The message is out: Diversity and Inclusion is good for business. And although this awareness is important, bias can remain pervasive in the recruitment processes.
Bias is a symptom of structural inequality, and it can cause us to unconsciously favour people who are most like us. For more info about bias, read my article about Diversity and Inclusion strategies for small- or medium-sized businesses.
Many people believe that ensuring diversity on the recruitment panel is enough. Unfortunately, research suggests that the opposite is the case. The diagram below shows a typical recruitment process. Here, we’ll work through each step to better understand how bias can affect the recruitment process (and what you can do about it).
Whether this role is a new or existing one, a position description can be a hiding place for many kinds of biases, which can impact who applies for the role and who is successful. There is a lot of research around the use of gendered language in position descriptions and job advertisements – but there is much more to it than that.
Studies tell us that women and minority groups are more likely to apply for roles with shorter position descriptions and less essential selection criteria. Often, women will only apply for a role if they believe they meet 100% of the essential selection criteria whereas men usually apply regardless.
So, remember that essential means essential. If you came across an outstanding candidate and they met all but one of your criteria would you still hire them? If the answer is yes, then that criteria is not essential.
When creating a job advertisement your role is to market the role to a diverse range of people. Too often a job ad is created with a particular person in mind. For example, if you’re interested in people with disabilities applying for the role, think about them when creating and editing your job ad. Consider what they would be looking for in a working environment. But don’t just guess, find out. Test your language and content on people who do have a disability and see what they say. Would they apply?
For more insights about considering inclusion in your business’s next job advertisement, watch my conversation with Australia’s Women in STEM Ambassador Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith.
I recently entered a tennis competition. I was attracted to it because it was advertised as an inclusive event for people of all genders. However, when I went to apply for it, the first question on the form was: ‘What is your gender?’ The only options I could select from were male and female. Now, this may seem like an obvious example, but if there’s no place for me on an application form, I doubt there’s a place for me in your organisation.
Not only should you get your gender question right, but you might also consider collecting other demographic data. I understand the complexities around this and the hesitation that many organisations have. But, you can’t expect to be able to increase workforce diversity if you aren’t measuring it in some way. It’s important to think about:
Gender-balanced shortlists. Yes or no? The answer: it depends. If you’ve been tracking your data, you’ll know whether this approach will be successful or not. If women are applying for the role but not making it to the interview, then a balanced shortlist may be just the circuit breaker you need.
Be sure to design the interview process to mitigate the impact of bias. When it comes to the crunch, who gets to make the final decision on the hire and what criteria is it based on? It’s not enough to have a diverse recruitment panel if people from different backgrounds and experiences don’t play a significant role in the decision being made.
Our feelings about and interactions with a person are often guided by bias. In practice, this can present as a willingness to trust people who are like you, which is called similarity bias. Further, if a potential employee fits the stereotypical view you have of the role, you’re more likely to think they’re competent and you’ll have made a positive judgement of them when you first meet. Following this interaction, confirmation bias kicks in, where you seek affirmation of the candidate’s competence which validates your decision to hire them.
The trick is noticing this when asking for reference checks. Consider:
There are some creative and interesting ways organisations are seeking references that strategically reduce the impact of bias. Watch this space!
Finally, there’s the induction stage. If you’ve sold an inclusive environment and someone walks into the workplace and experiences anything but inclusion then you have a problem. Leading Diversity and Inclusion practitioner Riley Edwards said to me once: “Clean up your backyard before you invite people to the party.” I think this translates perfectly. Don’t assume that more diversity in your workplace will create inclusion. You must be actively working on the inclusion part at the same time as you seek to increase your diversity. Retaining your new hire is crucial to improving Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace.
16 August 2021
10 May 2022
18 March 2022