Bias in recruitment is not just unconscious - discrimination alive and kicking. So where do we go from here?
In spring last year, I wrote an article in this blog page discussing how unconscious bias has a major negative affect on recruitment despite employers’ policies to promote diversity and inclusion. When I wrote that article, I argued for specific practical intervention by employers to address unconscious bias through awareness training.
A year on from that article, of greater concern is that overt conscious bias particularly against ethnic minorities, appears to be prevalent in recruitment. Research published in January this year by The Centre for Social Investigation (CSI) at Nuffield College, Oxford and their colleagues at the GEMM project revealed “shocking levels of discrimination against job applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds”. Among other important findings, the research indicated that levels of discrimination against people with Caribbean and South Asian ethnicity has not improved compared with similar studies over the previous 50 years.
With issues like overt discrimination in recruitment, gender inequality being widely reported around world and the continuing underlying challenge of dealing with natural human unconscious bias, we might well conclude in Tom Hanks’ words “Houston we have a problem”. So where do we go from here?
As in my 2018 article I recommend that recruitment is a good place to start because it is at the beginning of the employment cycle. I anticipate that a shift in mindset towards recruitment is required in leaders and their employees alike. Most importantly the employer needs to make firm commitments to the investment of time, money and resources for the achievement of objective and socially responsible behaviour in recruitment and selection.
This should not be dabbled in. Investment by employers should be allocated as a key strategic resource and channeled into formal improvement programmes. This all requires board sponsorship, programme leadership, local implementation, measurement of outcomes and follow through with continuous improvement projects.
Measurement is key to improvement and should focus on identifying and eradicating the instances of discrimination in selection decisions. The practical training interventions to address and reduce unconscious bias that I have previously recommended are still needed to achieve a wholistic approach to inclusive recruitment.
Existing diversity policies and related reporting do not need to be replaced but would be enhanced by insight provided on the reduction of bias. Looking further ahead, work could be undertaken to attribute improvements in critical related areas such as capability, well-being and social inclusion. Those are areas in which modern enlightened employers are striving to improve.
My sole conclusion is that whilst a lot of work has been done by employers to ensure fair and inclusive recruitment over many years, there is still a long way to go and we all have a responsibility to up our game.