3 Ways the Australian Defence Force Attracted More Indigenous and Female Recruits

February 20, 2018

Corporate recruiting and military recruiting are very different things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a few tactics from the latter. In 2012, the Australian Defence Force (ADF)—like many organizations—saw the need for a more diverse personnel base.

Over the past five years, the military has worked to recruit more women, indigenous people, and Australians from other cultural backgrounds. In doing so, they work closely with workforce solutions firm ManpowerGroup, led by Glenn McPhee, a former army officer himself, in a public-private hybrid organisation called Defence Force Recruiting.

In the initial years, the ADF saw some very solid gains, especially with the recruitment of women. But after that initial surge, they struggled to move the needle for a few years. Then were continually trying out new approaches: tweaking their outreach, training their staff, and getting incredible leadership from the higher-ups. The results were impressive.

In the last full year of recruiting, the ADF saw a 29% increase in women recruits. Even though indigenous groups make up only 3% of the population, within the past year, almost 9% of all full-time recruits identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.

Here are some tips, tactics, and strategies Defence Force Recruiting learned according to Glenn—and how you can adapt them to your company’s own diversity hiring initiatives.

1. Elevate authentic, inclusive stories in recruitment ad campaigns

Recruitment ad campaigns need to go further than simply using a diverse set of faces. Shallow representations of different cultures and identities can come off as tokenism and are less effective at attracting the target audience.

Defence Force Recruiting created authentic recruitment campaigns featuring current personnel. “The theme throughout each of them is one of storytelling,” said Glenn, “telling the non-scripted, honest, and emotive stories of serving members from a variety of backgrounds and in a powerful and inspiring manner.”

Since one of the goals is to recruit Australians from other cultural backgrounds, campaigns use a mix of languages that are spoken in Australian homes, like Hindi, Vietnamese, and Chinese. “Of course they run in English, but we also have in-language placement across radio, print, online video, and social media,” Glenn said.

Defence Force Recruiting strives to change more than just the representation of different cultures. The new campaigns also work against common misconceptions about the different jobs in the armed forces—especially the army. “The stereotype is all about infantry soldiers carrying heavy packs through the bush with camouflage painted on their faces. While that’s certainly a realistic part of the army for combat roles, there are 300 different types of roles we recruit for across the ADF,” Glenn shared.

“Many roles are highly technical and require the smartest of people, and so if we continue perpetuating the stereotype with a traditional advertising approach, then we’re not going to make major strides in those technical areas,” he said.

It’s important for any organization to speak about diversity with authenticity—but it’s easy to come off as insincere, particularly if the people behind the recruiting campaign can’t personally identify with the minority group in question. Elevate the diverse voices you already have for an employer brand that resonates.

2. Confront the ways that cultural differences can impact the recruitment process

Unconscious biases can affect any recruiting process, and cultural differences can be easily misinterpreted as deficits. Recognizing this, Defence Force Recruiting uses organizational psychologists on their team to help train ADF recruiters on the different ways men and women are motivated or respond to stressful situations (such as a recruiting environment).

“We’ve improved cultural awareness and provided sociology insights into differences between genders,” Glenn said. “So, that’s bringing a different approach to our recruiting process and having a strong, positive effect on our overall culture.”

He explained that the overall goal is to create a more candidate-centric approach that respects the high standards needed by any employer, but doesn’t cloud a recruiting decision with subjectivity. Changing the hiring process isn’t enough to attract and maintain a diverse workforce: you need to do more to create a welcoming environment and sense of belonging.

Over the past 24 months, Glenn’s team has helped Defence Force Recruiting train over 700 new and existing employees, in what is a large recruiting team. They revamped their training modules to “bring extra attention to diversity requirements and the need to create a culture of conscious inclusion,” said Glenn.

Take an honest look at how unconscious bias can skew your own hiring, and don’t be afraid to bring in experts to make serious interventions. One change is almost never enough: it’s an ongoing process that touches every part of your organization.

3. Get more than incremental change when the C-suite makes diversity a mission rather than a task

The ADF’s initial diversity success in 2012 was driven by hiring programs and initiatives, but the growth plateaued. Fortunately, the ADF leadership never gave up on improving their D&I efforts. Chief executives (the head admiral, general, and air marshal) of the Navy, Army, and Air Force have been instrumental in the process.

“Their leadership has been one of the key drivers. In the past 18 months, these leaders have personally addressed our team a number of times—and given the levels they are at, it says a lot,” said Glenn. “They’ve challenged us to remove any incremental barriers that exist and which might unfairly dissuade a candidate from completing the recruitment process. They made diversity a mission”

Glenn credits their more recent and consistent improvements in diverse hiring to the high level of support they’ve gotten from top leadership.

“CEOs and boards have an important role to play in helping everyone understand that overall organizational capability is a key driver for diversity and a capability theme can be central in driving accountability,” Glenn said. He explained that an overall culture of conscious inclusion can only trickle down from the leaders throughout the organization.

If C-level leaders and board execs aren’t completely sold on the need for company-wide change, get them accountable by about using KPIs or hiring stats.

“I think an approach where we’re setting measurable and achievable outcomes is important to the larger goal” Glenn said. “This will ensure that a majority of managers are achieving diversity outcomes. We have to hold people accountable, but at the same time develop belief in the mission.”

One of the key points to get across is that diversity-centric hiring practices isn’t at all about slowing down the recruiting process or adjusting your standards. “It is all about capability,” Glenn explained. “If the government of the day and the Department of Defence want the best possible defense force, surely we should be recruiting from 100% of the population, provided each recruit meets the standards the military has in place.”

While D&I efforts may start within HR, Glenn advised you’ll only see limited incremental changed if you don’t address conscious and unconscious bias throughout the whole company.  

“Ultimately, we need to aim for and reach a point where we don’t need programmes anymore, because we’ve reached a stage of unconscious inclusion,” Glenn said. “This is when diversity can become business as usual — so whether you’re male or female, white or indigenous, straight or LGBTI, everyone should have the same chance for success dependant on your skills, your character, your behaviour.”

*Image from The ADF 

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