In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 makes discrimination in certain settings illegal - and this is true in employment and the recruitment process. The Equality Act (and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the US) has identified several characteristics that are protected:
- Gender (including reassignment)
- Marital Status
- Religion or Belief
- Sexual Orientation
- Country of Origin
In recruitment selection, overt discrimination might not seem like a problem, but it is important to recognise where there might be 'unconscious bias' in the process, so that employers can get the benefits that a diverse workforce will bring.
Understanding how to identify discrimination
The first step in creating an inclusive recruitment process is to recognise how discrimination can come into each stage.
A fair recruitment process allows all applicants that meet skill and experience criteria to have the same chance of being selected. This means that the language used in the job advert, where it is advertised, the selection criteria used, the interview preparation, and even the interview itself need to be inclusive and thoughtful.
In most cases, discrimination in recruitment is not obvious - and not a purposeful act. However, unconscious bias can affect the way recruiters and employers view applicants.
It is normal for us to feel comfortable around people that are 'like us', but in recruitment, this could be damaging the business (as well as risking litigation). People can have an unconscious bias about race, religion, gender, and even things like schools and physical beauty - and recognising this discriminatory behaviour will ensure that candidates for job roles are chosen for the skills and experience they can bring to the business.
Some managers pride themselves on choosing a new hire based on their 'gut feeling' or their intuition - and it is here that unconscious bias can be found.
Types of recruitment selection discrimination
Recruitment selection discrimination can be related to any of the protected characteristics, but there are a few unconscious biases that seem to be more prevalent:
Stereotypical gender roles are still in mind for some employers - some roles may be considered unsuitable for a woman or a man thanks to outdated traditions. Some obvious examples of 'jobs for boys' might be in construction, and 'jobs for girls' might be in a children's nursery.
Advertising a role that is aimed at getting a specific gender to apply is a form of discrimination, although some occupational requirements might need only a specific gender to be employed.
While racism might not be as widespread in Britain as it once was, we have seen recently there are still problems with systemic racism that need to be addressed.
Racist bias might not just be about the colour of an applicant's skin; it can mean immigrants too. Being biased against someone because of their skin colour or country of origin can drastically reduce the diversity of the workforce.
While some roles might not be suitable for older applicants due to the physicality of the work involved, age bias in general means disregarding potentially perfect candidates purely because they are 'too young' or 'too old'.
Affinity bias is discrimination based on how 'like me' a person is. We know that the bias of someone who looks like us, perhaps came from the same home town, or even went to the same school can tie into discrimination.
Affinity bias can be an insidious problem. There is a growing trend to look for characteristics outside of skills and experience to ensure that a candidate is a good 'culture fit' - and affinity bias can feed into this.
Giving preferential and favourable treatment to someone physically attractive is a form of unconscious bias. Studies have shown that candidates are more likely to receive a call back if they attach a photograph of an attractive person to their CV in comparison to those who either don't attach one or are not considered conventionally attractive.
Reviewing Your Selection Process
If you want to make sure that your selection process is not discriminatory, it is important to fully review each stage to be inclusive.
Start with the job description. Be sure to include the skills and experiences that are necessary, and check the language used does not exclude anyone.
Think about where you are placing the adverts, too. There are online job boards and recruitment agencies, physical adverts in newspapers and magazines, and even through social media like LinkedIn and Facebook. Ensuring that as many different candidates have access to apply is important.
Selection of candidates is another important stage - paper sifts should be based only on the established criteria and perhaps even as anonymous as possible. For the interviews, think about accessibility. This doesn't only mean ensuring that applicants can physically attend, but also if there is any support with technology that might be needed.
There are many steps that recruiters can take to avoid discrimination in the hiring process, and we have highlighted some of these below.
How to avoid discrimination
1. Reword job descriptions
Think about the exact wording of the job description for the role you are advertising. You will need to include essential criteria like skills, qualifications, and experience as well as desirable criteria like a second language or union memberships.
Try to avoid any language or phrasing that might exclude someone with protected characteristics.
2. Consider pre-employment screening
Pre-employment assessments can be a great way to select candidates without unconscious bias. Professionally designed aptitude tests allow recruiters to objectively gather data about the applicant and their skills.
Assessments can give recruiters information about specific skill sets, or they can demonstrate inherent soft skills like problem-solving, communication, and leadership.
Using pre-employment screening tests to reduce a candidate pool based on aptitude and skill allows only the applicants who meet the criteria to move forward in the process; no 'gut feeling' needed.
3. Better Interviewing Processes
Interviewing is important for a successful recruitment process, but it is important to manage interviews to prevent any unconscious bias.
Access to the interviews, whether online or in person, is an important factor in inclusivity. If you are organising virtual interviews, make sure that the candidates are aware of what to expect and how the interview will work - this might include sharing a download link for special software, perhaps.
For in-person interviews, make sure that the room you are using is accessible for those who might have mobility issues.
During the interview, make sure that everyone involved knows their role, and consider the following:
- What questions will be asked? Are they likely to be discriminatory? (For example, you cannot ask a woman whether she is planning to become pregnant.)
- How are answers to be scored, and by who?
- What are the panels doing to ensure that there is no unconscious bias creeping in?
4. Try blind hiring
Blind hiring is a name given to the process of anonymising applications to make sure that initial selection is based on the skills and experience of each candidate.
In practice, this usually means that someone outside the recruitment process removes identifying personal information from the application form and CV before they are assessed. Although this might be an additional step that may have a cost attached, it is a good way to remove the possibility of bias in this early stage.
It is worth noting that even with anonymised applications, there can still be personal information that might be left to help recruiters form a mental picture of the candidate - things like hobbies, for example.
5. Training and upskilling
If you have a recruitment team, it might be worth considering making additions and involving different people in the process - especially choosing from diverse backgrounds. You can also create a system of checks and balances where no one person holds the final say in employing someone new.
Making diversity training an integral part of being involved in the hiring process makes it more likely that any discrimination or unconscious bias will be recognised - in self and others.
6. Get candidate feedback
Interviewing is a two-way process; the candidate is learning as much about the organisation through the recruitment process as the recruiters are learning about them.
This means that it is worth finding out how your process is perceived by candidates as they move through it.
It is expected that a good recruiter will provide timely and constructive feedback to candidates, especially if they are unsuccessful. Receiving feedback from applicants will allow recruiters to understand if there are any issues around discrimination - or any other improvements to the candidate experience that can be made in the process as a whole.