Efforts to build diverse workforces that reflect the society we live in are being ramped up. Last week the CBI called for FTSE 100 firms to have at least one racially and ethnically diverse board member by the end of 2021. This was given further weight when major institutional investor, Legal & General, announced this week that it will vote against firms that do not appoint an ethnic-minority director in the next 15 months.
Most organisations are putting in place initiatives to improve diversity, but why are so many still struggling? We know from our work as psychologists and as data scientists that there are danger areas along the recruitment journey. If bias during recruitment compromises fair decision making, it will ultimately compromise workforce diversity.
Here we share some of the points where we most commonly see diversity in hiring fall down. These are taken from our new white paper, Levelling the Playing Field.
At times when recruiters have more applications than they can deal with, it’s tempting to resort to screening or ‘killer’ questions to quickly whittle down applications. But if these questions rely on exclusive knowledge or experience, for example ‘which university did you go to’, they can be heavily biased in favour of the status quo and further embed unfairness and bias.
The CV, an important part of the traditional recruitment journey, is loaded with opportunity for biased decision making. Not only do CVs define candidates through their past achievements rather than future potential, bias also creeps in because of presentation choices and the reader’s unconscious bias relating to candidates’ names, and employment history.
Education level used to be a minimum requirement for roles but in recent years, organisations are increasingly moving away from this measure. Academic achievement is linked to education opportunity, and therefore those from more disadvantaged backgrounds will be less likely to be considered even when they have great potential to succeed. Screening based on education can damage social mobility and discriminate against candidates from disadvantaged groups.
Whether face to face or online, unstructured interviews have been shown to be much less predictive than either structured interviews or other more objective assessment measures. With a huge element of personal judgment, the interview is one of the greatest causes of biased recruitment decisions.
Traditional assessment is like a hurdle race, with candidates completing one test at a time, with some falling out of the race at each stage. This approach is likely to produce too few qualified candidates from some groups and create biased results. For example, if you assess for numeracy early on and discount all those who are poor at maths (linked to education opportunity), you’ll never know whether they’re a customer-focused team-player.
Poorly designed assessments that lack scientific rigour can bring with them a degree of embedded bias. For example, assessments that use scenarios that will be unfamiliar to some candidates. This is also true of some emerging technology, such as video interview tools which monitor sentiment as well as what is said, that remains unproven in terms of its ability to accurately predict success without bias.
The assessment centre is a good opportunity to use a mix of different assessment methods. But if assessors are not well trained in managing unconscious bias or if the content of the centre itself favours particular groups, there is potential for biased decisions to be made.
All too often biodata on candidates is either not collected, or it’s stored in separate systems with no way to interrogate the data as a whole. If data isn’t connected in one platform, it’s not possible to continually diagnose and optimise the hiring process for fairness.
This list highlights some of the areas where, despite a company’s best efforts, biased decision making could be detracting from your organisation’s achievement of its diversity goals. The business case for diversity is well evidenced but despite investing in initiatives, many organisations are still struggling to nurture a diverse workforce from entry to executive level.
Hiring is the first hurdle and there are many ways you can level the playing field. At Sova, we’ve long championed fairness and equality in recruitment and career progression and this is the theme of our new white paper Levelling the Playing field which you can download now.