Many organisations know they could do more on diversity and inclusion and addressing bias is difficult to do in practice. Neil Armstrong looks at the role of data-driven recruitment in helping employers make real progress.
The Equality Act of 2010 was a landmark moment for employers. One of the most significant pieces of legislation in our lifetime, it promised an end to discrimination on the grounds of sex, race or disability.
Fast forward to today and the conversation around equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) has never been more prominent. In this context, you’d imagine that today’s candidates felt more protected than ever from discrimination, but sadly that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our Stop the Bias survey of more than 2,000 Britons explored the unconscious biases people believe to be impacting their employment opportunities, and it paints a disturbing picture of the state of ED&I within our industry.
So what biases do candidates feel are negatively impacting their opportunities and what can we employers do to eliminate them?
A culture of mistrust
Today’s candidates are as used to being asked to share information on their race and sexual orientation with prospective employers as they are salary expectations and start dates.
But the findings of our survey reveal a culture of uncertainty among applicants who feel that diversity data could fuel bias rather than combat it. Indeed, more than three-quarters of people we questioned (76.4%) either don’t trust or don’t know if they trust employers to use this data for their benefit.
The results confirm something that many of us have suspected, which is that in the decade or so since the Equality Act came into force, ED&I has become something of a tick box exercise for employers.
Previous research that we have conducted into this area revealed that two-thirds of companies admit that their organisations still have equality gaps. That’s two-thirds too many.
We know there aren’t easy answers here. We know there’s no magic bullet for complex, deep-seated challenges. But we also know, there’s space to be better. And that has to start with gaining a better understanding of the kind of bias that candidates face in Britain today.
Re-examining and addressing bias
Diversity and inclusion efforts have long focused on eliminating bias on the basis of people’s race, gender or sexual orientation. However, according to our research, today’s candidates are just as worried about being discriminated against because of their accents, their mental health and even their weight.
The problem facing HR leaders is that existing practices rarely, if ever, take these kinds of issues into account. Indeed no matter how stringent a policy is, it’s impossible to cover every possible bias. And as we have discovered in the past decade, unconscious and institutional biases might still be at play despite an organisation’s best efforts to root them out.
No company or person wants to think they’re biased. A recent ad campaign asks people to imagine someone in a board meeting. It then asks if they imagined a man. Another asks people to imagine a nurse, then asks if they imagined a woman. It highlights that, sadly, those biases still exist in most of us, despite our best efforts to shake them off.
So how can employers better protect candidates from bias and bring about real change?
In a perfect world, people would get hired based strictly on their work experience and the skills they bring to the table. But our research shows current practices are far from perfect in candidates’ eyes.
Technology can play a key role in helping to level the playing field. Blind recruiting in particular is being successfully implemented by leading UK organisations in an effort to remove unconscious bias from the recruitment process.
Using applicant tracking software, employers can choose to strip identifying information out of the application process right the way up until the interview stage.
Through anonymisation, recruiters can remove all forms of bias and instead select candidates based solely on their skills, qualifications and past experience, amongst other positive attributes.
It’s a solution that provides reassurance to candidates that their applications will be handled without bias, more than three-quarters of the people we questioned for our Stop the Bias report felt this would make things fairer.
However, anonymous recruitment also has benefits for employers too. Data-driven candidate selection allows hiring teams to leverage a fair and unbiased hiring process to focus on the highest-quality candidates possible.
That means that you will have a clearer picture of whether a candidate is a good fit for the role, without unconscious bias clouding the decision-making process.
Bringing about real change
If we stop to listen to candidates who have first-hand experience of bias, it becomes clear that companies’ current approach to ED&I simply isn’t working. The key to overcoming the issue of bias is not to chastise employers but to inspire them to find better solutions.
Thanks to modern platforms we have the opportunity to bring about lasting change in our recruiting practices. We know that it’s possible because we’ve seen the tangible impact that techniques like anonymous applications can have on ED&I processes. But we need to find other solutions too, to make sure that cultural change doesn’t just stop at the point of candidate entry.
Ultimately, our unconscious bias is an inescapable human flaw. But combining the right tools with ED&I policies can help to dramatically reduce its impact on recruitment, providing a solution that’s better for candidates and employers alike.