Promoting diversity through recruitment

Charles Hipps, CEO at e-recruitment specialist WCN, examines why, despite the obvious benefits of a diverse workforce, so many employers still recruit more of the same people, and how employers can remedy the situation.

Why is diversity important?

Team GB’s stunning Olympic performance inevitably left pundits wondering how we can sustain and build on this level of performance. They concluded that we must ensure that even more young people, from all backgrounds, access a greater variety of sport and then have the opportunity to be spotted, drawn in and nurtured within the sports system.

The parallels with the corporate world are obvious. Just as the ability to draw on a greater breadth of sporting talent can help to deliver gold medals, the benefits of a diverse workforce are equally tangible for businesses and public-sector organisations. This is because those with diverse employee bases can access a greater breadth of ideas, they are less likely to collectively follow a bad path and they are more likely to be reflective of the communities or customers they serve. In short, the more diverse your talent, the better your organisation’s performance.

For instance, in a 2009 study of retail talent trends by Deloitte Consulting LLP, 90% of senior executives said that diversity and inclusion are critical to company performance. Organisations with a more inclusive approach also tend to have a friendlier culture and thus a lower turnover in staff, plus greater diversity tends to go hand in hand with greater innovation. Indeed, in a 2011 Forbes study, 85% of the 321 global enterprises that took part agreed that diversity is crucial to fostering innovation in the workplace.

Why companies still get it wrong

Irrespective of the evidence, many companies continue to recruit more of the same people. This is typically because they have systemic problems at the very heart of their recruitment process; their e-recruitment solution, which could make them more open to all, has bias built in.

Charles Hipps

Charles Hipps,
CEO at e-recruitment specialist WCN.

For instance, some limit the diversity of applicants coming into the organisation by failing to monitor which publications, events or social media channels deliver the greatest mix of applicants – something their e-recruitment system should be capable of doing. Others unwittingly, and yet routinely, deter certain types of people by asking particular questions or by having interview styles that alienate certain sections of the community. Some companies excessively deploy online psychometric tests, which can “turn on” some and “turn off” others – in both instances skewing the candidate pool. Interviewer bias also creeps in, unchecked. Furthermore, at the most practical level, poorly designed online recruitment processes make it difficult for people with disabilities to complete the process. In fact, when we carried out a survey of 40 employer websites, 80% had accessibility issues.

Getting it right

I must stress that the problem isn’t with e-recruitment as such, it is with how it’s being deployed. For instance, it is now possible to monitor every phase in the recruitment process as it happens; companies don’t need to wait until the end of a recruitment drive or until the review stage to find they have a problem. By spotting where candidates drop out in real time, many can now identify bias in the process and remedy it immediately.

Some are setting up their e-recruitment systems to include guaranteed interview schemes. These ensure that if certain candidates fulfil a qualification requirement they are automatically offered an interview – ensuring that a broader mix reach the interview stage.

Eliminating interviewer bias

To avoid interviewer bias, some e-recruitment systems can anonymise candidates so the interviewer can’t see personal details when assessing applications. It is also possible to efficiently involve multiple selectors in the candidate review process, but prevent them from seeing each other’s feedback – a technique favoured by those keen to ensure genuine independent thinking among selectors.

Different job offer rates among interviewers, other things being equal, suggest some kind of bias. E-recruitment systems can monitor this. So, if one interviewer is offering jobs to 30% of people, and another is only taking on 10%, their interview skills can be examined and training provided. Furthermore, to combat the problem of line managers who tend to select people in their own image, some are getting HR managers to interview candidates earlier on in the process.


There are also many steps that companies can take to make their online application forms and processes easier for the visually impaired. These include better accommodating screen readers by rewording page content and question structure, avoiding branching questions, avoiding Flash in online tests, ensuring hyperlinks are written with a descriptor and avoiding the use of tables to display content.

A well thought through e-recruitment system can streamline recruitment, improve the candidate experience, reduce costs and enable recruiters to handle a huge number of applicants – all with an even hand. It’s a real opportunity for organisations to draw on many talents, so they should make sure that they don’t miss out on this golden opportunity.

If you’re thinking of making changes to your recruitment processes, Personnel Today has a range of content and resources that might help.

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