Equitable Recruitment (Under Construction)

Seats around the meeting room table at Aristotle Lane Makespace Oxford

By Andy Edwards, Executive Director & Co-founder of Makespace Oxford

The business of making space in our towns and cities genuinely accessible to all is complex. We are attempting to disrupt a deeply entrenched system in an incremental, pragmatic and positive way now. At the same time we are also daring to dream into an emergent future not yet written, to bring about deeper systemic change. 

At Makespace our starting point for this work is called ‘meanwhile use’ – transforming empty space on a temporary basis into places where people and the planet can thrive. But our agenda is not about quick fixes. We’re interested in longer term place-based renewal; using meanwhile as a catalyst to develop towns and cities that are community owned, people centred and climate safe – now and for future generations.

We know we’ll need to be as creative, adaptive and connected as possible to bring about the change we want to see. We’ll need to bring together a wide range of skills and perspectives. And we’ll need to build cultures that centre care, compassion and empathy: values which have historically been sidelined when shaping urban space.

Lasting solutions built on diverse skills & perspectives

A picture of people sitting in a shared work space speaking with large windows behind them and lots of potted plants

Diversity at every level really matters to us: in our team, amongst our partners, collaborators and resident communities. Not because it’s a nice thing to do, but because we think diverse voices, lived experiences, different perspectives, different ways of working and diverse skill sets will make the work better, our teams stronger and our collective impact greater. 

Put frankly, we feel this is the only way we stand a chance of tackling the highly complex, interconnected and seemingly intractable challenges around who owns our towns and cities, who has access and how we use space.

We know we have a long way to go to get to where we want to be, but we are ambitious. With the stakes as high as they are, we can’t afford to be otherwise.

Starting at home: Building a more diverse and representative team

A graphic of a side profile face silhouette with faded architectural imagery against a dark green backdrop reading 'RACE' and SPACE, a new curriculum

We’ve been investing a lot of thought and time lately in one of the areas that is foundational to this work: our recruitment processes and the new jobs we are creating as we grow.

Makespace Oxford is a young organisation that’s grown very quickly in the last 18-months, yet in the scheme of things we remain tiny, with limited resources. So far, our focus has been on working to improve how we connect with and support communities that have been historically excluded from accessing space across Oxfordshire. We are now increasing our focus on how our application processes for new job opportunities can be as inclusive and fair as possible, to build a more diverse and representative team. 

We’re educating ourselves around unconscious bias and the present and historic inequities at the heart of land and property ownership (the Bartlett’s Curriculum on Race and Space, amongst other sources, has been instructive in this work). We recognise bias can never be completely eradicated and so we’re working hard to make ourselves as aware of our biases as possible and to build better systems and processes that reveal, counter, or at least minimise their impact.

Sharing our learning

We’ve learned a lot from studying some brilliant organisations who are streets ahead of us and we’d like to share a few here who’ve influenced our thinking: 

The Ready – a global organisational design agency, making its hiring process clearer and minimising bias

Snook –  a design studio built to make the world more human, offers this fantastic inclusive recruitment in design guide

Nesta – an innovation agency for social good; centres its desire for diverse teams and its strong values from the outset. We love their clear recruitment process, FAQs and bold vision for equity

and more locally,

Oxford Hub – a locally based Charity working to build a more equal, resilient and connected Oxford. We love their Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Charter.

Aspire Oxfordshire -An employment Charity and long term partner. We appreciate their work to influence other local employers and clear definitions of what they mean by inclusive recruitment and links to centring wellbeing in the workplace

We’re really only at the start of this journey. We recognise the work to build a better recruitment process is never finished and just one piece of the puzzle to create greater equity within Makespace, but we are committed to continually improving our processes, seeking out those leading the way and receiving feedback as a gift.

A personal and human-centred recruitment process

We don’t have the luxury of high-tech software, complex systems or consultants, (although we love what Applied is doing, and maybe one day…). This means we have to be smart and conscientious with the small amount of resources we do have. 

We don’t use recruitment agencies and don’t spend lots of money on advertising. We are more interested in creating a personal and human-centred recruitment process that helps could-be team members assess if we’re right for them, as much as whether we think they could find a sense of belonging and do great work at Makespace.

We’re not experts, and we’re learning all the time. And we’re trying to experiment to get to the point where we can be much more inclusive and more representative as a team of the communities in which we’re working and want to support further.

Our progress so far

Here are a few steps we’ve taken for this current round of recruitment now live (as of October 2022 – see job packs and roles here!):

– Creation of an application pack giving a better (less formal) description of who we are, how we work and what we are looking for from candidates

– Anonymised application process, removing all indicators of age, gender, race, home address, etc. that could bias assessments

– No longer receiving CVs. Instead, we’ve created a short form with consistent questions for all, to help focus our mind on the quality of the responses

– Equal Opportunities monitoring

– Scrutinised our language in Job Descriptions for gender bias and jargon (using a gender bias decoder)

– Revised Job Descriptions to remove requirements for qualifications unless absolutely essential

– Supporting the submission of video applications

– Inviting prospective applicants to contact us if they are facing any barriers to applying

Making interview questions available in advance of the interview date

– Running  online events where applicants have the opportunity to ‘meet the team’ and ask direct questions about the roles, the application process and what it is really like working at Makespace

These steps are a starting point, and we know that there is much more we need to do. Going forward, we plan to build on these changes and introduce more measures that will help us to become a more inclusive and representative organisation, and one that is positioned to tackle the challenges we face around how we access and use space.

What else could we include? We’d love to hear your ideas, or what you are already doing.

If you have a recruitment process you’re particularly proud of in your organisation, or if you’ve found an organisation who’s been doing recruitment that centres inclusivity and diversity, please share it! We’d love to hear from you with comments, resources or suggestions. We’re keen to learn, iterate and improve and we’re always open to constructive feedback and fresh ideas.