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Ep 436: Diversifying Talent Pools

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Diversity in hiring is a critical issue for all employers, but many are still struggling with it. So who is doing it well, and how much of a role can recruiting technology play in diversifying talent pools.

My guest this week is Shaun Daly, Head of Resourcing at The Open University. Over the last few years, The Open University has been increasing the diversity of its organisation by rethinking how it does hiring, building an inclusive employer brand and deploying point solution technology which helps to enable these strategies.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Recruiting challenges at The Open University

• Operating with legacy systems

• Developing a compelling employer brand

• Anonymous recruiting and diverse interview panels

• Making the candidate experience more engaging

• Recruitment marketing automation

• Online events

• Talent pool segmentation

• Future innovations

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript:

Candidate ID (0s):
Support for this podcast is provided by Candidate ID, an iCIMS company. Candidate ID is an award-winning, marketing automation software built for talent acquisition. It enables recruiting teams to hyper target best fit, most engaged candidates with unique lead scoring and automated marketing campaigns. Candidate ID recently joined iCIMS, and together they’re redefining Recruitment marketing. Visit to CandidateID.com to learn more about transforming your talent acquisition strategy.

Matt Alder (53s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 436 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. Diversity in hiring is a critical issue for all employers, but many are still struggling with it. Who is doing it well and how much of a role can recruiting technology play in diversifying talent pools? My guest this week is Shaun Daley, Head of Resourcing at The Open University. Over the last few years, The Open University has been increasing the diversity of its organisation by rethinking how it does hiring, building an inclusive employer brand, and deploying point solution technology, which helps to enable these strategies.

Matt Alder (1m 41s):
Hi, Shaun, and welcome to the podcast.

Shaun Daley (1m 43s):
Thank you, Matt.

Matt Alder (1m 44s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Shaun Daley (1m 50s):
Brilliant. We’ll do, yes. I am Shawn Daley. I’m the Head of Resourcing for The Open University, which is the UKs largest university and is the leader in remote learning, in fact, the pioneer in remote learning, set up way back in 1969. I’ve only been here for three years, but it’s lovely to be here with you, Matt. Thank you so much for the invitation and great to connect with you, having worked with you some years back. It’s great to see how things come around.

Matt Alder (2m 20s):
Yes, absolutely. It’s brilliant to be talking to you again, and also fascinated in learning more about The Open University and how it recruits. You mentioned there a little bit about the organization and I’m imagining the nature of the way that you are structured and what you do shows up some pretty interesting recruiting challenges. Tell us about the recruiting challenges that you deal with.

Shaun Daley (2m 44s):
It does for sure. It’s been a real learning curve for me for three years as well because it’s the first time I’d ever worked in a higher education university setting. I had previously done some work with and had some clients in public sector, some local government, but coming into The Open University is just completely unique all on its own because it’s not like the other universities. We have over 200,000 students across all four nations of the UK and Ireland, but none of them actually come onto campus and study on a campus. They’re all remote distance learning students. That brings its own sets of challenges as well. Plus, being the institution that it is, being over 50 years old, being heavily unionized with a lot of staff who’ve been there a long time, also brings some challenges.

Shaun Daley (3m 34s):
Then, again, it’s got even more differences because not just being a distance learning provider, also, the reason we’re called open university is because we don’t have the same entry-level requirements that other universities have. What that means is it was really set up as a leveler so that people in society that wouldn’t traditionally go to university can get an education. A lot of our students would be people who perhaps didn’t get to go to university when they were younger. Maybe they’ve had a different career, going from one job to another, or maybe they’ve got involved in having a family and bringing up children.

Shaun Daley (4m 16s):
Then as a second chance, if you like, for education have gone back to education. Typically, our students study at less full-time, although that is changing a little bit now, and they will study whilst they’re learning. Sometimes that might take them 5, 10, 20 years to study. We therefore also target and try to support a lot of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, underprivileged backgrounds. We do some fascinating things with supporting students in all sorts of secure environments, from prisons and care system. We do some really amazing things. On top of that, as well as just being a provider of degree, diploma, and short course education, we are the largest provider of management apprenticeships in the UK.

