How to reduce bias in your recruitment process

The argument for building a diverse workforce is well rehearsed – better customer insight, improved innovation, higher levels of employee engagement to name just a few of the benefits to be had. In an era of low unemployment and pressing skills shortages, organisations also need to make sure they are doing everything they can to attract a broad range of talented people.

Illustration of three people in suits sitting on chairs

Research suggests, however, that bias is still deeply ingrained in recruitment process and that there is still some way to go before truly diverse workforces become a reality. A Hays survey, for example, found that over half of respondents believe their leaders have a bias towards those who look, think and act like them, while only 38 per cent said their organisation is pro-active in its efforts to source diverse candidates.

There has been much excitement about the advent of AI-based hiring tools, where algorithms, rather than humans, make the decisions about which applicants are rated positively and which CVs are shortlisted. But it has become apparent that rather than eradicating bias, AI is sometimes making it worse. As UCL professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic points out in a recent Harvard Business Review article, if algorithms are trained to emulate human recruiters, they may not just reproduce human biases, but also exacerbate them, leading to even greater discrimination.

So while these tools remain a work in progress, it is down to HR to do all it can to create a level playing field when it comes to attracting talent. So what can you do to root bias out of your recruitment processes and ensure you are attracting the widest possible pool of talent?

1. Put the recruitment process under the microscope

Hays recommends investigating each step of the selection process to unearth bias and enable the business to take a more consciously inclusive approach. Is the language being used in job descriptions inadvertently alienating people? Does the selection criteria focus more on whether people will ‘fit in’, rather than their ability to do the job? Is ‘group think’ influencing the final decision to hire? As diversity expert Charlotte Sweeney says: “All of us should continually build the ‘inclusion’ muscle into our recruitment practices and processes to truly make sure we are continually hiring the best from the widest possible talent pool.”

2. Review marketing materials

The job advertisement or recruitment page of the company website provides the all-important first impression any candidate will have of the business. Make sure the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion comes across loud and clear on all channels – and that what is being said is consistent across the piece. Review all material for imagery and language that may be reinforcing gender, age or other stereotypes. In the Hays survey, only 48 per cent of respondents said the imagery and branding in their recruitment materials reflected a diverse workplace. There are writing tools, such as Texito for example, which can help to identify and fix gendered language. Think carefully about where you are advertising vacancies too, to ensure information gets to under-represented groups.

3. Sharpen up on shortlisting

The short-listing stage of the recruitment process is where bias often creeps in. Recent research from Milkround, for example, says ‘university snobbery’ is still an issue for graduates looking for their first job – with those who have attended Russell Group universities often favoured over other candidates. ‘Blind’ decision making – where information such as names or university attended is stripped out of CVs – is reportedly being used by organisations such as Deloitte and the BBC to create a more level playing field on their graduate recruitment programmes. The key is to make sure the shortlisting process is focused on the skills and competencies people need to perform well in the role, rather than on the more personal aspects.

4. Rethink the interview panel

It’s worth thinking about who people are going to be meeting with when they turn up for an interview. Are your interview panels typically diverse, made up of people with different perspectives and demographic profiles – or are they ‘male, pale and stale’, to quote the much-used phrase? A recent article in Fast Company points out the tendency for us to recruit in our own image. That doesn’t apply just to race or gender; we also look for people who think and express themselves in a similar way to us. More diverse panels will not only help to convey the message that the company values D&I, they will also lead to more diverse hiring decisions.

5. Crunch the numbers

A good HR system can give you the data you need to track, analyse and improve the organisation’s diversity performance. It will highlight areas where action is needed and can support decision making. The problem is that data often isn’t captured consistently or at all stages of the employee lifecycle. Hays research suggests, for example, that although 66 per cent of companies capture diversity data at the recruitment stage, far fewer collect it at key stages of career development or when people leave. Make sure you exploit the wealth of information available in your HR system to inform decisions about recruiting and resourcing and put the spotlight on areas where the business needs to pay more attention.

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