Aspiring to achieve a diverse workforce, which reflects the diversity of the population, is a worthy goal. However, positively discriminating by recruiting individuals from selected groups to achieve diversity targets is illegal and unfair. Instead, today’s employers should aim to attract a diverse range of applicants and ensure that every person has an equal chance to do their best in the selection process.
I’ll cover the issues of talent planning and attracting applicants in a separate article. Here, we’ll examine how to implement assessment measures which are fair and which focus on a person’s ability to do the job.
The great challenge in any selection process is minimising unconscious bias. It is human nature to like people who are similar to us but this shouldn’t be allowed to influence your hiring decisions. To reduce ‘elitist hiring’, some employers are removing the candidate’s name and education provider from their application forms and CVs.
Others are training hiring managers (and assessors in assessment centres) to understand and avoid unconscious bias - and to focus on best practice evaluation techniques and interviewing skills.
An interviewer should always ask structured, competency and/or strengths-based questions that probe for the desired attitudes and behaviours. They shouldn’t ask questions about aspects such as a physical disability, pregnancy, sexual identity, religious beliefs, world views, age or ethnicity - unless the question is directly related to the job on offer.
Best practice is to use a behavioural styles questionnaire that will create an interview guide, as this will generate probing questions that hiring managers can ask to check and verify each candidate’s competencies, behaviours and suitability.
Psychometric assessments help to remove human bias from the selection process. A test doesn’t care if a candidate went to the same school or university as the interviewer. Instead, it will provide a fair and objective prediction of an individual’s potential to perform in a role.
Depending on the specific abilities and competencies that are required, a broad range of assessments - including ability, behaviour, situational judgement, motivation, values, integrity and creativity - are available to help employers find the optimum person-job match.
Any psychometric test that you use should have content validity (they must be representative of the tasks involved in the role); construct validity (they should measure relevant traits); criterion validity (they should predict what they’re meant to predict) and face validity (it should be obvious to candidates what the tests are assessing).
To ensure fairness, it’s important to give all candidates an opportunity to practise your assessments beforehand (see sites such as getstarted.cut-e.com) and to support them throughout your assessment process.
But are your assessments really fair?
One problem that employers have to contend with is that people all have different skills, different values and different preferences. This means that some degree of bias will inevitably exist in every selection process. For example, if an organisation uses technical games as part of its attraction/selection, it will attract more boys into its applicant pool; if it uses word games, it will attract more girls.
It’s easy to unwittingly skew your applicant pool by incorporating tests that certain applicants prefer.
The best way to minimise bias is to combine different job-related tests, such as ability tests and a personality questionnaire. Situational judgement tests, which are context-driven and related to the role and the organisation, provide an accurate simulation of the job and are a useful option in an enlarged test battery.
With a combination of different tests, you’ll be able to sift out applicants who do not fit your selection criteria.
Devices can be divisive
Another issue is that if your assessments can only be taken on a laptop or computer, studies show that you may eliminate applicants from lower socio-economic groups who don’t have these devices. The drive to mobile testing is partly about improving diversity.
However, this is only achievable if exactly the same testing experience is available, no matter what ‘device’ candidates use to take your tests.
If your tests are not entirely consistent across every device then a candidate will be penalised if they use the smaller screen on their smartphone, because they won’t receive the same testing experience that they’d get on a desktop computer.
The point here is that it’s important to review which tests you’re using to ensure that they’re not having an adverse impact on your applicant pool - and that you’re not discriminating against any group, disadvantaging potential applicants or setting pass marks that are too high for the needs of the role.
The goal is to ensure that your candidates are all measured on an equal footing.
By continually reviewing your selection process, you can check whether a diverse mix of candidates is successfully progressing through each stage. If this isn’t the case, questions should be asked to understand why not - and whether bias at some stage of the selection process, ‘access’ to your assessments or the fact that your tests are skewed to the preferences of certain candidates are to blame.
These points should help you to ensure that your organisation benefits from a diverse talent pool, by using a truly fair assessment process that matches people to the job-related competencies in each role.
To download cut-e’s free white paper on encouraging diversity in the workplace through fair assessment, click here.
About Suzanne Courtney
Suzanne Courtney is UK Managing Director of cut-e - the global talent management and assessment specialist which was acquired by Aon plc in 2017 and is now part of Aon Assessment Solutions. She is a recognised occupational psychology consultant with extensive expertise in assessment, leadership development, people strategies and employee engagement. She leads innovative, mobile-first pre-application attraction and selection projects for clients. Together, cut-e and Aon undertake 30 million assessments each year in 90 countries and 40 languages.