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Let’s be more open

Written by: Ben Parsonage is senior consultant with GatenbySanderson’s local government practice
Published on: 12 Oct 2023

We talk about diversity and inclusion in executive recruitment processes all day, every day. We are strong advocates of widening the gate, not lowering the bar when bringing together diverse fields of candidates for our clients and have been successful in doing so. But are we being as considerate as we should, or dare I say need to be, of individuals lived experiences? Do executive search processes give candidates the opportunity to share their lived experience without the fear of introducing bias, either conscious or unconscious?

When applying for new positions, we tend to focus on our professional experience, skills, leadership traits, building partnerships, and the ability to be good corporate citizens. We know however that human beings are more than just the sum of their professional experiences. All our experiences shape who we are, how we behave and our empathy with others. They have value too.

While lived experience is valuable to almost any senior position, there is a real benefit when recruiting leaders involved in making significant decisions or delivering services that directly affect or impact others. Lived experience refers to the ‘first-hand knowledge and understanding gained through personal events or situations that confer a different perspective and insight’. This particularly benefits public sector organisations, especially those like local authorities that are service delivery oriented, where having both diversity of background and experience around the decision-making table can directly influence the outcomes and benefits of the communities they serve.

Leaders with lived experience can bring a better understanding of the needs and concerns of the community, as well as provide a fresh perspective on how to address and solve problems. This diversity of thought can result in innovative and effective solutions due to genuine empathy for how policies, services and interactions affect individuals.

For example, if you grew up with parents whose first language isn’t English and had to help translate for them when speaking with council services teams, you will have had a different experience with (and therefore perspective of) those services and what worked for you personally. That is of enormous value when designing customer experience and customer service approaches for a borough with rich cultural diversity serving many communities.

Personal experience of living in or knowing those that have lived in social housing, might help to better align priorities and decisions and challenge investment decisions that are made almost exclusively on largely financial assumptions. Your own lived experience may bring a unique insight into some of the barriers that prevent communities from accessing services.

The next time you are considering bringing someone into your top team, ask yourself these three questions:

• How can we adapt our application process to hear about candidates lived experiences?

• How can we give candidates the confidence to share their lived experiences with us throughout the recruitment process? and

• How will a candidate’s own lived experience add value to our organisation and/or top team?

If you are not thinking about lived experience, now is the time.

To those considering the next step in their career, the next time you are applying for a new position – if you are comfortable doing so – open up about the experiences you have had that have helped shape who you are today and how they have helped shape your values and the different perspective you will bring to the role. This, along with your professional experience, will give an employer a more complete understanding of who you are and what’s important to you. Even better, it gives you a more nuanced assessment of whether the organisation is right for you.

Your own lived experience is unique to you and makes your candidacy a unique proposition to future employers.

Ben Parsonage is senior consultant with GatenbySanderson’s local government practice