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Diversity and inclusion

Breaking Down Diversity Barriers with Data

Anthony Tattersall

fence.jpgData is revolutionising diversity and inclusion strategies in recruitment, helping to make companies more innovative, culturally diverse and financially stable.

Aside from meeting guidelines to ensure workplaces are diverse,ensuring an organisation doesn’t discriminate can have huge benefits to the entire business.

Research by McKinsey has revealed gender-diverse companies are likely to outperform companies without such a balance by 15 per cent and ethnically-diverse companies will outperform their less inclusive competition by 35 per cent.


Before assessing how to transform a recruitment process to make it more inclusive, it’s important to identify the D&I reality within the organisation itself - if the recruitment approach is ever to succeed.

Is the organisation reactive, proactive, transformational or sustainable? Every company should be working towards a sustainable approach, with diversity and inclusion (D&I) becoming business as usual rather than an afterthought and efforts firmly rooted in the company’s entire business strategy.

DI_journey.jpgCourtesy of Capita Talent Consulting

However, when making this journey towards diversity as an integrated part of the company, there are barriers to break down and that all starts with eradicating conscious and unconscious bias from the recruiting process.

A study by Columbia University centred around the impact gender had on bias. It presented a case study to two groups of MBA students. The first group’s case study was a profile of Howard Roizen, the second, Heidi Roizen (the real person behind the study). The only difference was the name and gender.

While both groups considered the entrepreneur to be competent, Howard was considered likeable and enjoyable to work for, while Heidi was seen as power-hungry, selfish, self-promoting and not the person you would want to hire or work for. The study clearly demonstrated unconscious bias on the part of the students.

Another study highlighted the impact that just one per cent bias towards males could have a significant impact on the balance of males and females in senior management roles over time, making organisations less diverse and usurping the balance for gender equality.

The model below depicts an artificial organisation with eight levels of management, all with equal numbers of men and women. The model applied 15% attrition and promoted individuals up through the levels based on the highest performance score. To simulate a 1% bias towards promoting men over women, men were randomly given a score between 1 and 101, while women were given a score between 1 and 100. The model was run until all the original employees had left at which point nearly two thirds of all leadership roles were filled by men.


What this model illustrates is than even as little as a 1% gender bias will result in a significant disparity within an organisation over time..

Bias is Occurring Throughout the Application Process

Despite many studies concentrating on bias in the CV sifting process, it ripples much further than just the first stage of selection.

In a traditional hiring process, at the beginning of the funnel, a recruiter is presented with information such as the candidate’s name, their address, their experience and of course where they went to university or school. Even in “name-blind” CVs, it is often possible to ascertain gender, ethnic background and age. Anchoring a candidate to these distinguishing factors has always taken place - and isn’t easily erradicated!

The next stage of the process - telephone screening - is usually highly unstructured, even where a script or prepared questions exists. A decision for selection to the next stage can be massively impacted by the energy and the connection of the two people on the phone call, rather than the merits of the interviewee and their suitability for the role. Similarly, multiple telephone interviews are tiring for the interviewer and levels of motivation can wane over time.

Face-to-face interviews are again unique, typically unstructured meetings, which can’t be replicated across candidates. Once again, it’s likely some bias will creep in because there’s no ‘baseline’ measure across all applicants.

Often, a decision is made in the first two minutes with the hiring manager spending the remaining time seeking evidence to confirm their initial assessment.

Although organisations are now taking steps to reduce the impact of bias during the selection process, many methods are simply masking the issue.

For example, the government is now trialling the removal of candidates’ names from the CVs, but this at best simply pushes bias further down the decision making process. In reality, there are many data points in a CV other than a name that can trigger bias. A recruiter can get a clear view of how old someone is from their work history or the dates they spent in education. They may be able to tell which country the candidate has come from based on where they studied and often, gender is revealed.

