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Neurodivergent women targeted for roles by GCHQ and BAE Systems

Rob Childe tells HRNews about recruiting underrepresented groups to address skills gaps in manufacturing

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  • Transcript

    Address the skills gap in your business and, at the same time, improve its diversity. How? Follow the lead of GCHQ and BAE Systems and target underrepresented groups, specifically. 

    As the Guardian reports, British spy agency GCHQ and weapons manufacturer BAE Systems have issued an appeal to attract more neurodivergent women to work for them in cybersecurity jobs. They are actively seeking women on the autism spectrum and women with dyslexia or ADHD to address gaps in their workforces. They say this underrepresented group are ideally equipped in roles that require ‘fast pattern recognition, sharper accuracy and greater attention to detail.’ They also mention ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ as attractive and important traits.

    Rob Childe covers this in an article for Out-Law highlighting the opportunity for the manufacturing sector to follow in this direction. Referring to GCHQ and BAE Systems targeting of neurodiverse women he says: ‘Similar campaigns could equally be deployed to focus on minority ethnic groups, younger employees, female employees or LGBTQ+ employees, all of whom are significantly underrepresented within the national advanced manufacturing workforce.’

    The skills gap in manufacturing is well documented. At the end of September, manufacturers’ trade organisation Make UK, alongside the Sage Group, unveiled its 2030 Skills report, ‘Closing the Gap’. They forecast how the already intense battle to acquire and retain talent is set to become even more heated in the years leading up to 2030, as more businesses strategically plan for a future with sustainability and automation at the forefront of their operations.

    The report is excellent in many ways, but remarkable in its failure to cover the ‘diversity problem’ in the manufacturing sector. So, a quick word search reveals that whilst the phrase ‘skills gap’ is used 192 times, the words ‘women’ and ‘diversity’ don’t appear once, and this is a 28 page document – that is surprising to say the least.  

    In our view, recruiting underrepresented groups to address skills gap makes a lot of sense and many of our clients have recognised that. Rob Childe has been helping them with that, alongside D&I consultancy, Brook, Graham, and earlier he joined me by phone from Manchester to discuss it. As he told me, it’s not a quick fix:

    Rob Childe: “I think what's really important when we're targeting particular groups is to genuinely be an inclusive workforce and that requires quite a lot of work behind the scenes - it’s not just about the recruitment campaign, although that of itself is really important. So, what we talk about, and certainly what Brook Graham provide to clients and advise clients on, is cultural change within an organisation and that comes with lots of planning and lots of effort. So, there needs to be a strategy in place. So, for example, if there's a wish to bring in more female talent, then maybe setting a target for a minimum number of female employees as a percentage of the workforce is a starting point. So, having a strategy that specifically focuses on that issue, and having some senior sponsorship to drive that forward and that is something that Brook Graham can help with. Then, otherwise, looking at policies and procedures. So, we have a specialist equality law team of Pinsent Masons that focuses on policies and procedures and makes sure that not only are they legally compliant, but also that they are relevant to different groups, and that they talk to those groups in a way that's effective. Then the final piece of the jigsaw, I think, is around training and that's where our training team can go out and educate all parts of the workforce, so senior leadership right down to the shop floor on these issues, on equality and diversity issues to, again, drive cultural change and make their workplace as inclusive as it possibly can be.”

    Joe Glavina: “You mention cultural change and I know you had a recent example of the need for that involving a client of yours. Can you tell me about that?”

    Rob Childe: “Yes, so this was an issue on recruitment that a manufacturing client had and there they had a member of staff who had recently joined and she'd only been in the role for two weeks and she was inappropriately questioned on his state of dress, on her underwear, and within that short space of time, she became very upset by what had happened and, unfortunately, she left the organisation and raised a complaint which was then picked up by the HR department. The HR department came to us for advice and we dealt with the issue in hand sensitively but then we also identified that there was a need for training across this organisation's business to understand what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behaviour, to look at these diversity and inclusion issues and, in effect, to make sure there wasn’t a repeat of this incident the next time recruitment took place. So, that was all about driving cultural change and we are in the process of organising that as we speak, but we're hopeful it's going to be a really effective and positive outcome of an unfortunate situation.”

    Joe Glavina: “An issue worth flagging in this context is the discrimination risk in recruitment when you target an underrepresented group. So we know the Equality Act allows what it calls ‘positive action’ to help address that issue, but it has its limitations doesn’t it?”

    Rob Childe: “Yes, I think employers need to be very careful here and probably have two things in mind. The first is that there's absolutely nothing wrong with stating that an organisation wants to drive representation in particular minority groups up. So, for example, in the BAE case they specifically went out and said we're looking for neurodiverse women in particular for these roles. There's nothing wrong with that at all but when it comes to the actual recruitment process there very much needs to be a level playing field for everybody. So, once you've got your candidates, as such, they all need to be treated fairly in the recruitment process to make sure that employers don't get themselves into hot water and inadvertently disadvantage other recruits by targeting those particular underrepresented groups.”
    Rob’s article on this subject is called ‘Recruit underrepresented groups to address skills gap, employers advised’ and is available from the Out-Law website. The report by MAKE and Sage which was published at the end of September looking at the challenges facing the manufacturing sector is called ‘2030 Skills: Closing the Gap’. We have put links to both of those in the transcript of this programme.


    - Link to Out-Law article: ‘Recruit underrepresented groups to address skills gap, employers advised’
    - Link to report: ‘2030 Skills: Closing the Gap’

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