Seven steps to inclusive recruitment and workplace diversity

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How to ensure your recruitment process is genuinely unbiased and inclusive – meaning you hire the best possible candidates

Teresa Norman, one of EW Group’s Diversity and Talent Management specialists, shares her top tips on diversity and inclusion in recruitment – throughout the whole process.

The business case for a more diverse workforce has never been clearer and evidence shows that businesses with diverse workforces are more likely to financially outperform their industry’s national average.

How is recruitment changing? Recruiting quite rightly takes up a lot of time so it makes sense to look for ways to bring greater efficiencies and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly seen as a way to do this. AI claims to speed up the recruitment process by:

  • reducing time spent writing job descriptions
  • pre-scanning CVs with machines learning algorithms to instantly discover the best candidates
  • automating screenings and interviews to assess larger numbers of candidates

However, this begs the question, can we take people out of the most important decision a manager will make? Is it possible to create an inclusive, diverse recruitment process using AI?

McKinsey tell us that AI can both bake in bias (and at scale) and could also reduce bias by automating decisions.

Let’s focus on how it is baked in. If AI is being created by companies without inclusive recruitment processes of their own, this technology poses a risk to reinforcing unconscious bias in recruiting.

Take Amazon. Between 2014 and 2015, the multinational’s AI specialists built an algorithm to review CVs and automate their recruitment process – but they uncovered a big problem: their new recruitment engine did not like women.

While automation has been a key factor behind Amazon’s success as a business, it actively undermined the company’s efforts to create a fair and equal recruitment process.

The system learned to vet applications by observing patterns in CVs submitted to Amazon over a ten-year period. It chose those who had been successful (men), it favoured the use of more typically male language.  This reflected the gender imbalance within the tech industry. Amazon’s model of success was built on who was currently successful, not who might be in the future. So, it built in bias.

I don’t think inclusive recruitment can be automated. It takes careful processes and approaches to be successful, and as with all things related to diversity and inclusion at work, it isn’t just a box to be ticked. Every time you recruit, it requires new thinking and questioning to ensure you are doing everything to attract the best candidates and allow them to succeed.

Seven steps to inclusive recruitment and diverse teams

1. Write inclusive job descriptions

First, let’s focus on the job description:

  • have you defined – as clearly as possible – what the job role is and the skills it requires?
  • could someone outside your organisation easily understand what is needed?

All organisations develop their own language; it is part of the world you operate in every day. While this may make sense to everyone already working in your industry or sector, if you want to attract people who are different to the status quo, they need to understand what is expected from the get-go – not be left confused by unnecessary jargon. You may even wish to consider running your wording past someone outside your company to see if they understand what you are looking for.

Make sure the criteria you set are clear and reflect the skills and competencies needed to do the job.

2. Widen your search to include diverse groups and pools of talent

Next up, job advertisement. You will want to think about the following:

  • where are you placing the ad?
  • are you being mindful of different groups who may want to apply?

Not so long ago, I heard a story of someone who had questioned why their organisation was not employing more people with a certain protected characteristic. The response? “They don’t apply.” Instead of blaming the applicants, this organisation should have seriously considered whether they were advertising their roles in the wrong place.

So how do you widen your applicant base? Nowadays, you can place your job ads on large recruitment websites, LinkedIn, or in a broadsheet newspaper, but you can also be imaginative. Get the word out there via promoted social media posts, or through the various networking groups and membership societies that work with under-represented groups.

3. Inclusively design the application process

Think about how easy you can make it for a diverse range of job applicants to apply for roles.

In your recruitment system, check that the messages and instructions displayed throughout the application form-filling process are friendly and inclusive, not overly formal, and punitive. Design the application process in a simple way that does not confuse or frustrate applicants.

Do not forget the basics, either. Your organisation’s commitment to equal opportunities is something that really matters to diverse applicants – does your equality and diversity policy stand out the way it should?

4. Make shortlisting fair

If you have been crystal clear when deciding the criteria you are measuring applicants against, shortlisting should be easy. It’s best practice to have at least two people shortlisting in a formal meeting setting, they can then actively challenge any assumptions made by the other.

Assessing CVs without including any personal information is also effective at removing any bias against diverse applicants. This involves getting a person not involved in the shortlisting process to make sure the panel does not see names, schools, locations, and date of birth, ensuring assessors’ decisions only account for the skills and experience of the candidate – the things that matter.

5. Allow for reasonable adjustments at interview

Check whether the interviewee needs any reasonable adjustments, then remember to make them and communicate them to the candidate, ahead of time.

This is not just good practice; there are instances of tribunals when applicants have won their case based on the inadequacy of the arrangements made.

6. Prepare for an inclusive interview

The more preparation you do for the interview, the less the danger of making a biased decision and the greater the chance that you will make an evidence-based decision because you know exactly what you are looking for and how to elicit the information you need. Preparation involves agreeing in advance:

  • the individual roles of your panel members
  • the questions you will be asking
  • how you will score each applicant’s answers
  • whether you will be asking supplementary questions
  • the potential impact of implicit or unconscious bias (find out about unconscious bias training)

Your planning will give you the time you need to concentrate on the things that really matter during the interview: setting the right tone, finding the best means for candidates to demonstrate their capabilities, asking questions, listening, writing notes.

Now that many interviews are held online, you also need to include more time in interviews for screen freezing and any technical issues that might come up.

7. Inclusive interviews: set the right tone, ask the right questions

Part of setting the right interview tone is to have as diverse a panel as possible. This is a chance to demonstrate that you are a diverse organisation – right there in the room – reassuring candidates that you employ people like them.

Creating the atmosphere is important, too. In a 2005 experiment carried out by Woodzicka and LaFrance, students who were asked inappropriate or offensive questions in a job interview ‘paused’, ‘trailed off’, and ‘screwed up the interview’ when compared to the control group. Prior to the interview, a majority anticipated they would call out the inappropriate questions. In the event, during the interviews, when the question was asked, the students in the experiment answered it and then performed worse than the control group, who were not asked offensive questions. This sends a clear message to hiring managers: ultimately, being aggressive in the interview is totally counter-productive.

When asking questions, focus on the candidate’s motivation as well as the specific requirements of the job. Listen actively, then appraise the person’s suitability for the post only once the interview has finished. This helps you keep the tasks separate and manage ‘cognitive load’. Overloading your brain can lead to biased decision making.

And when you are doing online interviews, remember to:

  • Test the technology and that it works for both candidate and panel, ideally sometime in advance of the interview
  • Check whether the candidate can hear you
  • Make sure you make any online reasonable adjustments

Develop a more inclusive recruitment process with EW Group

Inclusive recruitment can have a dramatic effect on increasing diversity in your business. These seven strategies typically represent the minimum organisations can do to improve diversity and inclusion in recruitment, and the steps your company requires will be unique to your organisation. That is where EW Group’s experts come in. We offer both training and audits of your recruitment processes.

Find out about our inclusive recruitment training and open courses

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