Abi Pattenden, Manager of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors
Throughout 2020, a campaign called EachforEqual will be looking at what everyone can do to work towards equality for women and ensure the benefits of this equality are widely understood. This is the theme for International Women’s Day, which takes place this week. Freeman Brothers’ Manager, Abi Pattenden, shares her thoughts on how, as a recruiter for a responsible company, she can play her part in a business context.
There are lots of ways that companies can ensure they try to make their recruitment accessible and ensure the roles they create and the terms and conditions (such as pay- which is a place where equality for women and many minorities is not yet occurring) which underpin them are suitable for everyone.
One of the key ways in which we do this at Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors is by deciding the terms and conditions for a role before the recruitment starts. This can be very straightforward if you have others in the same role and so earning the same salary – you simply replicate this for the new recruit. When you are creating a new role, more work is required. You have to look at the skills you are trying to find in an applicant, the place the role takes alongside the rest of the workforce and use your best judgement to work out the right terms for the role. Job recruitment websites are also good for this purpose, as you can search similar roles which might attract similar applicants and view the salaries they offer.
As a recruiter, you also have to consider other factors about the role which may have a bearing in pay. Creation of part-time roles can be difficult, particularly if you do not have a full-time equivalent role that simply enables you to pro-rata the pay. Some aspects of a role may attract an inherent ‘uplift’ in salary to recognise a potential lack of desirability – for example, night work often pays better than an equivalent role during the day. However, you must be careful to ensure that the reasons for paying different rates are due to genuine differences in the role. Some retailers (such as Asda) have found themselves in difficulty due to paying warehouse staff, broadly men, more than shop floor staff, broadly women. So far the differences between these roles have not been found to be substantial enough.
At Freeman Brothers we always advertise a role at a certain, specific salary, so applicants understand what the pay will be. This is useful for both applicants and employer for several reasons:
- It means you don’t determine the wage dependent on your perception of the successful candidate. This protects you from unconscious bias
- It means the applicant doesn’t have to ask the salary, which can be awkward in an interview (it’s well known that some recruiters feel that people who ask about the wage are not wanting the role for the right reasons, and so some people are worried about asking this question)
- It means you are less likely to find your ideal applicant is not willing to accept the role at the salary you have in mind, and potential applicants don’t spend their time and effort applying for a role only to find they can’t accept it because the salary doesn’t meet their needs
Unconscious bias is very difficult to deal with, not only because – as the name implies – you are unaware of it, but also because our prejudices (both positive and negative) are often deeply ingrained. Our biases not only affect our decisions but also our expectations. For example, if you advertise a role where the hours are Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 2.00pm, and you assume that women are the main caregivers of children, you might expect that people who apply for the job will be women who have child(ren) of school age, and so are therefore likely to be in their twenties to early forties. When you get applicants from this sector, this confirms your assumption and your biases may consider only those people as ‘suitable’. However, there might be plenty of male, or older, or younger applicants, who would find these times ideal for a wide variety of reasons. One of these might actually be your best candidate. Objective criteria ensure that the best candidates are selected for interview and ultimately given the job.
This is much easier for larger companies who can have online application processes. They can then split the demographic information on candidates from the questions they have been asked to complete or tasks they have had to perform. Interviews can be carried out by different people, and it’s far easier to have a panel of interviewers. More than one interviewer may be intimidating for an interviewee but makes it far less likely that biases will come into play when decisions are made.
However, there are things a company of any size can do to try to ensure they get the most suitable candidates. You should have a clear idea of what the requirements are for the role, and these should be placed in the advert and then looked for in the sifting process. One of the things I find useful is to have a few key criteria in mind for the role and grade all applicants a mark out of three for these. The same can be said of interviews. It’s important to ask everyone the same questions and to grade their answers.
Once an employee has begun working for an employer it is also easy for unfair practices to creep in. At Freeman Brothers, we don’t have pay bands. These are generally not a good idea as you can end up with people carrying out the same roles but earning different amounts. This is particularly relevant for women in the workplace as men tend to ask for pay rises more and also receive them when they ask. Requests for increases should ideally be weighed up against objective criteria, although this is harder for a business such as Freeman Brothers. In fields such as sales, clear measurable results make comparisons between staff easier, but then this is not helped if managers who decide pay increases are influenced by other factors such as an employee’s willingness to stay late, or come in at short notice, which can be harder for some than for others. Having a strong set of procedures in place – especially an Equal Opportunities/Access policy, is a must.
Recruiting people can be hard. I’m sure that some employers find thinking about equal opportunities difficult. However, there are obvious benefits to finding the best person for a role and this should be the ultimate aim of any recruitment or retention strategy. Thinking more broadly than about gender, there are other ways to ensure you are getting the widest pool of applicants. Consider advertising yourself as an Equal Opportunities employer. Becoming a member of something like the government’s Disability Confident Scheme, as Freeman Brothers has, shows a commitment to positive recruitment practices, which should reassure potential applicants regardless of their demographic.
Finally, recruiters should always be proactive in questioning their own biases and asking why they are looking for certain things. Do you really need one person to sit at a desk from 8.00am to 8.00pm, or can the job be done part-time, remotely, and/or by more than one person? The world of work is moving towards more flexibility generally for employees, but this is particularly true of hours and place of working. Desirable jobs attract more, better quality, candidates and those companies who embrace this will be rewarded by a loyal, committed workforce. As #EachforEqual implies, treating everyone equally benefits everyone.