Developing a Bias- and Barrier-Free Recruitment Process
By Ally Smit
Bias has the ability to negatively affect an organization’s success. Whereas the lines of understanding what constitutes discrimination are clear in the Canadian workplace, there are still many misconceptions regarding what bias is and how it can discourage a workforce from growing in diversity. Now more than ever, employers need to consider how they can encourage a bias- and barrier-free recruitment process in order to allow candidates of different backgrounds and experiences the opportunity to succeed.
Bias exists when someone fosters a disproportionate weight either in favour or against an idea or group. Bias is learned and can arise as a result of our personal, professional, and societal environments. Oftentimes an individual is not aware of their bias towards an idea or group, and as a result, they may unintentionally create barriers that make it difficult for an individual within this idea or group to succeed. The important aspect of bias to note is that although we may not have control over how we developed our bias, we can control whether we choose to identify and challenge the bias before it impacts our day-to-day interactions.
The recruitment process offers many opportunities for an employer or HR professional to lean into their bias when making a hiring decision. Therefore, in order to encourage diversity in the workforce and promote a fair recruitment process, we will reflect on the ways in which bias arises during the typical recruitment cycle, and actions we can take to ensure a bias- and barrier-free recruitment process.
- Reflecting on Your Own Bias
An important first step in the recruitment process is to identify and acknowledge any bias you may have so you can actively challenge it throughout the hiring cycle. The Implicit Association Test, developed by Harvard University, allows users to utilize free demo tests that test bias across a variety of subjects, such as countries, age, race, sexuality, gender and more. As mentioned earlier, having a bias is normal and we often do not have control over how it was developed. What is important is whether we choose to identify the biases we have, and actively work to challenge them in our personal and professional lives.
- Analyzing the Job Description & Drafting the Job Posting
Before advertising a job opportunity, it is important to reflect on whether the job description and job posting are generic, accurate, and current. When an employee decides to move on after many years within an organization, they often leave behind the difficult task of updating the job description. Oftentimes an employer may unintentionally focus on the qualifications the previous incumbent had when refreshing the job description, which results in a job description drafted around an individual rather than the actual requirements of the role. As a result, barriers may unintentionally arise that prevent candidates with varied experiences from succeeding. Employers can prevent these barriers from developing by challenging aspects of the job description and ensuring they reflect what is actually needed in the role, and not capturing what is desired. For example, whereas a previous employee may have had a bachelor’s degree in business, the job may only require a diploma in order to succeed.
When drafting the job posting, avoid using gendered pronouns in an effort to promote inclusivity. In order to appeal to a large pool of potential applicants, avoid using ‘s/he’ pronouns and instead opt for the use of ‘you’ or ‘they/them’. The goal for any job posting is for a candidate to read over the description and imagine themselves in the role, and the use of gendered pronouns may make it difficult for someone to imagine themselves successful in the role. When a job posting features gender-neutral pronouns and terminology, you can increase your chances of appealing to a larger pool of applicants.
- Reviewing & Screening Resumes
Resumes provide a lot of different information on applicants, from where they currently live, where they attended schooling, and how long they stayed at each work experience. When looking at a stack of resumes in front of you, it can be difficult to leave your bias at the door and avoid making assumptions over someone’s skills and abilities. Although resumes offer extensive information on a candidate, they likely do not tell the whole story, and as readers, we often create assumptions to fill in any gaps.
For example, employers often make assumptions when analyzing gaps in an applicant’s resume. There are many reasons to why a candidate may have a gap in their experiences, such as family or personal leave, educational advancement, and more. A gap in employment does not indicate an individual’s inability to obtain employment, and therefore any assumptions related to this idea should be challenged. When uncertain about an applicant’s employment history, an easy solution is to call the candidate and talk to them about their interest in the role, their current employment, and whether they can provide you with information on any resume gaps. The cost of making assumptions and screening out an applicant is potentially missing out on an excellent employee.
- Interview and Selection
The “Similar to Me” bias is one of several common interview biases that arise during the interview process. This bias occurs when you recognize yourself in the candidate, perhaps as a result of similar work or education experiences. Although this bias seems relatively harmless, it can distract the interviewer from any signs that the candidate is not a fit for the role or organization. By developing a diverse interview panel, you can increase the likelihood that your biases will be challenged when analyzing a candidate’s performance and experiences.
Additionally, analyze your interview questions and consider whether they unintentionally create barriers for candidates. Barriers can arise when a candidate feels they are unable to provide an answer to interview questions that conflict with their cultural, personal, or professional work experiences, therefore decreasing their ability to succeed in the interview. For example, if you are interviewing for an entry-level role that only requires 1-2 years of work experience, avoid using questions such as “tell me about a time at work when …”. Questions related to professional work experiences benefit candidates with more years in the workplace and create a difficult question for candidates with less workplace experience to answer. Instead, consider rephrasing the question to “reflect on your professional, academic, and personal experiences and tell me about a time when …” in order to open up the conversation and allow a candidate to draw upon a variety of their experiences.
Additionally, avoid questions that may encourage cultural bias. For example, in Canada and the US, we commonly ask the question “why do you feel you are the best candidate for this position?”, which allows the applicant to expand upon their experiences. However, the candidate may feel the question requires them to brag about their experiences and depending on the cultural background of the candidate they may be uncomfortable doing so. Instead, consider asking the candidate “why do you feel you would be a good fit for this role?” to further promote open discussion.
Once the interviews have concluded, encourage discussion within the interview panel to ensure you are choosing the best candidate based on their application and interview. The more voices that are involved in the discussion regarding candidate interview performance, the higher the likelihood that individual bias will be overrun. Therefore, when the time comes to select the appropriate candidate, you can feel confident that you have promoted a bias- and barrier-free recruitment process.