Lack of qualified applicants with diverse backgrounds is a reason commonly given by recruiters to explain the underrepresentation of women and minority groups in hiring decisions. Yet, while employers blame a narrow talent pool, prospective employees with traditionally non-dominant backgrounds cite bias in recruitment and selection process and biased work settings as the main barriers to entry or deterrents for diverse candidates.
Inclusive recruitment involves fair candidate attraction processes that are welcoming to diverse talent. Fair and welcoming candidate attraction means that individuals with diverse backgrounds are equally likely to be made aware of and apply for open roles compared with candidates with traditionally dominant backgrounds.
Risks to inclusive recruitment
Although many employers aspire to recruit diverse candidates, they often directly or indirectly limit their candidate attraction efforts to traditional pools of talent. Common ways that recruiters limit the candidate pool include:
Narrow candidate attraction efforts
- advertising for open roles in a limited number of sources
- graduate recruitment or internship programs that are restricted to a select group of tertiary institutions
- overreliance on employee referrals when the workforce is largely homogenous. Individuals typically have homogenous networks. McKinsey’s research on diversity found that when men are asked about their professional networks, 63% state it’s comprised of “more or all men” vs. 38% of women who state the same. Similarly, LinkedIn found that women are less likely to rely on their networks and more likely to search for jobs on third-party websites and online job boards.
- tap-on-the shoulder appointments / failing to advertise open roles. Tap-on-the shoulder appointments allow room for affinity bias, which promotes self-cloning and, in turn, homogeneity.
Biased or restrictive job descriptions
- job descriptions that imply a preference for certain characteristics (e.g., ‘dynamic’ and ‘tech-savvy’ favour younger workers over older workers; ‘ambitious’, ‘driven’ ‘ and ‘superstar’ favour men over women; gendered phrases like ‘salesman’, ‘waiter’, ‘foreman’, ‘chairman’ also favour men over women; ‘active’, ‘fit’ or ‘mobile’ may be biased against mature applicants or candidates with a disability)
- job descriptions that require specific qualifications or years of experience in narrowly defined roles or tasks can deter candidates with equivalent qualifications earned overseas or at alternative local institutions, candidates with equivalent capabilities or experience in a different industry, and candidates who have taken time out of the workforce for personal reasons including caring or health-related causes
Weak employer branding regarding diversity and inclusion
- employer websites and recruitment materials that depict a homogenous workforce
- lack of attention to other employer branding efforts regarding diversity and inclusion, such as failing to publish diversity data and policies, not participating in diversity-related awards, failing to develop a diverse and inclusive work setting, not stating the employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion on job advertisements and the company’s internet site, and homogeneous leadership teams
- negative reputation or record regarding workforce or customer diversity and inclusion
Biased application processes
- application processes that favour persons without disability including application processes that are heavily weighted to written applications and do not make accommodations for persons with vision or learning disorders such as dyslexia or application processes that are heavily weighted to interpersonal interactions and do not make accommodations for persons with hearing, mental health or autism spectrum disorders
- application processes that favour individuals with English as a first language, for example, processes that involve detailed written submissions
- application processes that require candidates to submit photographs or disclose identity data that has been shown to be linked to employment discrimination (e.g. gender, age, academic qualifications, university, nationality, ethnicity, place of residence)
Solutions for inclusive recruitment
Despite widespread acknowledgment of the business case for diversity, studies show that less than half of all employers have programs in place that specifically target candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds and less than half of all employers request diverse shortlists from recruitment agencies.
Inclusive recruitment does not imply recruiting someone simply based on a targeted diversity dimension—not only is that illegal in most markets, a person’s identity, per se, does not predict their future performance and selecting candidates simply to meet a diversity target or quota might mean that the employer does not recruit the best applicant. However, given that diversity in a candidate pool can increase the overall quality of candidates in a pool and because workgroup diversity can offer benefits beyond individual skills, employers should take positive steps towards attracting diverse candidates and encouraging them to apply for open roles. Employers that succeed in achieving a diverse candidate pool are better positioned to employ top performers and to benefit from workforce diversity.
