Fair hiring: 3 steps to more inclusive recruitment

15th February 2021
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The words ‘fairness’, ‘inclusivity’, and ‘diversity’ are commonplace in professional language, particularly when it comes to recruitment. But what do they really mean, and how do you know for sure that your hiring process isn’t excluding great candidates?

It’s important to practice fair hiring and make sure your methods of recruitment allow everyone the same chance to get the job. Doing so isn’t just the morally right thing to do — it can also have benefits for your business. Inclusive recruitment means you can access a broader range of talent while providing equal opportunities, and you’ll be more likely to find the best employees to fill your roles. Plus, ensuring you employ people with a variety of insights, skillsets, and approaches to working can help with things like ideation, and even make your company more efficient.

Below, we’ll take you through ways of defining and identifying discrimination in recruitment, plus three important steps to making your job advert, selection process, and interview questions fair.

Defining and identifying discrimination in recruitment

Discrimination in the workplace is illegal under the Equality Act 2010, which means that unfair recruitment processes are against the law. This act identifies eight protected characteristics or types of hiring discrimination when it comes to choosing candidates:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

This means you need to avoid making decisions based on things like a person’s racial or religious identity, gender, sexual orientation, and their relationship status. The act also requires you to practice other methods of inclusive recruitment, such as avoiding discriminating against pregnant candidates or those with children. Personal circumstances like these cannot factor into your selection process at all.

Examples of discrimination during the recruitment process

Even if you don’t set out to discriminate as part of your recruitment process, indirect discrimination is surprisingly common. One unconscious bias that might catch you out is age discrimination. This often manifests as only hiring people with so many years of experience, which can exclude young generations of candidates, or exclusively taking on people below a certain age, which discriminates against older workforces.

Another example of unfair recruitment practices may include stereotyping and only hiring men for manual labour roles, or women for customer care, rather than reviewing each candidate on the basis of their experience or ability to do the job well. In many cases, it’s better to remove or ignore personal information from CVs and go purely off skills and experience instead to ensure an inclusive recruitment and selection process — but there are still ways that indirect discrimination can creep in.

How to ensure your recruitment and selection processes are fair

Even if you know what discrimination is, it can be difficult to know how to keep it out of your recruitment process. There are three main steps you’ll have to consider to make sure your recruitment and selection processes are fair and inclusive: advertising the position, choosing candidates to interview, and writing interview questions.

1.     Write a fair job application form or advert

When putting together your advert, try to refrain from describing a person or writing with a certain type of individual in mind. You can avoid indirectly discriminatory elements by simply sticking to the facts and giving an outline of the job instead, so talk about the responsibilities the role entails and identify the most crucial skills needed to do it well. Being too specific could put off some candidates even though they may be qualified to apply.

Applicants make decisions about which jobs to apply for in different ways. For example, women are generally less likely to put themselves forward for jobs if they don’t feel they meet 100% of the criteria. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to apply even if they don’t fulfil all the prerequisites (Harvard Business Review). With this in mind, try to stick to only the most relevant requirements for the role rather than ‘nice-to-haves’. This way, you can avoid putting people off and more candidates will feel confident enough to apply.

Another element of job application writing that could catch you out is gendered language. Gendered language can be as simple as using pronouns such as “he” and “she” in your content. It also includes gendered nouns, such as “businessman” or “businesswoman”, that are best made neutral where possible (i.e. “business person”).

Similarly, in foreign languages such as French, words can be either masculine or feminine. This system doesn’t exist in the English language, but words can still be biased towards gender stereotypes: for example, using words like “competitive” (masculine) and “collaborative” (feminine) will attract different kinds of candidates to apply. Inclusive language includes a fair balance of masculine and feminine biased words, which can help you ensure equality in recruitment.

There are plenty of tools online that can help you identify issues like gendered language and write more inclusive job descriptions, so when you’re happy with what you’ve written, you may wish to run your adverts through text analysing software to make sure you’ve got it right.

You may also wish to include an equal opportunities statement on your job advert. This should be a few short sentences explaining that everyone has the right to apply for the role and that your company strives to be an equal opportunities employer. Including this will communicate to potential applicants that they can expect an inclusive culture at your company. They should then feel safe applying to work for you and you may see a more diverse candidate pool as a result.

Once written, it’s a good idea to advertise your position through as many outlets as possible to make sure you’re reaching all types of jobseeker. Even posting an advert on more than one job board website is a step in the right direction, as different sites will have different users and demographics that you can attract to your role. Not only will this make your recruitment fairer, but you also stand a better chance of finding the perfect candidate for the role by widening your search.

2.     Ensure fairness in the selection process

A key way to ensure a fair application process is to only make decisions based on how well someone can do the job you’re advertising, and nothing else. That means focussing on their skills and experience rather than their background during the selection stage.

Again, don’t be afraid of using technology to assist you. You could use software that scans applications for keywords and makes decisions based on relevant skills and experience. This can help you whittle down your applications to produce a more indiscriminate pool from which to source your talent.

It’s also a good idea to have different people involved in the selection process to limit personal bias. This way, if more people agree on a candidate, it’s less likely to be because of bias and more authentically because they believe the candidate will do a better job. Try to have diversity within the hiring team as well, so that they can provide different thoughts and ideas about who would make the ideal candidate.

At this stage, it might be useful to analyse how diverse your workplace currently is. Are all genders, races, cultures, and levels of ability represented? Could it be possible that anyone has been overlooked for promotion or training? If your company is already an inclusive place to work, it can be a lot easier to imagine how each of your candidates will fit in. Plus, you’ll be able to identify gaps in the skillset of your workforce and consider what they can bring to the office, which can make the selection process easier. 

3.     Avoid discrimination in interview

Unless you’re checking a requirement for the job — for age-restricted work or a role that involves heavy lifting, for example — fair hiring dictates that you should not probe a candidate about any of the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010. You’re there to see whether the candidate can do the job well, not to learn about their personal life, so you’ll gain much more valuable insight by focussing on their skills and experience anyway. If you do need to check their date of birth, you should try asking them to confirm that they are over the required age rather than asking them for their exact age.

It can also help to ask the applicant for situational examples during the interview, as this allows the candidate to give anecdotal evidence of their capabilities. Situational questions include:

  • Tell me about a time when you handled a difficult situation.
  • What’s a project you were particularly proud to be involved in, and why?
  • What’s the best feedback you’ve received from a client or co-worker? What did you do to deserve it?

You can also encourage candidates to bring in a portfolio of their work or even set some tasks for them to complete. Then you can make more accurate decisions based on their capabilities, and applicants who find it difficult to talk about their achievements have another chance to prove they can do well in this role. Remember to ask all candidates the exact same questions, to ensure they’re getting an equal chance.

Just like having a diverse team dealing with the selection of candidates, diversity is important when it comes to your interviewing panel. It can showcase how inclusive your company is, make interviewees feel at ease, and provide a range of different insights for you to use to make your final decision. Plus, a diverse panel can offer different perspectives on what it’s like to work there that the applicant may find helpful, and will be able to answer more questions a candidate may have about what it’s like to work for you.

Now that you know how to ensure your recruitment and selection processes are fair, and how not to discriminate when hiring, it’s time to fill your open positions with some great talent. Whether you’re looking for interviewing pointers or want to know how to find the best candidates, our blog is full of helpful advice including industry news and recruitment tips.

At Edward Reed Recruitment, we provide a range of services for candidates as well as clients. As experts at talent acquisition for commerce and industry, we can help you with all your recruitment needs. So, why not get in touch with our team today?