Training Doesn’t Eradicate the Issue

The fundamental issue is that being aware bias exists and even being aware that we all have unconscious bias doesn't mean it can rectified by awareness training, despite organisations pumping millions of pounds into diversity training every year. These awareness programmes can be seen as a compliance initiative or even punitive by staff.

Despite massive investment, not much has changed in terms of outcomes. The problem with bias is that it is unconscious, and simply informing employees that we all have biases doesn’t necessarily provide people with the tools to combat them. Some will consider this a universal problem, thus requiring no action on their part. Others may second guess their decisions and resort to positive discrimination.

While awareness training has a part to play, it is by no means a solution in itself. One key output that would be worthwhile is to move the conversation from “am I biased?” to “what biases do I have and how do I managed them?”

Using Data to Address Gender Bias

Technology can bring a more scientific, data-based approach to the hiring process, which can have a big impact when it comes to making unbiased hiring decisions.

Defining the questions that elicit a candidate’s suitability to meet the standards of the role and applying these automatically through an initial screening process can be a much more effective, fairer method to remove people from the funnel.

An automated scoring system can ensure everyone is judged with the same parameters, rather than bringing extra ‘padding’ into the process, such as a name, experience or when they attended university.

Similarly, the use of a recorded video assessment can provide superior and more consistent results than a telephone screen. Every candidate is asked the same question in the same way, meaning they all have exactly the same opportunity to respond, making it a fair and transparent process. When done well, it also creates an opportunity to engage with candidates on brand, opportunity and the chance for candidates to demonstrate their capabilities more effectively.

Video assessments also offer another unique capability - the options for candidate interview responses to be shared and evaluated by multiple reviewers. Whether approaching this manually or using technology to provide insights, it is possible to review how people are making decisions about candidates. The use of scores, harshness, consistency, reliability and variations by gender can all be analysed, helping to address potential issues around bias before final decisions are made.

Most organisations will still seek to include a face-to-face interview at some stage of the hiring process. It will never be possible to eradicate bias from these interactions, but by having an objective baseline that has been tested for bias earlier in the process, it is easier to identify, challenge and correct decisions that are driven by bias rather than an objective assessment of capability.

Data is Perfectly Suited to High-Volume Recruitment

Using data at the core of a recruiting process is critical to any organisation that genuinely seeks to improve diversity and inclusion. It is particularly powerful in high volume recruitment scenarios where hundreds of candidates may be applying for a small number of roles.

Graduate, apprentice and early career hiring programmes are ideal starting points. In the longer term, using data to support every decision made about an employee (whether hiring, appraising, promoting or retaining) is likely to provide the best platform for any D&I strategy.
Extra-value data to assess the organisation’s processes

Using a data-led approach not only helps identify the best talent while minimising bias in the process, but it can also give powerful insights into the way decisions are made about candidates.

Collating information on the decision making process can ensure it is continually reviewed and developed to make it fairer and more effective. In the hiring process, a range of data points can guide how to improve assessment design, guiding reviewers to more effective decisions and providing organisations with the confidence that they are selecting the very best of the candidates available.

Simply improving diversity in hiring practices will not lead to real change unless the organisation also creates an environment of inclusion, where diverse teams and ideas are encouraged. Without this, those joining will rapidly become disillusioned as they realise that bias against them is institutionalised. This will not not only lead to issues of retention, but damage the credibility of any D&I initiative and potential negatively impact brand perception.

Truly embracing diversity and inclusion is challenging. It requires real commitment and has to be considered as a strategic priority. It is far more difficult to manage people from a diverse array of backgrounds who will challenge each other, disagree and struggle to adapt to cultural differences than a team of people from similar backgrounds who all think the same way.

The prize however is more than worth it. Countless studies by analysts, experts and those organisations who have already embraced diversity and inclusion show that this has a direct impact on business outcomes - improving innovation, collaboration, risk management, market share and revenue. It’s not just the right thing to do from a moral standpoint, it’s rapidly becoming a business imperative.

Anthony Tattersall

Anthony Tattersall is Chief Sales Officer at LaunchPad Recruits