Recruiters are being enlisted as the battle for workplace diversity among financial services companies enters a new phase.
Citigroup will soon be holding a forum comprising three one-day events to get its diversity message across to recruitment firms.
Attendees will be made aware of Citigroup's commitment to a workforce comprising men, women, ethnic minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees; and the socially under-privileged, while educational role plays will provide pointers on issues such as unbiased interview techniques.
Lesley Wilkinson, European head of resourcing at Citigroup, said the sessions were designed to encourage recruiters to think on Citigroup's wavelength. She said: "We can train our managers and our recruiting staff to be aware of diversity but, if recruiting suppliers are out in the market representing Citigroup, they also need to live those values."
Wilkinson said recruiters needed to be creative in the way they found candidates for short lists. "Instead of just advertising on traditional media sources, we want them to think more broadly about how to reach a diverse group of candidates and, where possible, to use alternative networks," she said.
Other banks said they were also spreading the diversity message among their recruiters. Calum Forrest, head of European resourcing at Goldman Sachs, said recruiters' success at finding diverse candidates was taken into consideration when the bank reviewed its list of suppliers. "If qualified women and ethnic minorities are not on short lists, we want to know why," he said.
Barclays Capital also encourages suppliers to provide minority employees. It has offered a diversity incentive to recruiters since 2002.
In addition to a standard fee of about 25% of first-year pay, it offers an additional 20% if a woman or ethnic minority member is hired as a result of a recruiter's efforts.
Mark Kurman, US head of global diversity at Barclays Capital, said banks told executive search firms they were committed to diversity but few were prepared to support their commitment financially. He said: "We want to share the expense with recruiters as well as to reward their behaviour. Casting a wider net to find the best candidates might mean looking at 10 candidates instead of five, and that will obviously take more time and work."
Kurman said the policy was a success. He added: "Any good hire is worth the fee and any good hire made with this fee attached helps additionally. Each employee is a building block of the diversity initiative."
Spotting a trend, banking recruiters are launching diversity initiatives with volume suppliers taking the lead.
Katie Stewart, communications director for the Blomfeld Group, which includes financial services recruiter Joslin Rowe, said the company operated numerous initiatives. These included a mentoring programme at London's Camden School for Girls, where Joslin Rowe consultants meet pupils to discuss career development and a programme of school presentations on financial markets careers. "We're going back to grass roots and trying to make a difference with people coming into the employment market," said Stewart.
McGregor Boyall, a specialist IT recruiter, is working with Citigroup to improve its mix of recruits. The company has set up Women in Technology, a website aimed at encouraging women into the IT sector; Citigroup and Lehman are advertising jobs there. "We want the website to become the networking portal and job site of choice for women in this area," said Maggie Berry, UK communications director.
Attempts at fostering a diversity ethos among suppliers leave banks open to charges of positive discrimination. Most banks assess recruiters' ability to deliver diverse candidates by looking at the percentage of minorities on short lists - a move liable to encourage the presentation of women and minorities for the sake of securing the bank's approval.
Forrest denied this was the case. He said: "It's obviously not about quotas. We want to see the process a recruiter went through to arrive at the short list. It is about trying to ensure a level playing field."
Wilkinson said numerical targets were only one part of the equation. "We don't define a supplier's success by purely quantitative measures alone. We also take qualitative measures into account and look at how candidates were sourced."
Robert Walters, another volume supplier of staff to the banking industry, said it monitored the proportion of women and ethnic minorities registered on its candidate database but said its consultants were unable to search the database using sex or ethnicity as a term. Oliver Harris, director of the financial services contract division, said: "We aim to attract people to the database from all walks of life but, when we do a search, we search on skill set alone."
Harris said Robert Walters looked for diverse staff by advertising in publications such as The Caribbean Times. Other recruiters praise internet sites such as Jobserve as a way of picking up diverse applicants. Few banks advertise directly on such non-specialised sites: there's a fine line between attracting diverse applicants and being inundated with them.