Shaun Daley (5m 5s):
We train more nurses, for instance, on the job than any other organization. We do a lot of work with all the policing organizations as well. People may or may not know this, but if you look at things like the really famous blue planet, green planet, or those series with the BBC, we’ve had a 50 year production relationship with the BBC, whereby they do all of the production and we provide the academic research and expertise. We do all sorts of things, which make it really nuanced, really fascinating places, not one thing or another, so getting under the skin of what it is, how it operates, and how to do recruitment for that type of institution has been a brilliant and fascinating challenge for me.

Matt Alder (5m 53s):
I can imagine, and 50 years ahead of your time in terms of remote learning and remote work.

Shaun Daley (5m 59s):
Yes, but that’s an interesting point that you make there. Yes, The Open University is famed for innovation and being ahead of its time. I must admit that when I joined, probably my perception was that it was going to be a little bit more innovative and cutting edge than it was. The brand for students, and I think because of the alignment to things like the BBC is really, really strong. We’ve got 96% UK brand penetration. We’re an institution like the BBC. People know who we are and pretty much know what we do, but then of course, what you realize is you come in and you look under the bonnet, so to speak, and all is not necessarily what you’re expected to be. You then find out the aspects of the, the organization and the culture that are encumbered by being a 50 year old organization that’s perhaps not so open to change, certainly not in equal measures across everywhere.

Shaun Daley (6m 50s):
Then add onto that, I think, how do I phrase this? The university has, and at times, still innovative, but in a way, some of the innovation over the years has caused us our own problem in that we now operate off of a legacy of 350 built in-house board borrowed, stuck together just a bit falling over systems, and therefore that all needed replacing. We were underway with some massive transformation programs just as I joined so there was the ERP transformation, which was SAP. For us in people services or HR, the implementation of success factors, which was in the roadmap for when I joined in the first year, but I’m three years in and I’m hoping to restart the implementation imminently and implemented next year.

Shaun Daley (7m 41s):
That be nearly four years on from when I joined so trying to do this scale of recruiting without proper end-to-end joined up recruitment systems. That whole legacy infrastructure has been wildly, wildly challenging, but at the same time, where we’ve had to find work arounds and I’ve had to engage colleagues, they’ve had a real can-do attitudes to some of the suggestions that I’ve made.

Matt Alder (8m 7s):
That’s interesting. I want to dig into that and find a bit more about in terms of the things that you’ve done and the results that you’ve got. To start with though, let’s talk about brand, because you obviously mentioned that The Open University is a certainly an incredibly well-known and respected brand within the UK. What about the employer brand?

Shaun Daley (8m 29s):
Well, absolutely good pertinent question, because what I did find when I joined was that The Open University had always just recruited, no problem, but we had one way of doing it, the team, which is just put out adverts and in would come the applications. No real effort. Good direct sourcing, but supplemented by lots of agency hiring as well because perhaps the level of in-house capability and sophistication from a talent attraction and recruitment perspective wasn’t necessarily that high. When I engage with my Malcolm’s colleagues to get a better understanding of how this was all working, what I noticed was that they’d always done a lot of work on our brand, but nothing on employer brand.

Shaun Daley (9m 13s):
They did lots of market research, lots of segmentation, and creating personas. I remember looking at one presentation, I said, “Well, this is great. Lovely to see all these eight personas, but you’ve not considered the view of potential employees.” That’s something that I’ve then been able to do is to, and unfortunately, they’ve given me quite a lot of autonomy to do it, is to then work with our recruitment branding and marketing agency to create an employer brand, which we launched for the first time last year. The Open University at beginning of 2021 launched a new student brand called ambition. Then on the back of that, a couple of months later, we went out to market with our be so much more campaign.

