This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the whole pictureof EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.

There are a variety of ways to diversify your workforce and enable those from underrepresented groups to get the experience they need to get on the career ladder and progress successfully. These include graduate recruitment schemes, apprenticeships and internships. 

Recruiting graduates differs from overall employee recruitment, as candidates are less likely to have previous employment experience under their belt. It is ironic, in my view, that as a University we don’t have a consolidated or consistent approach to graduate recruitment! We have a great 2-year rotational scheme in our IT department that aims to develop graduates’ IT and business skills and experience and has proved very successful. I really find it hard to understand why we don’t have more of this across the university and will devote some time to exploring this over the coming months. 

In general, new graduates are highly ambitious, eager to impress in their first career role, and have high expectations of their managers to support and actively sponsor their career. Targeted graduate recruitment as part of a recruitment strategy can enable a focus on creating greater diversity in areas where there are the greatest gaps. This can positively increase the number of BME graduates entering employment through graduate recruitment, which subsequently impacts the talent pipeline. 

A targeted approach could include using higher education ethnicity data, looking at universities with better BME representation. With our 17,900 undergraduates making up just over 60% of the student population, King’s is in an excellent position here, and, with our Careers and Employability Department, we should be thinking about how to maximise this competitive advantage. 

In addition, the implementation of  cross-organisation schemes, in which BME graduates spend a few months in each department, provides greater exposure across an organisation’s activity and can help those who are joining the workforce to evaluate where their strongest skills lie. The Civil Service is very good at this and has several schemes for graduates under the umbrella of the Civil Service Fast Stream (this is how I started my career). This lays the groundwork to help new entrants succeed in their future careers, providing opportunities at an early career stage for valuable leadership insights across a range of environments. 

All recruitment, and particularly graduate recruitment, requires care and attention. Employers should already have good quality data on their workforce and collect data on  new graduate employees so that they can track them as they progress. (See my blog The Drive for Data). This helps organisations to understand the rewards for their investment and provides insight into what other future targeted interventions are needed. 

Historically, many graduate schemes have suffered from the built-in biases we are all aware of. Any future schemes need to be designed and operated carefully, seeking to identify and minimise bias at each stage of the recruitment process and ensuring that, once in an organisation, all individuals are treated fairly and given equal opportunities to succeed and thrive. 

Apprenticeships were historically a method for developing a new generation of practitioners in a trade or profession, through training that is done on the job, accompanied by formal study. They are increasingly attractive as individuals prefer to get hands-on work experience and not build mountains of student debt.

There is significant under-representation of BME apprentices in some industry sectors with higher earnings potential, such as engineering and science. Therefore, organisations have a crucial role to play in redressing this imbalance and ensuring that women, disabled, or queer people, BME and other marginalised groups are not discouraged from taking up apprenticeship opportunities.

Employers can do this by encouraging applications for apprenticeships from under-represented groups and scrutinising the reach of their recruitment strategies – asking themselves, how might these reach a wider audience? They can and should review recruitment and selection criteria to ensure they don’t exclude or discourage under-represented groups. They can go further and consider giving all atypical applicants who meet the minimum selection criteria an interview, and using positive action to address under-representation (see my blog on ‘Targets, Quotas and Money’). Organisations have also seen success by targeting information at parents of young people from disadvantaged groups to help address their under-representation.

Targeted Internships or Work Experience Internships are career-based learning experiences that involve real world” work environments and expectations. Taking a targeted Internship approach can help address underrepresentation or experience gaps. To make this meaningful and effective, an organisation would need to consider how to structure these programmes and also provide experiences that enable interns to learn about the tasks of their work but also learn to navigate environments and build networks. It is important that Interns are recruited in an open and fair process. Internships should not be nepotistic; they should be a serious part of an organisation’s hiring pipeline. The Civil Services award-winning diversity internship programmes, including the Early Diversity Internship Programme and the Summer Diversity Internship Programme, are good examples.

It is important to treat people as individuals and place a positive value on diversity – not to be seen to be ticking a box or tokenising. Equality is about fairness in society, where everyone can participate, and have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. So whether it is interns, apprentices or graduate recruits, there is a need to ensure equal access to opportunities to fully participate in the learning process, to treat everyone fairly, and equip both managers and learners with the skills to challenge inequality and discrimination in their work/study environment.

The coronavirus crisis has illustrated how embedded and ingrained Vision 2029 is at Kings, prompting an extraordinary short-term realignment across our five strategic priorities of Education, Research, Service, London and Internationalisation. The institutions immediate response demonstrated our immersion in the concept of service, and the strength of our partnerships in our local London boroughs– and with Cornwall, through the extended community of Kings Service Centre. Our academic strategies for education and research have been adapted swiftly and imaginatively so that our students can continue to receive a world-class education under dramatically changed circumstances, and our research continues to thrive and make a major national and international impact. Kings people have responded creatively and pragmatically, adapting to challenging circumstances while continuing to deliver at the highest level. Our increased reliance on technology is just one example of how our professional services capabilities, and the expertise of our professional services staff, are fundamental to success. Overall, as we have shaped our route to recovery, the effect has been to accelerate, rather than defer, our commitment to Vision 2029.

As someone who has benefited from a graduate recruitment scheme, starting my career in the Civil Service Fast Stream, I have a real enthusiasm for them. Without a doubt this scheme gave me a start and professional grounding that has stood me in good stead throughout my career. Equally, as the only brown girl of that group, and the last to get promoted, eventually finding myself leaving to get the recognition I deserved, I fully recognise their limitations in a world in which structural inequalities persist.