Inclusive recruitment processes at all levels are essential if the financial services industry is to realise its ambitions around hiring diverse teams who stay with businesses and thrive during their time as employees. This, of course, requires that the organisation promotes and nurtures an inclusive culture.
As an experienced head-hunter covering the industry, this is a topic that is close to my heart. In a sign of its importance to the industry, inclusive recruitment is also now the focus of a busy working group organised by the Diversity Project, an initiative that we have been involved with since its launch in 2016. The working group has many initiatives in the pipeline, covering recruitment at entry-level, executive and board-level.

Given the huge range of roles for which the industry recruits and the variety of ways in which firms seek to attract and secure talent, the ways in which inclusive recruitment processes are and will be run in future vary widely. Companies are trialling methods such as anonymising CVs – removing all gender and background data – in order that no judgements can be made prior to interview around age, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Going even further, one company was described as having sought ‘soft skills only’ in relation to certain requirements, leaving aside the need for any level of technical knowledge. It is difficult to imagine this working across all roles, given how complex the industry can be within certain niches, but the results of these efforts were nevertheless described as promising.

As founders of a specialist search firm, my team and I feel a sense of responsibility to help individuals develop their careers and to improve the financial services industry through our activity. We specialise in coverage of the governance, regulatory and controls functions, placing leadership-level talent across the compliance, risk, audit and finance functions, and our mission statement is to enhance the stability, resilience, and fairness of the industry. We also have a Board Practice, which gives us a complementary view of hiring and decision-making at this level. The consideration of inclusion and diversity factors underpins our research, networking, candidate engagement and client reporting, and we are not unique in this.

Judging by our participation in the above-mentioned working group, this is clearly being taken seriously by the recruitment industry as a whole, on behalf of both clients and their present and future employees. Based on our work and experience, please find some suggestions as to how to ensure an inclusive hiring process is run in practice.

  • Ask your search firm detailed questions: We expect our clients to ask us why diversity and inclusion matters to us and to the industry, what inclusion means to us, and how we act on this in carrying out our work. Ask your search firm what credentials they hold in this arena, and how they engage in the debate. Your recruitment or search partner should be able to talk about what they are actively doing when it comes to I, E&D and crucially, how they embed this into their work. At Halsey Keetch, we don’t see inclusion and diversity as boxes that can be ticked; we set an intention to enable inclusive search processes before commencing every assignment and this way of thinking infuses our processes. Executive-level recruiting is challenging enough at the best of times but acknowledging and paying heed to this element of our mission is motivational, especially when enabling truly inclusive hiring processes is demonstrably the end result.
  • Trust the ‘process’: Once you have selected your search partner, take their advice and so far as is possible, follow and trust the search process. Typically, a retained search mandate will be managed to certain timescales, with reporting and client meetings at each stage of the project. At HK, we present a longlist / talent map after three weeks and the shortlist after a further three weeks (six weeks in total), and then manage the interview process through to the hiring outcome in close partnership with our clients. In our experience, it is hugely beneficial to stick to a framework, meet shortlisted candidates close together, provide feedback in a structured and well-organised way, and otherwise do everything possible to maintain momentum. This helps to ensure that all involved are considered in a similar way to each other, have the same opportunities to engage with the search process, and are treated in a fair and reasonable way.
  • Ensure a diverse interview panel is in place (and that all involved are informed and respectful of the process: This sounds simple and as though it would be standard but in our new ‘hybrid’ working world, this is easier said than done. Zoom calls and Teams meetings are no longer a novelty and many senior professionals have back-to-back virtual meetings each day. This can mean that a critical stage interview for an important hire can feel like ‘just another meeting’. As a consequence, the attention paid to curating a diverse interview panel of thoughtfully selected stakeholders, who clearly understand the search mandate, have detailed information on each candidate and who show up well-briefed and ready to engage in the interview, is compromised. It is essential that this aspect of each hiring process is carefully considered and that all interviewers go the extra mile to ensure that each potential candidate has a positive and similar experience where possible.
  • Consider the importance of a recruitment ‘ally’: Having a neutral person instructed to check in with key stakeholders can be extremely valuable. Verifying that the recruitment or search firm is doing what it needs to do – providing detailed research on the talent market and providing diverse shortlists where possible – can help ensure that I, E&D is a priority throughout the lifecycle of the recruitment process. Equally, having that same individual check in with the search firm to see if the process is being run well on the client side – that candidate experiences are positive and in line with organisational values – can be hugely catalytic of inclusive recruitment outcomes. This ally can coordinate and communicate honest and transparent feedback and address issues in ‘real time’, rather than after the process has concluded.
  • A note on data reporting and analysis: We ensure that we provide reporting and analysis of as much diversity data as we can gather, across all aspects of our work. For example, within the boundaries of GDPR, we analyse the lists we collate of recent moves in certain markets and the longlists of potential options for a given role, discussing our findings with our clients after an initial phase of research. Analysing the data as well as we are able throughout the process allows us to keep clients posted on observations we are making and allows them to interrogate us. Are we being thorough enough? What trends are we seeing? Are we being creative enough, within the boundaries of what the client needs in relation to a particular hire? Are we missing a chance to offer an exciting career opportunity to someone from a minority group, who would in turn infuse the client organisation with a cognitively diverse outlook? Where else might we look? Our clients look to us for answers, but can often provide us with useful guidance, if they are willing and able to work with us collaboratively. Equally, our analysis shows us all where more work is needed to develop diverse talent pools, across certain disciplines at certain levels.
  • Diversity in practice: Working within the boundaries of a heavily regulated industry, looking for highly capable, in-demand leaders within functions such as audit, risk and compliance, there is often personal liability attached to the roles we are aiming to fill. We confess that diverse hiring outcomes are not always possible. However, every process educates us and our clients and allows for progress to be made through awareness. Whatever the outcome, each and every person involved in the search process – including the recruiter or executive search consultant – deserves to be treated with courtesy, represented accurately, and given clear and detailed feedback, whether successful in the process or otherwise.

Again, depending on where a firm is in relation to the above guidelines, an initial step can be to pause and reflect on how existing processes are managed, appreciating that the issue at hand is complex, but the steps towards progress can be simple. Applied consistently, and with determination, change in recruitment processes for the better (and more inclusive) can be achieved.

We are committed to contributing to progress in this area through our work. To speak to our team about how to manage inclusive search processes, whether you are a client or not, please contact us via We would be delighted to share our insights and knowledge with you.