Shaun Daley (9m 55s):
That was a really successful campaign. It was done, still in the midst of COVID, perhaps there were some limitations to what we could achieve. We’ve learned from that this time around, because we’re going to do another refresh now. We’ve learned that perhaps we used a little bit too much stock imagery, and that’s probably because we couldn’t really get face-to-face with people and work perhaps as comfortable with the remote video in that was probably going to feature in a bit of what we do next, but all the same, we mobilized it really well. We have really good social media and an outreach strategy to it to go with it, and got some great results, great penetration. It’s one of a number of things that we did last year to really enhance and take an employer brand about The Open University out to the UK market.

Shaun Daley (10m 44s):
The other thing to say about it as well is that we really focused on diversity and inclusion. As I mentioned, The Open University has typically failed to recruit, but that in itself becomes a problem. When you come in, and they tell you that we always recruit, it’s roughly around the amount of time that we expect it to take, everything works, and it’s all okay, why do you want to change anything? You have to really cleverly play back what’s actually happening. When you look at the diversity profile of The Open University for the scale and importance of institution it is, you then begin to realize, perhaps not all is well. Actually,, we might have been recruiting so-called successfully all these years, but actually, we’ve been recruiting people like us.

Shaun Daley (11m 30s):
That was the problem. We had significant under-representation for ethnic minorities, for black and Asian employees. A significant under-representation of people with disabilities and neurodiversity conditions. Significant under-representation of women in senior positions and women in a senior women in positions. When we started to play back all of that, we started to craft a specific employer brand and attraction strategy to focus on those under-representation. We’ve seen some really great success. There were a number of things which I think go into it. Some of those are at the outreach stage. The brand, the attraction strategy, the channels that we mobilized, and then some of those are in our process.

Shaun Daley (12m 15s):
Right from the job design in the inclusivity of the language, the accessibility of the mediums that you use, all the way through to screening and shortlisting with things like anonymous recruitment, utilizing a database of diverse panelists to get more perspectives into the process. Lots of things that we’ve done last year and some of the headline results, which we’re just going through all the data validation there because they’re great, are things like 37% increase year on year of black and Asian appointments, a hundred percent year on year improvement or in disability and neuro diverse candidates appointed. It’s a real good successes and lots of different things which contributed to it.

Matt Alder (12m 57s):
Yes, absolutely. Again, so many things I want to follow up on and ask you about, but in the interest of time, I really want to talk about processing and technology and how you do stuff, particularly in the absence of a long-term recruitment system at the moment. Before we talk about that though, I think it would be really interesting just to hear a little bit more about the anonymous recruitment, diverse interview panels as a part of your strategy.

Shaun Daley (13m 23s):
Yes, absolutely. When I joined, there was an idea from particular part of the university to run a pilot for anonymous recruitment. Incidentally, a couple of people on their unit equality, diversity, and inclusion group were really key proponents for change. One was black, one was Asian, and they were really keen to have anonymized recruitment process that would take away what they felt were certainly a barrier at some of the front end of the recruitment process. We worked with them to devise a pilot. I have to say it was a bit clunky to start with because I’ll be honest, I hadn’t really worked out a better way to do it either at that point.

Shaun Daley (14m 3s):
It’s probably very similar to the way other places do it. I think even the other systems that try to find a system solution to do it, which is redacting information from CVS, from applications, and covering letters, which is one way of doing it. I would say we did it for six months and we saw very mixed results, nothing compelling either way. It was a very, very difficult process to turn the handle on so it got me thinking through that process. Well, what is w what are we really trying to achieve here? What’s the best way to do it and what’s the research on this day? What are the different findings from different places? What I got to is this conclusion that actually just by focusing on redacting information, we were perhaps missing the point and the point being that perhaps CVs weren’t the answer and CVs were part of the problem.

