30 October 2023

How to hire privileged white men

Richard Stirling, CEO of Oxford Insights, reflects on our approach to recruiting the best team members

The best teams:

  1. Are diverse – enabling problems to be tackled from multiple different standpoints;

  2. Have a high level of trust – enabling rapid communication and decision making; and

  3. Purpose-driven – giving clarity of purpose and consistent optimisation.

These are the teams we want to offer clients and they are the team we want within Oxford Insights.

There is a lot that we do to maintain that culture, but a crucial first step is making sure we have the right people on board.  We want everyone, regardless of background or circumstances, to get a fair chance to work with us.

To think about what we needed to do we started with an anti-problem a few years ago: thinking about how we could hire exclusively privileged white guys from elite universities. We might only advertise the roles at Oxford and Cambridge, create overlong lists of must haves, and screen out all the people who didn’t sound like a privileged white guy. That was good but might not go far enough … we could only pick people who went to elite private schools or who had lots of social indicators of status, and have aggressive interviews of the kind Oxford and Cambridge drill you for. Still not enough … we need to create a hostile environment — we should all work 12 hour days and be ‘always on’.

With that list in hand we set about doing the opposite. As a result we now have a process designed to counter all those points:

Because we want people to be able to show us who they are and who they can be.

While people are with us we want them to grow and be supported. That is why our day-to-day work is:

While this has been good, it has not been perfect. This year we will be doing more to refine our process and improve. (Those who know me, know that this is a perpetual theme in my life!)

The final thing we are doing is talking more about our goal to be a warm, inclusive employer with the best employees and working environment. This is partly to encourage folk to apply (regardless of background) and partly because we don’t think we have this nailed yet or have all the answers. I am pretty sure there are other small businesses facing the same challenges and with different bits of the solution.

If you have ways we could improve please get in touch.


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