Age UK: Where every employee has an equal opportunity to succeed

Third Sector Promotion Age UK

We spoke to Anne-Marie James, EDI workforce development lead at Age UK, about how and why they’re putting ED&I at the heart of their recruitment and retention strategy.

Anne-Marie James, EDI workforce development lead, Age UK

The world of work has an important role to play in helping to create a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. And there’s a lot more work to be done to achieve this across every sector and workplace.

Whether it be equal pay, removing barriers to career progression or bias-free recruitment, charities are not exempt from the equity, diversity and inclusion focus that organisations are increasingly applying to their recruitment and retention strategies in order to create a more successful and fair environment for all.

“Age UK aspires to be a diverse organisation where every employee has an equal opportunity to succeed and develop”. These were the words of Anne-Marie James - Age UK’s dedicated equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) workforce development lead, when we asked her about Age UK’s ED&I strategy.

“It’s about being honest with ourselves”

To achieve its aspirations, Age UK acknowledges that it needs to delve deeper into how it recruits and retains employees from diverse backgrounds. “Part of that is about making sure Age UK is seen as a place where people from diverse backgrounds will be fully included and supported to flourish”, affirms James. “It’s also about being honest with ourselves about the experiences that our employees have throughout their time with us.”

Recruiting from a more diverse talent pool

This year, Age UK is focusing more on how its recruitment drive can attract a more diverse range of candidates. Here are just a few steps the charity is taking:

  • Updating its equality opportunities monitoring form to ensure it captures the right data and working harder to make sure people understand why the information is useful to Age UK and how it will help the charity improve. Applicants can worry about providing personal and sometimes sensitive information, but by explaining the difference it can make, Age UK is encouraging better completion rates.
  • Making the job application process clearer for applicants who are applying as part of the Disability Confident Scheme and explaining what Age UK is committed to and the reasonable adjustments it can make - this is leading to an increase in applications from people with disabilities.
  • Changing the format and language in job descriptions to make them as inclusive as possible, and clearer about what is and isn’t essential experience.
  • Trialling changes to reduce bias from the application process, including moving from CVs to a simple application form that focuses on essential criteria, name and location blinding the information they provide recruiting managers, and developing new shortlisting and interview criteria.

Training on ‘conscious inclusion’

Unconscious bias training has long been used in organisations across different sectors to help employers ensure they don’t favour one candidate over another based on first impressions or associations when recruiting.

Age UK is now launching organisation-wide training on ‘conscious inclusion’ for all staff levels - a positive stance on ‘unconscious bias’. As James explains: “We’ve worked with an external agency to challenge our thinking in order to develop a training workshop based on what our colleagues have told us they need and what our own data tells us.

"The training will also provide the tools and resources staff need to apply what they have learnt into their day to day roles.”

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Embedding EDI into Age UK’s strategy

“There’s a strong sense throughout Age UK that ED&I must continue to be at the heart of our strategy, both in terms of what we deliver for the older people most in need, but also the type of organisation we want to be”, enthuses James.

She adds: “Our leaders are committed to change, and we continue to engage with all staff including staff-led groups, such as the Race Action Group, on key initiatives. Our interim CEO is our Champion for Race and we also have director champions for all protected characteristics.”

James asserts that Age UK’s leadership team is not just fully behind its ED&I plan, but they’re ambassadors for it and accountable along with all employees for making it happen.

Being a listening organisation

“We’re also a listening organisation”, adds James. Age UK’s ED&I engagement events throughout the year involve celebrating key awareness days and drop-in sessions to discuss a range of topics which have been especially important during the pandemic. They’ve provided a platform for support and an opportunity for people to not just express themselves about their personal experiences but to remain connected with their teams.

“We’ve discussed topics which don’t directly relate to our work, but which are fundamental to who we are. It’s helped to make us feel connected and valued”, concludes James.

What is it like to work at Age UK?

In James’ role as EDI workforce development lead, she attends induction sessions with new staff and speaks to them about their onboarding experience.

Through these sessions, people have expressed that Age UK is a welcoming organisation and that there’s a lot of support on offer which they haven’t always experienced before. These include Age UK’s approach to flexible working, its carers passport which offers carers a package of support, including five additional days off, and the support their managers have provided if they needed reasonable adjustments.

In order to give potential applicants some insider insight and a feel for the culture of the organisation, Age UK has used employees’ own stories to explain what it’s like to work there, such as this interview with the head of retail and this Q&A with the head of the national services team.

Top tips to help you put ED&I at the heart of your charity’s recruitment and retention strategy:

  1. Listen to what your employees have to say: ask your employees how diverse they perceive your organisation to be and act upon their feedback accordingly.

  2. Tell your charity’s ED&I story: communicate to your employees and wider third sector how you are embracing diversity and use real employee stories to describe what it’s like to work there.

  3. Arrange conscious inclusion training: this will challenge your employees to think about how inclusive they are and provide the tools and resources they need to apply what they have learnt into their day to day roles.

  4. Get the board on board: not only does the leadership team need to be fully behind your ED&I plan, they should be ambassadors for it and accountable, along with all employees, for making it happen.

  5. Ensure your recruitment drive attracts a diverse talent pool: make it easy for candidates of all abilities and backgrounds to apply, ensure your equal opportunities form is capturing the right data and that the language and format of your job descriptions are as clear and inclusive as possible.

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