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Considering intersectionality in your hiring strategy

23 November, 2023

The approach to early careers hiring has evolved hugely over the past 10 years to focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) across marketing and attraction, assessment and selection and retention.

As the awareness of the challenges faced by those who are underrepresented in society improved, so did the tools and strategies that organisations used to onboard talent, aiming to ensure the doors are open to those from all backgrounds, the playing field is levelled for those less advantaged and the process is a fair and supportive one throughout.

The shifts we’ve made as a sector are significant, transforming the meaning of ‘diversity’ from a generic, box-ticking exercise to, at first, an increased focus on gender gaps and lack of ethnic diversity as part of campaigns, through to today’s space, where campaigns are led by DEIB. Now, strategies are designed with the priority being to support students and graduates from all backgrounds that are underrepresented in different industries, including disabled candidates, those who are neurodiverse and those from the LGBTQ+ community.

Whilst we should be proud of the progress made when it comes to levelling the playing field and supporting candidates from all backgrounds to thrive, simply put: there is so much more to be done.

A lack of full understanding of the experiences and challenges of graduates who intersect multiple underrepresented demographic backgrounds creates disadvantage and means organisations are not providing the adequate support that relates to their needs. Strategies which focus on singular categorisations of background are no longer fit for purpose and they will see you left behind your competitors who are factoring intersectional nuance into their recruitment process.

The problem

So, why is it no longer fit for purpose? Perhaps obvious to state is that people cannot be characterised as just one thing. A person’s identity is made up of a tapestry of experiences, connections and challenges and to fit someone into the binary is to deny this full identity.

When building a strategy that intends to be tailored to underrepresented groups, often the decisions will have been made around singular categorisations, for example a strategy focused on how to attract and engage Black heritage students, without considering the experience of being Black African and female, or of being Black Caribbean and from a lower socioeconomic background.

It relates to barriers and how we can help break down those faced by emerging talent and support them to push through. What barriers might a Black heritage woman face in her education in comparison to a Black heritage man? What barriers might an autistic student from a lower socioeconomic background face compared to one who had financial stability to support their learning while they were growing up? When you consider an individual student you meet to the next, it paints a picture of how diverse an experience each potential new joiner to your business has had before they submit that application or have that first interaction with you.

Here’s how we see it

This deeper level of consideration is something simple enough to grasp on the surface, but it’s important for us to acknowledge that a solution is not necessarily easy for you to implement.

The group-by-group approach taken in years gone has been effective in starting to level the playing field for diverse students across the UK and open doors that may not have been open to them before. The approach was manageable in a busy and stressful season and it worked as a good starting point when before there was little or no consideration for the need for a differentiated approach.

Whilst we can be happy with the progress made so far, our annual research demonstrates the importance of continuing to push to support candidates at the intersection of underrepresented groups. When asked if they were confident about securing a role after university, 70% of Black heritage members answered ‘Yes’, but this dropped to 65% for females of Black heritage. For Black heritage students who went to state school, confidence dropped to 60% and again to 55% when they were female. 

For all male members attending state school, 59% answered ‘Yes’ to the question around confidence. The results sat at 42% for their female counterparts (“What do graduates want” Bright Network research survey, 2023). The different layers of intersectionality have a clear impact on career confidence and it’s our job to create processes that support this.

It makes sense that to have a personalised and effective connection with a candidate, you need to avoid grouping and focus on the individual. In our joint mission with our partners to become truly inclusive in our workplaces, it's crucial we start to consider all the factors that make a person who they are and where these intersect in order to affect even more change. But, where do you start? Where do you stop? And ultimately, what do you need to be doing to stay ahead of your competition in the race for the very best and most diverse talent?

Here’s what you can do

Understand your audience

Step one is to take the time to understand the candidates you’re trying to connect with. There are many ways to go about this, but some ideas include hosting student focus groups, chatting to recent graduates at your organisation about their experiences and speaking to your Bright Network Account Manager about our annual research to get unique insights into the mindsets of current students.

After this, training is needed at all levels, around unconscious bias, how to acknowledge and appreciate different mindsets and the benefits diversity brings to the table. Your tech also needs to be clued up – if you’re using any AI models to screen applicants, ensure you take a ‘human-in-the-loop' approach to allow individualism to shine through and avoid letting the model screen on protected characteristics where learned bias can prevail.

Gather all the information

Prioritise getting a clear understanding of where your current end-to-end processes do things well and where changes need to be made to see improvements. Delve into areas where there is adverse impact when intersectionality is considered. Do a robust analysis of conversion across different stages of the process and learn where candidates at different intersections of diversity are underperforming. Where might intervention be needed? Where might additional support like coaching make a difference? How can you get your marketing and attraction messaging tighter to level up for underrepresented candidates?

Recognise the superpower

Just as diversity on the whole is an asset to your business, intersectionality needs to be seen as a strength. Those who have faced a variety of obstacles in life will bring unique skills to your business, such as resilience, a skill that employers rank as third most important when looking for graduates (out of 12 skills, “What do graduates want?” Bright Network research survey, 2023).

McKinsey and Company found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile, while those in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to outperform the average (2020 study), further showcasing the importance of building a diverse workforce that is set up for success.

Buy-in from the top

For all your efforts to build awareness and understanding of the strengths diverse candidates can bring, it’s essential that this sentiment is reflected at the top. C-Suite needs to be on board and fully support why it’s so important. Educating them on how the space has evolved from antiquated ways of looking at degree grades and relevant work experience to looking at transferable experience and skills is the best place to start. They should be seeing the benefits of this in their workplaces already, and where they’re not, make sure to shine a light on the diverse grads who are demonstrating value in the business. Share content that demonstrates that the rest of your sector is starting to think about and act on this, and so you need to as well if you want to stay ahead.

Represent your audience

You’ve heard it before, but representation of your focus audiences is an extremely powerful tool. Across marketing materials, at online engagement opportunities, throughout screening and mentoring and at any events and panel presentations, seeing and hearing from role models that come from backgrounds that mirror theirs is really valuable to candidates. Those from intersecting underrepresented groups can sometimes feel that they aren’t part of the conversation in the first place and seek feeling seen and represented.

Think long-term

It’s not enough to focus solely on hiring and attraction. For those working in onboarding teams, keeping these candidates engaged and invested in your business long-term is key to shifting the dial more permanently. On top of your BAU strategies, look to people in your business who have experienced different hiring processes and workplaces and are from intersectional underrepresented backgrounds who are willing to share their insights and advice. Create communities where you can and open spaces for people to be themselves.

Transparency is key

Not only do you want to clearly communicate to all levels in the business about the importance of evolving your DEIB strategy, but you want to be very honest about where the gaps are and how far there is to go – internally and externally. Honesty is essential and will be acknowledged and appreciated by incoming graduates and visible, clear-cut plans of how you’re addressing the issues are reassuring.


Looking back 10 years, building diversity and inclusion into your strategy was a daunting prospect, but since then, the strides made have been truly impactful. As we begin to further evolve our approach so that we can even better support students from all backgrounds, remember that many firms are at the start of this journey too. We’re here as your partners to support you in bringing some of the ideas discussed in this article to life.

We want to be part of your journey – so, what do you need from us? How can we do more to support you?


Want to talk about intersectionality and how to evolve your DEIB strategy to be fit for purpose? Book a chat with us or speak to your Account Manager.