A diverse candidate pool is also helpful for managing bias in selection. Research shows that when a final candidate pool has one minority candidate, he or she has virtually nil chance of getting hired. However, if there are at least two female candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a female candidate are 79 times greater and if there are least two minority candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a minority candidate are 194 times greater.
Inclusive recruitment does not mean abandoning traditional recruitment channels that have been successful in sourcing top talent but involves introducing new approaches to complement existing channels. Active strategies that employers can use to ensure that they have the widest and most diverse range of candidates to choose from include:
Widening recruitment efforts beyond traditional talent pools and specifically targeting diverse candidates:
- advertise open roles in publications, networks or membership groups that cater to underrepresented groups
- advertise open roles across different social networks. Social media not only helps you to build your employer brand but also allows you to identify and target diverse candidates. Recruiters can join diversity orientated groups on LinkedIn, such as The Diversity Collective and post job advertisements or actively engage with diverse candidates. LinkedIn also provides specific tips for diversity sourcing. Using targeted diversity campaigns, for example, recruiters can send targeted messages to LinkedIn members identified as diverse through professional and diversity data on LinkedIn. These campaigns can drive brand awareness, promote diversity events, or put relevant job opportunities in front of a diverse pool of talent.
- advertise all open roles and ensure that staff on parental, long-term sick leave and compassionate leave, and flexible working arrangements are informed of open roles
- ask recruiters to actively seek diverse candidates, require recruiters to provide diverse shortlists, and pay higher commissions to recruiters for diverse hires
- partner with specialist diversity recruitment firms. Examples in Australia include Work180 for women candidates and Disability Employment Australia for candidates with a disability.
- engage with government programs that support the employment of underrepresented groups such as The Queensland Government’s Youth Employment Program
- offer internships to underrepresented groups. In Australia, employers partner with Career Trackers to offer internships to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Diversity internships can also be run in-house. Examples include EY’s US-based LAUNCH program targeting ethnically diverse candidates with accounting or related business majors who are two or more years from final graduation and Accenture’s Student Empowerment Program offered to female and minority students.
- offer paid internships to attract applicants from outside of the industry. This strategy is particularly useful for attracting diverse senior talent to an organisation. Westpac’s Equilibrium program for gender diversity helped Westpac to achieve its leadership gender targets by recruiting senior women from industries outside of banking and finance to undertake a 12 month, tailored development program at Westpac to arm them with the skills and networks necessary for a successful career as a senior banking and finance leader.
- ask existing employees to refer women and minority candidates and offer increased referral bonuses for diverse hires
- leverage the diverse networks of members of employee resource groups by specifically engaging them in referral efforts
- expand the tertiary colleges or universities that you actively recruit from and specifically target educational institutions with diverse student bodies and alumni networks
- participate at recruitment fairs for non-university graduates. Search for fairs on Eventbrite.
- participate in virtual career fairs. Virtual career fairs are particularly useful for employers seeking to hire people with disabilities, veterans, and women. International examples include Disability In’s Autism at Work Virtual Career Fair and Bender Consulting’s Virtual Career Fair for People with Disabilities.
- host your own virtual career fair. For an Australian example, see the Queensland Public Service Veterans’ Virtual Career Fair.
- improve your chances of reaching diverse hires by sponsoring women or minority targeted networking events or not-for-profit organisations that advocate for women and minority groups, for example, Women in Technology
- host your own networking events for traditionally underrepresented groups
- focus on the future pipeline of diverse talent by partnering with schools to build interest in your industry and organisation through talks, workshops, office visits, work experience, and holiday placements. Leverage school partnerships to communicate career opportunities to students and develop future skills.
- implement a return-to-work program to cater to individuals re-entering the workforce after time out for caring, health or other reasons
- use web crawler technology such as Source Breaker to improve your candidate search. Web crawler software trawls networking sites, gathering data on job seekers from a range of sources to determine who meets the requirements for a role, allowing employers to find candidates beyond their usual talent pools.
