Dave talks to… Cynthia Davis and Tobi Olowu

by in Talent Matters

Dave talks to Cynthia Davis and Tobi Olowu about why it’s ok not to know where to start on your D&I journey, why D&I doesn’t stop with a diverse hire, how post-pandemic working patterns opened up opportunities for diverse groups, why the D&I journey is ongoing, the importance of understanding intersectionality for true change and why D&I is vital for candidate attraction.

The One Where They Talk About…

In episode 215 of the Talent Matters podcast series, Wave CEO Dave Jenkins chats to Cynthia Davis and Tobi Olowu, diversity and inclusion trailblazers that are leading much-needed change when it comes to D&I in recruitment and workplace culture.

Having worked in the recruitment industry for over two decades, Cynthia founded Diversifying Group (formally BAME Recruitment) in 2015 and co-founded pro-diversity jobs platform diversifying.io in 2019 out of sheer frustration that not everyone had equal access to opportunities. Working in London, Cynthia noted that you’d step outside and see every group represented on the street but that wasn’t the case when you’d step into organisations. She has since dedicated her career to finding a way to bridge that gap, bringing together organisations that want a workforce that represents society with people that want jobs that simply aren’t networked to them. Tobi was drawn to the idea of helping to champion D&I in recruitment and is now an Account Executive at Diversifying. She is dedicated to supporting recruiters make their processes more inclusive and helping organisations tap into diverse talent pools.

It’s both an insightful and inspirational chat and is a must-listen for any recruiter looking to start or evolve their D&I journey. If you haven’t caught it yet we highly recommend you do. In the meantime, take a look at the key takeaways below.

It’s ok not to know where to start when beginning to embed D&I into your agency

It can be overwhelming as a recruitment agency owner to even know where to start when wanting to attract more diverse candidates but both Cynthia and Tobi are keen to impress that’s ok. Just wanting to make changes is a great place to start. It’s why Diversifying Agencies was founded, to give recruiters support and the tools needed to make the recruitment process more representative and inclusive. It’s a purpose-led careers platform where people can find jobs through inclusive recruitment agencies and where agencies can connect and tap into a diverse community.

Why D&I needs to be end-to-end

An organisation’s D&I journey doesn’t end with recruiting people that look different to you. The environment they’re coming into also needs to be inclusive. The culture needs to be addressed too – does it allow diverse groups to succeed, thrive and grow? If an organisation’s culture isn’t inclusive, you won’t retain diverse talent and diverse candidates won’t want to work there in the first place. This is why it’s so important to have a diverse workforce from entry level all the way to the top – a company’s leaders also need to reflect the workforce and customer base.

How post-pandemic working practices opened doors to under-represented groups

The change in people’s working patterns post-COVID has hugely impacted D&I and allowed businesses to open up their talent pools more. Pre-pandemic, if a candidate wanted more flexible working patterns, even requesting just one day a week from home, many organisations flat-out refused. All that changed when we were forced to work remotely and companies realised that not only did it work but that there were huge benefits to it, including the ability to tap into talent that would have remained out of reach. Remote and hybrid working has allowed people with disabilities to do great work and be more productive. It’s opened up more talent pools as it’s brought people back into the world of work that would have otherwise considered it not effective for their lifestyle. Geographical locations need not be a barrier anymore. It’s opened up more avenues for people who for so long were excluded from the workforce. What’s important is that we don’t lose the connection that is so easy when in-person but that is absolutely doable. Companies simply need to adopt ways of working and make those changes fit for purpose.

The evolution of the understanding of D&I is ongoing

Trying to get organisations to think differently about their recruitment processes and workforce make-up eight years ago when Cynthia founded Diversifying Group was difficult as people simply weren’t talking about D&I much. Any conversations that were had centred around gender as people felt more comfortable and aligned with that. Other protected characteristics got overlooked. The murder of George Floyd proved to be a catalyst for change. Cynthia calls it a ‘moment of realisation’ for companies that they had long overlooked multiple communities. There was a huge awakening of organisations looking at D&I through a different lens. As a society, we’re now talking about menopause policy, the trans agenda, ageism, and other issues that simply didn’t get talked about three years ago. Cynthia now has businesses coming to Diversifying needing help with putting together policies for menopause or for wellbeing – neither of which were talked about before. The understanding of diversity has continued to evolve.

Intersectionality needs to be acknowledged and addressed for true change

Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalise people. D&I doesn’t only apply to certain groups – there are a huge number of under-represented communities that need help and it’s been a slow realisation that people can fall into multiple groups, with multiple protected characteristics. Cynthia gives herself as an example, pointing out that gender inclusivity (which itself has a long way to go) doesn’t necessarily benefit all women – as a woman who is also black and a mother, she faces more barriers because of the different characteristics that make her who she is. The challenge for organisations is working out how to support and be inclusive of every element that represents a person.

D&I has become essential for successful recruitment

It isn’t just professional advocates that are fighting for more diversity and inclusion in recruitment processes and the workplace – employees and candidates are demanding this change. Active D&I policies are no longer a nice-to-have but a must-have to survive and be relevant today. Diversifying has candidates turning down job offers because there’s no mention of health and wellbeing, childcare, flexibility, and so on. If you’re not acknowledging and supporting the different aspects of people’s lives, you’re not an attractive employer. It has become business critical to show D&I in action and not just a D&I policy on your website.

And finally, the all-important foodie question: how would you show guests a good evening?

Tobi – “I’m not a cook so I’d take my guests out. There’s a great Turkish restaurant called Tarshish that has a nice atmosphere, good music, fab customer service, and delicious cocktails.”

Cynthia – “I love cooking for people, in fact I’ve been told I’m a feeder! I’m of African heritage and love cooking African food. I’d serve up grilled boerewors, a traditional South African sausage, with  white maize that you can dip into sauces. I might even throw in some oxtail with a nice gravy!”

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