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Bias in recruitment can have significant negative impacts on organisations and individuals alike. Bias can result in the exclusion of qualified candidates, the promotion of less-qualified individuals, and a workplace culture that is not inclusive or respectful. This can lead to a range of negative outcomes, including decreased productivity, increased turnover, and legal challenges.

This article will outline 5 steps organisations can take to reduce bias in recruitment. These steps include monitoring adverse impact, providing training for recruiters and assessors, improving the accessibility of software, implementing innovative technologies, and creating an inclusive workplace culture. By implementing these steps, organisations can create a more fair, valid, and inclusive recruitment process, and attract and select the best candidates for the job, regardless of their background, experience, or abilities.

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In this article, we will outline five key ways that organisations can improve talent retention through their selection processes.

Bias in recruitment

Bias in recruitment refers to the unfair and prejudiced treatment of candidates during the hiring process based on factors such as gender, ethnicity, or other irrelevant characteristics. It hinders equal opportunities and diversity, impacting the overall fairness and effectiveness of the recruitment process.

section one

Managing Unconscious Bias of Assessors

Unconscious bias refers to implicit attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes that unconsciously impact our decisions and behaviours. In the context of employee selection, unconscious bias can result in unfair and inaccurate assessments of job candidates and missed opportunities for diversity and inclusion. To mitigate unconscious bias in the employee selection process, organisations must take a systematic approach that involves education, training, and accountability. This can include:

  • Education and Awareness:The first step in managing unconscious bias is raising awareness and educating both assessors and decision-makers about its impact and implications. This includes understanding different types of unconscious biases, such as confirmation bias, halo effect, and gender bias, and how they can influence assessments.
  • Standardising Assessment Criteria:To reduce the impact of unconscious bias in the assessment process, it is essential to establish clear and objective criteria for evaluating job candidates. This includes creating a job description that outlines required skills, qualifications, and experience.
  • Using Multiple Assessors:Another way to manage unconscious bias is to use multiple assessors in the evaluation process. This helps reduce the impact of any one person's biases and increases the objectivity of the assessment. Additionally, using multiple assessors from different backgrounds and perspectives provides a more diverse perspective on job candidates and increases the chances of identifying a more diverse pool of candidates.
  • Implementing Blind CVs:Blind CVs, where the candidate's name and personal information are removed, can help avoid unconscious bias during the initial stages of the recruitment process. If hiring managers and HR professionals are unaware of the applicant's background, they cannot show bias. Research shows that this approach is particularly effective when recruiting women and people from ethnic minority groups.

As you can see, this involves a two-pronged approach. Firstly, you aim to rid assessors of unconscious bias itself by providing educational materials and training to minimise it. Secondly, you acknowledge that unconscious bias cannot be removed completely and implement steps to mitigate its negative effect on the recruitment process.

By following both approaches, you do everything in your power to protect candidates from bias, helping to improve diversity in recruitment.

section two

Reduce Adverse Impact in Assessments

Adverse impact refers to a situation where an assessment results in disproportionately lower outcomes for certain groups of people, such as individuals with disabilities or members of minority groups. This goes against the principles of equal opportunity and fairness, and negatively impacts the diverse talent pool that an organisation can draw from. For example, if men score significantly higher on a particular assessment than women, it could be evidence of adverse impact. Adverse impact is particularly insidious, as it is likely indicative of systemic bias in the design of assessments themselves, not just the unconscious bias of the assessors. To reduce adverse impact in assessments, organisations must take a proactive approach, including:

  • Assessment Design: The design of assessments must be fair, valid, and free from bias. This involves ensuring that the assessments are job-related and measure the necessary skills and knowledge required for the job. The organisation should also review the language used in the assessment materials to ensure it is neutral and free from cultural bias. Lastly, when working with a psychometric test publisher, ask for a copy of the technical manual, which outlines the design process.
  • Validation and Research: The assessment should be validated to ensure it is fair and unbiased. This involves collecting data on the assessment results of different groups of people to determine if there is any adverse impact. If adverse impact is identified, the organisation must decide whether to continue using that assessment based on its practical utility and the degree of adverse impact.
  • Ongoing Monitoring: Regular monitoring of the assessment process is crucial to identify and reduce adverse impact. This includes tracking the assessment results of different groups of people, analysing the data, and making changes to the assessment process as needed. The organisation should also conduct periodic evaluations of the assessment process to ensure it is fair and free from bias.
  • Focus on Behavioural Assessments: Organisations concerned about adverse impact should consider using behavioural assessments, rather than cognitive or skills-based assessments. When adverse impact occurs, it's almost always associated with hard skills, including aptitudes, technical skills, and learned knowledge. Soft skills, however, tend to show far lower levels of adverse impact, greatly improving diversity in recruitment.

Overall, minimising adverse impact in recruitment involves choosing, designing, and monitoring assessments to avoid systemic bias.

When bias is found, and adverse impact is seen, organisations must weigh their options and decide whether to drop, amend, or retain their chosen assessments.

This stage can be complex, usually requiring a subject matter expert in psychometric testing. Therefore, reach out to an occupational psychologist, psychometrician, or talent analytics expert to help with this stage.