- engage senior staff to act as mentors to individuals from underrepresented groups outside of the organisation or sponsor industry mentorship programs for women and minorities
- engage in ongoing recruitment and keep on file details of potential candidates from underrepresented groups
Writing inclusive job advertisements:
- focus on the job tasks and not the type of person you are looking for to avoid stereotypes for that job
- keep selection criteria to a minimum. Australian research indicates that advertisements with more than five selection criteria deters applicants, particularly females. Women tend to apply only when they think they meet 100% of the requirements, whereas men apply when they meet 60%.
- ensure job advertisements accurately describe the tasks of the role and do not include tasks or abilities that are not required for performance. Inclusion of any tasks or duties that workers will not, in practice, need to perform, might discourage appropriately qualified people from applying because they cannot perform the particular task or fulfill the particular duty specified.
- relax requirements for specific qualifications and experience. If you would prefer candidates to have knowledge of a certain skill, consider listing it as “desirable” rather than “essential”.
- remove requirements for ‘years of’ or ‘recent experience’— if needed, use ‘proven experience’ or ‘equivalent qualifications’ or levels of skill or knowledge. A requirement for continuous experience could indirectly discriminate against candidates who have taken time out from work for reasons relating to caregiving, health, disability or other reasons.
- ensure job advertisements do not contain industry or organisational acronyms and jargon and can be understood by a wider audience
- reduce the focus on formal qualifications. Employ a ‘whole of person’ perspective and encourage a focus on additive contributions. Consider the following example of an additive approach to recruitment reported in Havard Business Review. “In 2016, Anton Hanebrink, Intuit’s Chief Corporate Strategy and Development Officer, took over a high-performing team known for its contributions to the direction of the company. The team’s historical approach to finding top talent was to target graduates of top universities and MBA programs with experience at leading management consulting firms or investment banks. While these filters simplified the screening process, they also led to a relatively homogenous way of viewing the world. In reality, many of the top performers at Intuit, including the CEO and CFO, did not hold degrees from an Ivy League school. With this understanding, the team worked together to define the skills, experiences, and mindsets that were necessary to succeed in the team. They identified the abilities to structure ambiguous problems, influence change at senior levels, and to effectively develop team members as the key contributions an incoming executive should add to the team. None of these abilities would be guaranteed by a credential and consequently, the team changed their approach to hiring. They employed behavioural interviewing techniques and redacted the names of schools and prior employers during the interview process. As a result, the team hired top talent whose diverse backgrounds have added to their total portfolio of skills. Anton’s team achieved more gender and racial diversity as well. The breadth of talent led to a more rigorous debate of ideas and enabled the team to navigate new business opportunities and identify critical strategic insights they would have missed with their old approach to recruiting talent.”
- use gender-neutral language. When describing the ideal candidate, for example, don’t use gendered pronouns. By saying ‘he will’ or ‘his,’ you send a subtle signal that you’re looking for someone of that gender. Also, be aware of using terms that correlate with gender stereotypes. For example, words like ‘dominate,’ ‘superstar,’ ‘superior’, ‘driven’, ‘assertive’ or ‘self-starter’ tend to attract male candidates while words like ‘community,’ ‘understanding’ or ‘develop’ tend to attract women. Sports terminology can also deter female candidates. Social media platform Buffer discovered that a small number of women were applying for developer jobs (less than 2%) because of their choice of wording, such as using ‘hacker’ for developer roles. Conduct an audit of your current position descriptions, to identify gendered language that may be discouraging women from applying. Useful resources include WGEA’s Guide to the Australian Standard on Gender-Inclusive Job Evaluation, the International Labour Organisation’s Gender Neutral Job Evaluation for Equal Pay: A Step by Step Guide and Australian Human Rights Commission Guidelines for Writing and Publishing Recruitment Advertisements. Using software like Textio or Gender Decoder can remove gendered terms from job descriptions automatically so you don’t have to manually scan your postings.
- where necessary, describe the physical requirements of the role so people with disabilities can consider whether it is suitable for them. Don’t use terms like “physically” fit or “energetic”.
- include a diversity statement in your job advertisements similar to “If you’ve got the right skills for the job we want to hear from you. We encourage applications from the right candidates regardless of age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, belief or race.”
