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Practitioner viewpoint

20 March 2023

Sometimes we don’t realise how apparently routine actions can impact other people’s lives, says Louise Ward.

SOME TIME ago I authorised promotion for a high potential person in my team. It was her dream job, but the timing wasn’t ideal, as she was about to go on maternity leave. However, we’d run a competitive process and she had performed far better than the other candidates, so we offered her the role, involved her in recruiting interim cover, and agreed a plan for her keeping in touch days that would allow her to feel in control of the role, and return with confidence at the end of her leave. This made absolute sense for the business. We’d appointed the best candidate, retained a someone identified as high potential, and promoted internally in line with company aspirations. Covering her maternity leave with an interim had no detrimental impact, in fact if we’d appointed an external candidate we’d have waited three months while they served notice, then spent three months getting them up to speed with the business. This way we had an experienced member of staff who could hit the ground running, and cover to ensure continuity.

I recently heard this story from the candidates point of view. At an International Womens Day event, she told delegates about the day that she’d been interviewed for her dream job by two confident female leaders, who had appointed her despite her imminent maternity leave, and allowed her to select interim cover, so that she was able to focus on her family without worrying, and return to work confident to grow into the new role. Her colleagues praised this empowered and forward thinking approach to enabling women achieve their potential in business. But at the time we were just making the best decision based on the facts. Gender and personal circumstances really didn’t feature in our decision making, we just chose the best person for the job.

There is a significant shortfall in the workforce at the moment. The recent budget focussed on encouraging people back to work, but actually I think the best thing we can do is focus on appointing the right person for the job, then work out what we can do to enable them to succeed.

I’m hugely uncomfortable with the concept of positive discrimination, but I do think that unconscious bias can so easily affect our decision making. If we can remove preconceptions from the recruitment process and judge each candidate based on their ability and potential, then I think we can make a real difference.

When someone is unsuccessful in a recruitment process do you offer them honest feedback? Or fob them off with a reply from HR? Good quality feedback is vital to development and helps to shape future performance. It’s not always easy, but if someone has taken the trouble to apply for a role and attend for interview, I think it’s only fair to help them understand how they could perform better in the future.

I recently met with an unsuccessful candidate. Initially he was quite hostile, but as I talked through the process and explained how he could have approached it differently, his demeanour changed, he took notes, asked questions and by the end was grateful for the experience. He later posted on LinkedIn that he’d adjusted his approach, and secured an exciting new job. It only took an hour of my time, but it made a significant difference to him, and I hope his post will empower others to ask for feedback in the future.

It’s easy to forget how small actions can ripple out to generate positive impact, but if we want to enable people to achieve their potential, then I think it’s important to focus on treating everyone as we would want to be treated ourselves.

Louise Ward is safety & sustainability director at G&W UK – Safety. For more information, visit www.gwrr.co.uk