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Promoting diversity in the office: Tips for bias-free hiring

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With Canada’s increasing diversity, employers are becoming more conscious about their hiring practices and the need to reflect the population served. They are also aware of their obligations under the Human Rights Code to have non-discriminatory hiring practices.

However, women, persons with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and racial minorities continue to experience disadvantage in the labour market, resulting in higher rates of unemployment and underemployment – even when they have comparable levels of education and work experience.

So, while many organizations may have the goal of creating diverse workplaces through bias-free hiring, they may not have implemented the many elements needed to achieve this goal.

The types of bias in the hiring process

The challenge for many is understanding the various types of bias in the hiring process. Some agencies may not have considered that their hiring process may be biased. Others may focus on one type of bias, but neglect the others. The various types of bias that could be embedded within an agency’s hiring practices include:

1. Systemic bias. These are policies or practices that are part of the structures of an organization, which create or perpetuate disadvantage for people from diverse communities, backgrounds, and identities.

Examples include:

  • Advertising jobs through word-of-mouth.
  • Physical barriers that prevent people with mobility issues from accessing the workplace.
  • Dress codes that do not accommodate religious dress requirements.

2. Cultural bias. These are patterns of behaviour or attitudes that are part of the culture of the organization, which influence human resource decisions and create or perpetuate disadvantage for certain groups of people.

Examples include:

  • An unwelcoming work environment that excludes or undermines people from certain groups.
  • Assumptions that permeate the organization about what certain groups of people can and cannot do, and which occupations they are suited for.

3. Attitudinal bias. These are conscious or unconscious biases that are reflected in the attitudes and behaviours of individuals involved in hiring.

Examples include:

  • A recruitment officer who removes the resumes of applicants who she suspects to be gay or lesbian.
  • A manager who removes applications from people with “foreign-sounding” names because he thinks they don’t speak English well.
  • Not hiring candidates with disabilities because of discomfort interacting with them.

So how do you conduct bias-free hiring?

One of the biggest challenges you will face in a bias-free hiring process is the time needed to fairly assess candidates. It can take a great deal of time to review each application or resume. You will also need to devote time to developing appropriate and relevant interview questions and any tests that you might use in the process. And you will need to seek out colleagues who are willing to sit on the interview panel and commit the time to conducting interviews.

While there is a significant investment of time, it increases the likelihood of hiring the right person for the job, and reduces the costs associated with hiring the wrong person.

The following summarizes some of the key elements of the process and offer tips to help remove potential bias in these areas:

Self-awareness

While the previous focus of organizations has been on ensuring the appropriate policies and procedures are in place, more attention is currently being placed on the biases of the individuals responsible for implementing these policies and procedures, since a biased person operating within an unbiased system, will still result in biased results.

A such, it is important that those responsible for pre-screening job applicants and interviewing candidates are aware of both their conscious and unconscious biases.

We all have biases which have been defined and shaped by our own experiences and influences as well as the media and our culture. If we are unaware of our biases, we may unintentionally discriminate against, exclude or marginalize job applicants. Becoming aware of our biases allows us to consciously act in a bias-free manner.

Some tips:

  • Use tools such as the Implicit Association Test to identify your hidden biases.
  • Reflect on your own prejudices and biases and consider how they might impact job applicants.
  • Modify how you communicate with others to ensure that you understand and are understood by them.
  • Reflect on any discomfort you feel when interacting with those who are different from you.

Advertising the job

Widely distributing the job ad and how you receive job applications will affect the composition of the applicant pool. This allows qualified applicants from diverse backgrounds to know about and apply to the job opening.

Some tips:

  • Include an equity or diversity statement on the job ad.
  • Include a statement that the organization will provide accommodation, based on disability, religion and any other human rights protected ground and encourage applicants to make their needs known.
  • Include information about the organization and working conditions on the job ad so that applicants have a good understanding of not only the work to be performed, but also the context within which the work is to be done.
  • Share job ads with community and employment agencies, professional associations and ethno-cultural organizations.
  • Use social media to share job openings.
  • When educational requirements are stated, specify that equivalent education and work experience will also be accepted.
  • Accept resumes and applications through the mail as well as electronically.

Pre-screening job applications

At this stage, you are reviewing resumes and applications to determine who meets the minimum qualifications for the job and who will be invited for an interview.

Some tips:

  • Develop and use a pre-screening form to assess each resume or application against specific job-related criteria.
  • Don’t eliminate applicants simply because their resume is structured differently than what you normally receive.
  • Factor in work experienced gained from volunteer work and from work outside of Canada.
  • Don’t eliminate candidates who have gaps in work experience or who appear to be over-qualified.

Interviewing candidates

Interviewing and assessment practices affect how individuals perform in the interview, how they are scored and who is ultimately hired.

Some tips:

  • Ensure interview questions are related to the duties of the job and can be objectively scored (don’t ask questions such as “What is your pet peeve?” “Why did you apply for the job?”).
  • Provide the interview questions in writing, so that the candidates can reflect before the interview.
  • Don’t factor in the candidate’s perceived enthusiasm for the job, which is expressed differently across cultures.
  • Use an interview panel that includes people from different backgrounds and experiences.
  • Don’t take into account non-verbal interactions of the candidate, such as eye contact and tone of voice, which are culturally determined.
  • Use an interview marking guide that includes the interview questions, ideal responses, and allows each candidate to be objectively scored.

For some organizations, creating a bias-free process may only require minor modifications to existing hiring practices. In other cases, it may mean a complete overhaul of the organization’s hiring policies and practices. The benefits of bias-free hiring, however, far outweigh the costs of additional time or resources.

Organizations should also remember that becoming a more equitable, diverse and inclusive organization is an ongoing process. The goal is to build on your learnings from each hiring process to identify and remove more biases and barriers each time.

The result of this investment is a more competent and innovative workforce that effectively meets the organization’s business objectives and responds to the needs of a diverse client population. In short, it is good for business.

Tana Turner is Principal of Turner Consulting Group, an equity, diversity and inclusion consultancy firm in Toronto. She will be launching Bias-Free Hiring: A Guide for Managers in the Non-Profit and Public Sectors at the Workplace Inclusion Conference in September. Learn more at www.turnerconsultinggroup.ca.

Photos (from top) via iStock.com. All photos used with permission.

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