- highlight flexible working arrangements and other flexible policies as these are known to hold significant appeal to diverse candidates
- highlight other diversity and inclusion initiatives and accreditations, for example, White Ribbon Accreditation or membership of Diversity Council of Australia
- be explicit regarding formal career planning and development opportunities in job advertisements
- ensure your website is accessible to persons with a disability
- highlight accessibility policies and offer reasonable adjustments for people with a disability. One study found targeted advertising aimed at applicants with a disability more than doubled the number of applicants willing to indicate their need for reasonable adjustments. Applicants who identified as requiring reasonable adjustments also progressed further through recruitment overall.
- provide contact details for applicants if they require information in an alternative format (e.g., email, braille, easy read, large print, audio format, and data formats) or other support such as wheelchair access or an interpreter
- include potential dates for interviews in the job advertisement and offer flexibility in interview schedules. This can help those with caring responsibilities make the necessary arrangements and can accommodate for those with non-traditional schedules.
- allow candidates sufficient time to complete the application form
Strengthening your employer brand for diverse talent:
- advertise your commitment to diversity and inclusion. Even if your organisation is behind the curve on diversity and inclusion, there are opportunities make a favorable impression by acknowledging that there are issues that need to be addressed, articulating your commitment to resolving those and setting out your plans for accelerating progress in diversity and inclusion. You can advertise your commitment to diversity and inclusion by providing an explicit statement in job advertisements and by publishing your diversity statement, policy, strategy, pay gap, targets, achievements, and employee resource groups on your website and social media sites. Studies show that around 30%-67% of candidates across the board look for this information and is a reputational concern for both men and women.
- participate in external rewards and recognition for diversity efforts. For example, the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s (WGEA’s) Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation.
- ensure imagery in recruitment materials and the company’s website reflect the company’s workforce diversity. Be realistic, paint an honest picture of the organisation’s diversity. If the rhetoric does not match the reality, diverse talent will perceive you as insincere and untrustworthy.
- include testimonials in recruitment materials and the company’s website and social media channels from women and minority employees. Showcase individuals with diverse backgrounds who have progressed at your organisation.
- ensure diverse candidates can identify role models in the organisation either online or at external speaking events. Engage organisational ambassadors with diverse backgrounds to represent the public face of your organisation.
- build a diverse leadership team and make this known publicly by showcasing on your website
- highlight a customer orientation to diversity. For example, tailor your products and service to meet the needs of diverse customers and share those stories.
- survey your customers, suppliers, and potential talent pools regarding your reputation with respect to diversity and inclusion and take corrective action where necessary
- review your policies for inclusiveness. For example, offer flexible dress codes that allow for religious attire or personal preferences in dress and appearance, flexible working arrangements that allow for different working schedules and offer employees opportunities to balance work-life, flexible leave policies that allow for diverse and changing needs (e.g., parental leave, carer leave, religious leave, domestic violence leave)
- participate in or host events that highlight your commitment to diversity and inclusion (e.g. International Women’s Day, Wear it Purple, NAIDOC)
- partner with advocacy and networking groups that support the employment, development and leadership of diverse talent. In Australia, examples include Women in Banking and Finance, Women in Technology, Settlement Services International.
