Seven ways that your recruitment process could be unfair

We’ve spoken before about the benefits of a diverse workforce.  It promotes creativity, leads to more informed decisions and improves problem solving. Moreover, organisations with greater diversity are more representative of their clients and customers. Which can give them a competitive advantage over their less diverse counterparts. Put simply: diversity in the workplace has tangible and direct benefits.

And the topic has been thrust into the spotlight over recent weeks with the Black Lives Matter movement prompting many of us to reflect on our own attitudes.  And many more organisations than before to address their own diversity – or lack of – in the workplace.

Potentially, the starting point for improving diversity in your organisation is with recruitment.  But are your processes fair?  There are several fronts on which people could be disadvantaged in addition to race – including gender, disability and their socio-economic status (SES).  And when it comes to SES, according to government research from June 2020, black people were most likely to live in the most income-deprived 10% of neighbourhoods (19.8%), and white people were the least likely to (8.7%) . So, it is important to consider that if something is unfair to people of a lower SES then it is more likely to also disadvantage people from ethnic minorities.

Here are seven areas for consideration in assessing the fairness of your recruitment processes:

  1. Attraction

How do you attract candidates to your organisation?  Some companies reward employees who introduce new members of staff.  But if your team already lacks diversity this may not be helpful because we tend to gravitate towards people who are similar to us.  In background, experiences and education.

Similarly, internships (which are often low paid or not paid at all) can also be a barrier to social mobility.  Candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds simply can’t afford to benefit from these.  Research published by The Sutton Trust in 2018 estimated that the minimum monthly cost of an unpaid internship, taking into account rent, bills, travel and other livings costs, was £1,019 in London and £827 in Manchester.

Could you consider forming partnerships with school, colleges or universities to encourage a more diverse pool of applicants?

  1. Advertising

When it comes to the job advert, consider whether the language you use is inclusive and that you are welcoming to people of different ethnicities, sexes, abilities and so on through both the text and images.  Limit the ‘job requirements’ to the absolute must haves – people of lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to have access to desktop computers and therefore more likely to view adverts on a phone where dense or overly long text can be off-putting. Also, be sure to advertise across a range of platforms to encourage a more diverse pool of applicants.

  1. Assessments

There’s a wide range of processes to choose from when it comes to assessing candidates.  From application forms to personal statements and interviews to multiple mini interviews – the list goes on.  And, thanks to the rapid development of technology, the options are ever increasing with new virtual selection methods like online interviews, gamified assessments and artificial intelligence.

Whatever assessment type you choose, consider how each could accidently disadvantage some groups (adverse impact). For example, traditional medical school selection previously placed high reliance on academic achievement.  But research showed that this disadvantaged those from lower socio-economic backgrounds (Lievens, et al., 2016).  And while commonly men tend to perform better on aptitude tests, women do better in situational judgement tests (Kelly et al., 2018.).  And it is particularly important during the assessment phase to remember those with additional needs.  This may mean allowing people to take written tests orally or vice versa.  Or perhaps taking professional/medical advice regarding adjustments that might need to be made.

To make sure it’s a fair assessment, you must identify and work to eliminate these inevitable advantages and disadvantages.

  1. Processes

It’s paramount to think about the access candidates might – or might not – have to the required infrastructure at each stage of the assessment process.  For example, will everyone have the relevant technology to complete an online recruitment process?  Do they have a laptop? Do they have a quiet uninterrupted space to complete the assessments? The same could be said for an international candidate, who is expected to turn up for a face to face interview. Or someone with mobility issues. It’s all about finding a balance that’s fair and inclusive for everyone.

Monitoring the diversity of applicants at each stage of the recruitment and assessment process could also help to identify barriers and determine how these can be addressed.

  1. Assessors

Unconscious bias can be a significant factor in assessment.  We all have unintentional people preferences, formed by our social experiences. Once again, this is about our fundamental predisposition towards people like ourselves. Whether in terms of gender, ethnicity, background or education. To combat this, special training can be held ahead of assessments to give assessors the right tools to become more aware and inclusive.

Structured interviews, where every candidate is asked the same question and descriptors are provided within evaluation sheets to support objective evaluation, can also help to level the playing field.  As can a diverse interview panel

  1. Requirements

Take the time to question the requirements you’ve laid out in your recruitment.  A job advert might focus on education or qualifications.  But sometimes those without the ‘correct’ educational background, who haven’t come from a ‘top’ school or who perhaps have an apprenticeship rather than a degree can be filtered out by such person specifications.  Research also shows that women feel they need to meet 100% of the criteria to apply for a job, while men usually apply after meeting about 60%. So, try to determine the exact skills and traits needed to succeed in the role and whether your current requirements are valid or just what has always been done.

  1. Failing to challenge the status quo

It is the responsibility of us all to challenge bias and lack of fairness.  If you have taken steps towards a diverse workforce but are not yet there, then there is further work to be done.

Potentially that means going back even further in the process than attraction.  How can you design a system that invites those from disadvantaged groups to move to a position where they are able to apply for the sort of roles you’re looking to fill?  Could it start in schools?  Perhaps by offering mentoring or scholarships into sectors and industries that may not normally be easy for them to access?  For example, Google recently introduced a two-year internship in Brazil to promote black representation to reflect the diversity of their users.

The main thing is that achieving a truly diverse workforce requires change.  As the saying goes: “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”