Shaun Daley (14m 53s):
There’s a lot of research that looks at how quickly we read information on CVs, how quickly we create a profile of somebody, even with bits of information redacted, the format of the CV and certain cues in a CV, which are not just related to people’s personal identifiers, but perhaps where they went to school, even which company they work at, Matt. The biases that we have that. For instance, you put what I work at. I work at Apple or work at GE. Great. Apple, GE, great companies. Does that mean your great or have you just been inferred greatness because you work for a strong brand and a well-known company? Actually, what we started to do was look at a way to completely take out the CV and all those types of personal identifiers, which would include personal information, socioeconomic information, ethnic information, employer information, which if people are listening, might think, “Oh my goodness, what do you use to actually make a selection?”

Shaun Daley (15m 47s):
I’ll come on to that. What we do is we work with the hiring manager to craft a set of questions based on the role profile and the key attributes, based on things around our values, and actually our new just in process of creating and rolling out behavioral framework. Then we craft questions that candidates at the application stage get to answer. There’s a little bit, if you like, I suppose, a covering letter, but we’re really homing in on what do we see as the key attributes. We provide some guidance for the candidates to say, “Please don’t give us specific cues and indicators which would indicate who you are.” We’re we’re still working through it.

Shaun Daley (16m 27s):
There’s pluses and minuses to it. It’s certainly not a silver bullet that fixes everything, but it does. The feedback are overwhelming that we’ve got is that it does give candidates a sense that we take diversity, inclusion, and equality really seriously, that we care if there’s undue bias in the early stages of this recruitment process, because we do re-introduce the CV, once candidates have been shortlisted and obviously before panelists get to interview people. There’s definite pros and cons to it. I’ve used it to recruit myself. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s really challenged myself and those involved, convene a panel to do the recruitment and the selection.

Shaun Daley (17m 12s):
It’s challenged us to really think through what we’re looking for. There’s pros and cons to it, but it’s been overwhelmingly a good process and one that we are looking to continue using and find a way to use when we implement success factors, because that’s one of the other things that it’s not an easy thing for a system to do and to do well. We’ve actually had to work with my systems integrator to find a bit of a workaround. We did explore whether other platforms could do this for us, but it seems to be something that nobody’s really done well yet. There are systems out there that will redact and hide information from you, but actually, in terms of just completely taking the CV our at that stage and using a different way of doing the initial assessment, nobody seems to be quite there from what I’ve seen.

Matt Alder (17m 59s):
Interesting. I think that does really highlight the amount of work that needs to be done in talent acquisition and talent acquisition technology to make things better and the challenges that we have in 2022. I suppose, moving forward from that a little bit, I’m keen to find out more about your broader recruitment process and also the technology that you’ve used to support you in the last couple of years and how that’s all fitted together.

Shaun Daley (18m 26s):
Yes, sure. We typically have a bit of a one size fits all approach, which is what I’ve been working to unpick. In the university sector, it is common place and there’s actually a fair amount of governance if you like and regulation with unions and the higher education national bodies to make a consistent recruitment experience across the sector for people looking to move. We always have a panel convened, but it’s typically tended to be what I call a one and done. You convene a panel,, candidate supply, the panel select. They come to the interviews or one interview where they sit in front of what might be three, four, or five, or even more people on a panel for an hour.

Shaun Daley (19m 12s):
Get asked a load of questions, provide some answers, and then they get told they’re either got the job or they haven’t. It’s a really cold process that we’ve been working to. Have different recruitment processes for different levels of roles, different types of roles. We’ve just hired an occupational psychologist to come and work in-house with me and my team to give us really inclusive assessment and selection practices for all different types of roles that we recruit. That I mentioned that it’s been a bit of a cold process because from a candidate experience perspective, we’re fortunate that we’ve had the brand that we have, and the people do apply to us and want to go through what is, I think, quite a cold recruitment process. I think potentially, we’ve got some challenges to face with the market.

Shaun Daley (19m 54s):
We’ve got here in the UK and it might actually be getting, from what we can tell, harder to recruit pretty quickly, but what we were able to do really well with Candidate ID, we were able to really find a neat way to funnel the type of candidates that we were looking for, and that we did need to engage more. As I said, mostly we don’t struggle to recruit. However, there are some areas that have always been a struggle for us. Half of our workforce are associate lecturers, so effectively, they are the online tutors that our students interact with on a weekly basis. They all work from home. They’re all remote.

