisingly, come up with similar candidates in terms of experience, background and cognitive processing.  Clients should be more demanding of their suppliers and require them to search where they have not searched in the past, look for new sources of talent and use sophisticated selection techniques that will help give Firms real insight into the candidates with whom they are presented

All of this, of course, must be allied to careful due diligence procedures and a degree of confidence that cognitively diverse candidates are also people with whom others can work and feel comfortable.  These remain vital considerations.  But at a stage of the professional and legal services market in which delivery will have to be very different than it has historically been, more effective innovation, more accurate decisions and more creative ideas are just as important. And, to achieve those goals, maybe Firms need to promote diversity, in all its forms, forcefully to the top of their hiring agenda.

Steve Lee, Partner, Aretai LLP

October 2020

  • Consulting
  • Executive Search
  • Legal Services
  • Professional Services

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