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Last Friday Twitter announced it’s commitment to diversity by outlining it’s goals for boosting the proportion of women and underrepresented minorities in it’s workforce.

The social networking site aims to increase the percentage of women on its payroll to 35%, as well as ensuring that 16% of its tech roles and 25% of its leadership roles are filled by women by 2016. Furthermore Twitter wants to see ‘underrepresented minority groups’ make up 11% of its global workforce by 2016. Currently, women make up 34% of Twitter’s overall staff, however women make up only 13% of tech roles within the organisation and only 22% of leadership positions as shown in the graph above. Meanwhile 72% of leadership roles at Twitter were held by caucasian staff and 28% by Asian staff,  with no representation at this level from other ethnicities.

Janet Van Huysse, VP of Human Resources at Twitter made a public announcement on Twitter’s blog explaining the diversity announcement.  “Our aim is to build a company we can really be proud of- one that’s more inclusive and diverse- we need to make sure it’s a great place for both new and current employees to work and to grow. That’s why these new goals focus on increasing the overall representation of women and underrepresented minorities throughout the whole company”. She then made the statement: “We’re holding ourselves accountable to these measurable goals, as should you”.

Twitter isn’t the first tech company to announce diversity targets for 2016. Intel, Apple and Microsoft have all pledged to increase the representation of women within their organisation. Microsoft Managing Director for Australia, Pip Marlow, made the promise to ensure 50% of candidates hired for their graduate program were women. While this commitment to diversity is all very well and good, many have questioned whether using targets and quotas is an effective strategy to achieving diversity or whether it just becomes mere tokenism. After all, isn’t the most important part of recruitment that a person is hired not because of their gender, ethnicity or social background but because they are the best candidate for the job?

A significant number of the general public seem to think so. When ‘The Guardian’ reported on Twitter’s latest announcement, a number of individuals voiced their skepticism. One individual’s comment to the article read “Oh goody, more quotas and tokenism. Why not just hire the best people for the job, regardless of gender or skin colour?”

HAYS- a leading company in providing recruitment and human resources services calls this argument the ‘merit’ argument; that if you focus on recruiting a diverse workforce you do not recruit the candidate with the very best skills or experience, especially if the focus is on trying to fulfil a target. Of course the final recruitment decision should always be based on who possess the most suitable skills and experience. However HAYS argues that if there is not diversity in your application pool, how do you know if you have the very best shortlist from which to select from? Diversity in an applicant pool will ensure you select the very best shortlist.

Furthermore a considerable amount of reports have been released this year, citing statistics and research on how more ‘diverse’ organisations perform better in regards to finance and productivity. HAYS encourage voluntary targets rather than mandatory quotas to ensure that the final hiring decision is still at the discretion of the organisation.

The aim of these voluntary targets is to create a candidate pool of diverse composition, with many companies using targets to help ensure this. For example, large multi-national companies may set targets of two candidates for each diverse group, while smaller national organisations may set a target of one candidate from particular ‘diverse groups’ they’ve identified. For example to have at least 3 of their candidate list be female; all candidates should be reviewed on merit and all have the capacity to fulfil the role- but at least 3 of these candidates must be female. This ensures that the organisation has a diverse range of candidates to interview and consider, from which they can then make hiring decisions based on who has the best skills and experience.

Irregardless, balancing the act of creating a gender diverse workforce (or diverse workforce in general) with the act of hiring based purely on merit is a skill many organisations are still working towards and the most effective strategies for this are still being researched and debated amongst recruitment industries across the globe.

To find out more strategies HAYS has recommended for companies to encourage diversity, you can access their full report here: http://www.hays.com.au/cs/groups/hays_common/@au/@content/documents/digitalasset/hays_154080.pdf