HR Case Study Challenge at SFU Addresses Bias & Other Issues

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A Goldbeck-sponsored challenge saw groups of students make impressive presentations. Learn how the next generation would tackle these issues.

The future of Human Resources is in good hands if a recent case study competition held at Simon Fraser University is any indication. Now it’s up to those in the corporate world to acknowledge and act upon the ideas that are shaping today’s, and tomorrow’s, workplace landscapes.

Four teams of HR students at SFU put together a formal response to a case study question as part of their final semester. The following is a summary of the challenge and the responses from BC’s newest HR professionals.

Goldbeck Recruiting is proud to sponsor the annual competition in conjunction with SFU that finds groups of students presenting their recommendations at the Human Resources Student Association soiree. The presentations showcased the talents of all involved, impressing the judges and other attendees, while addressing the challenges facing human resources departments moving forward. 

The Challenge: Possible Discrimination and Lack of Advancement Opportunities

Groups of four students were tasked with analyzing the situation facing a fictional medium-sized construction firm named SWM. Despite the company’s longevity and reputation for reliability, they find themselves facing several HR challenges. 

Employee development is not emphasized, limiting opportunities for career advancement and training. What’s more, the company has failed to hire candidates for two junior accountant positions, despite several strong applicants. Bias against immigrants is a potential factor. 

Participants in the case study challenge were to address the situation and make recommendations. In doing so, they considered discrimination, DEI, and immigration, as well as fairness and social justice.

Making the Case for a Diverse Workplace

The groups each argued in favour of a more diverse workplace that reflects the current Canadian population. 

They reasoned that those who didn’t recruit from immigrant or minority populations were hurting themselves by failing to utilize the tremendous talent available therein. That talent pool is especially strong in STEM skills. 

Additionally, the failure to present a diverse workplace has the potential to damage the company’s reputation with the labour market as a whole. One group cited a statistic which indicated that 76% of job seekers see a diverse workforce as an important factor as they evaluate their career opportunities. The value placed on diversity is particularly strong for Gen Z and Millennials, who represent the future of the workforce.

Impact of Diversity on Retention, Marketing

According to one of the presentations, companies that have Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies are 2.6X more likely to engage and retain staff members. 

It was argued that diversity helps with the marketplace as well. Companies that enjoy a good reputation for diversity will be looked upon favourably by consumers. What’s more, members of immigrant communities will bring special insight to the table with regards to penetrating those markets. In fact, the fresh perspectives brought by diverse team members can carry value across the board. 

It was also pointed out that there are government subsidies available which promote diverse hiring.

Recommendations for Increasing Diversity

The teams weren’t just focussed on identifying problems, but offered solutions as well. The SFU students presented a range of ideas that were designed to increase the diversity of applicants and to promote inclusivity for those already on the payroll.

Diversity of Marketing Equals Diversity of Talent

It was recommended by several groups that the best way to get a more diverse group of applicants was by advertising the job in a more diverse range of places. Candidates can be found by posting the job description to boards used by Indigenous People, women, international students, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community. 

Companies were also advised to write job descriptions that used inclusive language.

Qualification-Based Job Searches

Another consistent theme was the importance of strongly defining and identifying qualifications. By elevating the visibility of qualifying criteria, it’s possible to minimize the prevalence of bias, some of which may even be unconscious. 

These desired traits and credentials should be front and center throughout the process, including during the interview itself. Students felt that blind screening was another way that bias and discrimination could be removed from the equation.

Many Ways to Combat Discrimination and Bias

In fact, the groups had many ideas for promoting diversity. Diversifying the hiring panel was presented as an idea, as was attention to reworking policy handbooks. DEI training and workshops were touted, as were greater recognition of foreign credentials. The benefits of formal mentorship programs were also discussed.

Addressing Lack of Internal Development

While addressing diversity issues took up a large part of the presentations, the case study also noted that lack of opportunity for advancement was an internal issue at SWM. The students correctly noted that such an atmosphere can result in an unmotivated staff with high turnover. Among other things, the presenters suggested that job postings could be publicized internally prior to being made public.

Process, Presentations, and Support

Judges were impressed not only by the students’ top line recommendations, but by the strength of their presentations, their supporting rationale, and the detail that was included in implementation plans. It all pointed toward a group that will be prepared to hit the ground running when they join the workforce. 

The presentations themselves were well designed and articulated, with strong PowerPoint slides, names being assigned to particular recommended programs, and the use of employee personas. The result was a persuasive mix of education and entertainment. 

Financial calculations were presented that acknowledged the cost of their recommendations while also detailing a projected financial return. Such diligence will be well appreciated by employers when the students find themselves graduating from case studies to real world situations. 

The groups used decision making charts and timelines to show a realistic path forward. Suggested milestones, metrics, and evaluation points were included to support implementation, providing a measurable tracking mechanism for success.

Statistics were used to illustrate the presentations and bolster credibility including numbers on immigration, Canada’s population, and labour statistics. 

The presenting students were also realistic about the challenges that would likely be faced by the construction firm as they implemented the recommendations. One group recommended that AI be used to help draft effective job descriptions, but acknowledged that humans would need to be involved in order to avoid unintended consequences. Another recommended diversity hiring quotas, while acknowledging that careful management would be necessary to combat impressions of tokenism.

And the Winner Is…

Collectively the students came across as informed, articulate, innovative, and professional. Despite the strength of each presentation, the judges were tasked with selecting a winner. 

At evening’s end, the triumphant team was the one that named themselves “Vertex Consulting”. The group consisted of Flora Kim, Willis Leung, Charlene Zou, and Eva Chan. The winning presentation was dubbed ‘Pivoting: Promoting Inclusivity One Pivot at a Time.’ 

As a company that specializes in executive recruitment, Goldbeck is constantly evaluating labour market trends and working to promote a better workplace environment. It was a pleasure to enjoy the presentations given by these young HR students; an indication that the future is bright. Companies would do well to heed their recommendations as they work to improve their own HR practices.