Shaun Daley (20m 35s):
They’ve got a real mix of backgrounds. Some of them are academics and teachers, some of them are different professions, just giving something back by teaching a cohort of students. Typically,, a lot of them have worked for us for a really long time. In order to try and shift the diversity profile of that group, we’ve got to try really hard to reach out to new audiences with our messaging, but of course, when you do that with the type of system set up that we’ve got with the front end, being an outdated career site that we can’t update until we implement success factors, when you do that without any real end-to-end ATS or CRM functionality, that becomes really tough.

Shaun Daley (21m 16s):
I met somebody from candidate ID as a conference a couple of years back, and was really impressed both by the idea of Recruitment marketing automation. That just made sense immediately to me, but once we got into conversation, their agility to mobilize a solution, which would really just help where I was at and kill two birds with one stone was brilliant. They were able to host some specific landing pages for us. As I mentioned earlier, we went out to market last year with our new be so much more brand. They were able to host a specific landing pages, firstly, for the generic teaser campaign that we did.

Shaun Daley (21m 58s):
Secondly, for the specific underrepresented groups that we were trying to target and then thirdly, for specific job and event campaigns. One of those, for instance, was an associate lecture online recruitment event, which we hosted on there and promote it through social media. It generated a thousand event applications in four days. It was hugely successful and the candidate ID platform allowed us to do that in the absence of having other systems at hand. Whilst that was a real benefit to us, the actual real benefit that we now got is that people applying for that event, coming along to that event, or coming through our talent pool via the candidate ID platforms, they’re now in a CRM system, which is much richer in terms of how we can segment that database.

Shaun Daley (22m 54s):
It had way more people in it than there now does, but through regular columns and asking people if they wanted to be in the Talent pool, and what they were interested in, knowing about what kind of events they were interested in, what kind of roles they were interested in, we’ve been able to much more segment, focus, and target on a particular skill sets, particular different areas for not just associate lecturers, but everything. That’s been a real benefit to us and we’re just working through what’s the business case once we integrate with success factors, because candidate ID also integrate with success factors. We’re hoping that there’s a really neat way to continue that relationship once we implement next year.

Matt Alder (23m 36s):
As a final question, obviously there’s been a huge amount going on in the last couple of years, both in the wider world and obviously the work that you’ve been doing. What’s next? What does the future look like? What kind of innovations are you focusing on for the next 12 to 24 months?

Shaun Daley (23m 53s):
That’s a good question. I would say that what’s next for us, I think that we’ve got to continue our absolute focus on equality, diversity, and inclusion, because it’s a core part of our five-year strategy, which we’re just going into for the university, but there are other targets in there, like sustainability as well. That will come on as a theme and an area that we need to recruit into. Obviously, getting an implementation and then my entire end to end tech stack and ecosystem work in next year as it is a key priority. I think also, recruiting is going to get harder for us because everybody else in the UK now is starting to or already has started offering hybrid working.

Shaun Daley (24m 37s):
We’re having to work out where does the employer brand and proposition sits and how do we compete in this completely changing environment. I think that’s going to get harder and it’s going to take more focus for us. In order to do that well, we are just entering the next stage of what we started three years ago as part of our HR transformation, which centralized HR and set up my function in terms of central resourcing function. We’re now merging that with some of our other people operations to have a shared service model. We’ll drive operational effectiveness and delivery through a shared service model. I’ll be left running more like an area of expertise, setting the strategy, consulting, and advising the business on how it achieves its strategy through strategic resourcing and strategic workforce planning.

Matt Alder (25m 31s):
Shaun, thank you very much for talking to me.

Shaun Daley (25m 35s):
Matt, as ever, a pleasure. Really appreciate the opportunity.

Matt Alder (25m 38s):
My thanks to Sean. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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