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Why strengths based recruitment is one of the keys to unlocking a diverse workforce – Anne Wilson, Head of Careers at the University of Warwick

Anne-Wilson - University of Warwick

Anne Wilson is head of careers at the University of Warwick. She has a passion for helping individuals and teams identify and harness their strengths and she is a qualified Strengths Profile practitioner. She has pioneered Strengths profiling at Warwick, facilitating staff and student workshops and have presented at national conferences, online and in publications. 

Anne-Wilson - University of Warwick
Anne Wilson

Anne was an attendee at the inaugural Womanthology Diversity Thought Leaders’ event at Warwick Business School in The Shard on 20th November 2017. 

Diversity from a university perspective

I’ve worked in the field of careers for a number of years, largely in management and leadership roles – initially in the statutory sector in schools and colleges, and in recent years when I’ve been based here at Warwick as head of careers.

I manage a team of twelve careers consultants who support 24,000+ students across more than 30 academic departments. We provide 1-to-1 careers guidance, careers workshops and access to many different graduate recruiters and events on campus. We’re fortunate at Warwick to be the top university choice of the Times Top 100 High Flyers this year so we attract many prestigious recruiters.

Existing programmes we have pioneered at Warwick

From a personal perspective I have established Inspiring Women, a series of occasional speakers who inspire and motivate our staff. We’ve had a fantastic range of speakers to date, including most recently Professor Louise Richardson, Vice Chancellor of Oxford University.

I’m also a licensed trainer for Sprint, our female student personal and professional development programme, which is proving a great way to encourage and inspire our highly capable students to develop the self-belief they also need in order to succeed. The programme is sponsored by a range of different sector graduate recruiters who send top female executives to inspire and share their career stories with participants.

Attending the Womanthology Diversity Thought Leaders’ event on 20th November

These events are a great opportunity to hear from those leading the field in research and recruitment practices in order to explore more effective ways of employing, retaining and developing talent.

It’s not enough to have policies and tick boxes – it’s clear form the frustratingly slow progress being made by so many organisations that a range of proactive and dynamic approaches are needed to accelerate the changes needed to achieve genuine gender equality.

Event highlights

Two approaches that stood out for me were using nudge theory to achieve change, and encouraging women in engineering to understand and appreciate their value (and to move to more enlightened companies if they don’t receive support and development opportunities).

I was particularly impressed by HS2’s approach to blind recruitment – focusing purely on skills in order to select candidates and the resulting  increase in the numbers of women and BME recruits was very impressive.

I sit on the University of Warwick’s Gender Task Force and I will be sharing the good practice and ideas that came from the event with a view to exploring what we could learn and implement at Warwick.

Reframing ‘technology’

One of the key lessons I learned last year was an attempt we made to encourage more female students to consider careers in technology. However, it transpired at the ‘Women in Technology’ event we hosted that women are turned off by the term ‘technology’. They see it as male-dominated, perceiving the workplace as an unwelcoming and uncomfortable one.

Many women therefore miss out as they don’t look beyond the label to understand the many exciting possibilities the sector has to offer. As a result, the sector is missing out. The softer skills women possess are potentially highly valuable within the field of technology, where communication skills in particular are key.

So, my suggestion would be for technology as a sector to reframe how companies promote opportunities in order to attract more women and to seriously explore whether it’s time to rethink how ‘technology’ as a term might be reviewed or renamed.

Exploring strengths based recruitment

I am a qualified Strengths Profile practitioner and an advocate of helping students develop their self-awareness. Students can struggle to express their strengths and skills in ways which differentiate them to recruiters and so the opportunity to explore their personal strengths is a good way to help them to understand and articulate their own unique combination of strengths.

Knowing your strengths and being able to qualify them with evidence can give applicants a significant confidence boost when they are going through the recruitment and selection process. Students can be encouraged to explore environments where their particular strengths can find a home – and some of these environments may well be in sectors or organisations they had not previously considered.

For recruiters and their hiring process, strengths are a good way to get to know candidates better. Encouraging candidates to be themselves will enable both parties to explore how well candidates will ‘fit’ within the organisation’s culture. Unlike competency-based questions, it’s harder to ‘game’ your strengths and still present authentically.

On the horizon for me and my work

I will continue to engage more students at Warwick in understanding their strengths in particular, and in developing their self-awareness more generally.

I have recently collaborated with CAPP (The Centre for Applied Positive Psychology) on a HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council of England) Learning Gain project across six universities, exploring whether the intervention of a strengths profile helps to develop students’ self-awareness, confidence, agency and ability to secure graduate jobs or further study. The findings of the report, which will be available early next year will inform our work in this area.






Diversity Thought Leaders issue

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