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section three

Consider Technical Accessibility

Ensuring the technical accessibility of online assessments is crucial in avoiding discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Technical accessibility refers to the design and development of online assessments to make sure that they are accessible and usable by people with disabilities, including those with visual, auditory, physical, and cognitive impairments. To ensure the technical accessibility of online assessments and avoid discrimination, organisations can follow these steps:

  • Compliance with Accessibility Standards:Organisations should ensure their online assessments comply with accessibility standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, to make them accessible to a wider range of individuals. This includes providing alternative text for images, using accessible colours and font sizes, and providing audio descriptions for videos.
  • Use of Assistive Technologies:Organisations should ensure their online assessments are compatible with assistive technologies, such as screen readers, magnifiers, and speech recognition software, to help individuals with disabilities participate in online assessments without barriers.
  • User Testing:Organisations should conduct user testing with individuals with disabilities to ensure that their online assessments are accessible and usable. This may involve testing the assessments with assistive technologies and making necessary adjustments to improve accessibility.
  • Regular Review:Organisations should provide timely feedback to candidates throughout the recruitment process, including feedback on assessment results and decisions. Timely feedback helps candidates understand the process and build trust with the organisation.

Accessibility issues must not be disregarded or minimised for candidates with disabilities, who have the legal right to reasonable accommodations. Organisations must ensure that they can be accommodated with minimal effort on their part. When choosing an online assessment provider, organisations should inquire about the accessibility of their software and ensure that reasonable accommodations can be made when necessary.

section four

Create a Positive Candidate Experience

Providing a positive candidate experience is a critical aspect of supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives in recruitment.

  • Clear and Transparent Communication:Organisations should communicate clearly and transparently with candidates throughout the recruitment process, including information about job requirements, the assessment process, and the timeline for decisions. Clear communication builds trust and reduces anxiety for candidates.
  • Fair and Respectful Assessment Process:Organisations should ensure their assessment process is fair, valid, and free from bias, conducting regular validation and monitoring to prevent negative impact on certain groups, such as individuals with disabilities or minority groups.
  • Accommodations:Organisations should provide accommodations, such as extra time, large print materials, or a quiet room, for candidates with disabilities to ensure equal access to the assessment process. Accommodations create a positive candidate experience and build trust.
  • Timely Feedback:Organisations should provide timely feedback to candidates throughout the recruitment process, including feedback on assessment results and decisions. Timely feedback helps candidates understand the process and build trust with the organisation.
  • Empathy and Understanding:Organisations should demonstrate empathy and understanding towards candidates throughout the recruitment process, providing support, guidance, and treating candidates with respect and dignity. Empathy and understanding create a positive candidate experience and build trust.

Although offering a positive candidate experience benefits everyone involved, it is particularly important for candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds. A negative candidate experience is more likely to result in attrition from these candidates, who are more in tune with systemic bias.

While a candidate from a majority group may brush off a negative experience, candidates from minority groups are more likely to recognise the issue as systemic and discontinue their application.

section five

Utilise New Innovations in Psychometrics

In recent years, new innovations in psychometrics have emerged to help minimise bias in employee selection and assessment processes. These innovations minimise bias in several ways by addressing many of the disadvantages of older assessment methodologies. For example, certain innovations help identify bias within psychometric assessments, while others focus on improving accessibility. The following are some ways that new innovations in psychometrics can help minimise bias:

  • Gamification: Game-based assessments are psychometric tests that follow a game-based format, drawing inspiration from the video game industry. This presents a more engaging and enjoyable approach to testing and reduces bias associated with online tests. Gamified assessments are often optimised for mobile devices, making them accessible to candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds. They also typically involve less reading than traditional assessments, benefiting neurodivergent candidates.
  • Differential Item Functioning (DIF): DIF allows psychometricians to detect bias against specific groups at the individual question level, providing a more powerful tool to eliminate bias. In a DIF analysis, psychometricians observe the behaviour of an individual question when given to a reference group and a focal group. If the question is significantly harder for one group, it suggests that the item is biased and must be reviewed.
  • Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT): Adaptive testing involve administering a unique set of questions to each candidate based on their specific level of ability. The test adapts its difficulty to match the candidate's ability, creating a tailored testing experience. This not only maximises the reliability and precision of the assessment but also optimises the candidate experience. This decreases the chance that candidates from minority groups will give up on the assessment, as they will never be overwhelmed by questions. Instead, every candidate gets questions at their level, increasing the probability of full completion.
  • Customised Assessments: Customised assessments are psychometric tools designed to meet specific client requirements. For example, they could include personality questionnaires that have been mapped to a specific client's competency framework, increasing its workplace relevance. This helps reduce bias in the recruitment process by focusing the assessment only on traits, abilities, and skills that matter and eliminating everything else. This eliminates the temptation to make selection decisions based on irrelevant criteria, reducing the potential for biased decision-making.

The field of psychometric assessment is advancing and providing numerous benefits. With diversity and inclusion initiatives ranking among the most important commercial considerations for HR teams, it's no surprise that many of these innovations focus on reducing bias in recruitment. Organisations are advised to speak with psychometric test providers who have access to these technologies to improve diversity and minimise the unwanted effects of bias in recruitment.

section six

Conclusion

Organisations have a commercial, moral, and legal responsibility to provide the fairest possible selection processes for their applicants. They are honour-bound to provide accommodations, adjustments, and support systems to candidates from minority groups and disadvantaged backgrounds, to the benefit of everyone involved. This expands their applicant pool, provides increased diversity of ideas, and minimises the risk of litigation, a win-win for all relevant parties. These five strategies provide HR practitioners and hiring managers with an objective framework for minimising and mitigating the effects of bias, increasing the probability of improving diversity in recruitment.

Psychometric assessments are perhaps the first and most important tool in addressing bias in recruitment. Reducing bias in staff takes time, but bias is affecting recruitment right now, requiring solutions that act as a buffer against existing bias. Psychometric assessments automate the recruitment process, insulating candidates from potentially biased HR professionals and hiring managers. Although psychometrics are a powerful tool for reducing bias, you must ensure that these tools themselves are not biased. When choosing a provider, ask for technical manuals and related psychometric research that show evidence of fairness across protected groups.

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