- engage in corporate social responsibility activities that support your diversity and inclusion efforts
- build a diverse recruiting and hiring team to represent your organisation
- foster an inclusive culture so that the existing workforce act as brand ambassadors
Employing application processes that are inclusive and minimise the potential for bias:
- use structured application forms that tap specific skills and experience rather than invite CV’s where gender, background, and education are often visible and can influence assessment by activating unconscious stereotypes and other biases
- use standardised application forms with guides for completion. Some jobseekers report not knowing where to begin to construct an application that effectively sells their skills and potential. Provide applicants with examples of expected response formats and content of application forms. Detail common reasons for unsuccessful applications to guide applicants in their submissions
- engage in blind recruitment practices involving the removal of identifying personal information such as name, age, gender, and academic background from CV’s. The theory behind removing the candidate’s name from his or her application is that it helps recruiters make decisions free from unconscious biases of the candidate’s race and gender. Other identifying personal information that is being removed from resumes is graduation year, college names, and even addresses. This helps you identify high-quality candidates because it enables you to more objectively evaluate a candidate’s skills, knowledge, and potential to succeed. A pilot program, Recruit Smarter, sponsored by the Victorian Government, found that when demographic data from removed from resumes, overseas born job seekers were 8% more likely to be shortlisted for a job after de-identification, women were 8% more likely to be shortlisted and hired after de-identification, and applicants from lower socioeconomic suburbs were 9.4% more likely to progress through the selection process and receive a job offer. The researchers note, however, the CV de-identification is not appropriate in all circumstances, such as when under-represented groups make up a small proportion of applicants. In these circumstances, CV de-identification should be implemented along with other interventions, such as targeted recruitment strategies. Removing identifying information from CV’s manually is time consuming and often not possible. Using technology, such as Gap Jumpers is an effective software tool for automating blind recruitment processes.
- ensure your application processes are accessible to persons with a disability
- ask candidates if they require any support at interview or in the role and provide reasonable accommodations when requested
- reduce the focus on written applications when English proficiency is not a requirement of the role
- offer flexibility in interview schedules to accommodate for those with non-traditional schedules or caring responsibilities
- allow candidates sufficient time to complete the application form
- provide feedback on unsuccessful applications
- consider alternative approaches to written job applications. Practical, hands-on approaches that engage the skills and competencies required in the role may widen the pool of talent employers can choose from. Approaches include gamification and work simulation-based exercises.
- include diversity as a factor of merit for recruitment purposes, where relevant. For example, recognise the value of cultural and linguistic skills for customer-facing roles.
Seeking feedback on your recruitment processes:
- conduct focus groups with diverse employees and candidates to understand the challenges they faced in recruitment as well as challenges that diverse talent face in their day-to-day work lives. Ask what you could do better, and in which areas. Conduct exit interviews to understand whether diversity and inclusion concerns are driving exit decisions. Act on the information gathered to drive inclusive recruitment and improve the experience of diverse candidates and employees.
- establish diversity targets for applicants in all roles and across rank and track who is applying for your vacancies and securing roles. Example diversity recruitment metrics include percentage of diverse candidates at each recruiting stage, percentage of diverse candidates interviewed by hiring managers, percentage of job offers extended to diverse candidates, average diverse applicants’ satisfaction rate regarding recruitment and hiring. Tracking success against targets can be achieved through equality monitoring forms used as part of the recruitment process. There are risks to this approach, however, because people from minority groups may be concerned that their personal information may consciously or unconsciously influence assessment and negatively impact employment prospects. To minimise those concerns, employers should explain why they are asking for the information and make clear it will not be used as part of the selection process. For example, candidates should be assured that the forms will be removed before applications are reviewed for shortlisting and that the data collected cannot be tracked to individual applicants. Where information for equality monitoring purposes is requested as part of an online application process, this should be separated from the application process. For example, a form could be sent out by email on receipt of a completed application form. Tracking of progress against targets helps to identify recruitment gaps and also enables employers to monitor whether policies to increase diversity are having an impact and to take corrective action if not. Leading employers are using dashboard technology illustrating real-time diversity recruitment metrics and trends to monitor the success of their diversity efforts or areas of risk.
- diversity targets have a greater impact when management is individually accountable for their achievement, for example by incorporating success into performance objectives and rewards
Offering unconscious bias training to recruiters and hiring managers:
- unconscious bias training assists hiring managers in understanding their implicit assumptions and prejudgments. It seeks to reduce bias in recruitment and selection by transferring skills for objective hiring practices and developing hiring managers’ ability to monitor and manage their own and other’s bias.
Two final points of note. First, inclusive recruitment is difficult and no organisation can claim complete success. The challenges of inclusive recruitment, however, should not be a deterrent because efforts to increase the diversity of candidates improve the organisations chances of hiring top talent and return a positive return on investment also through fostering diversity. Employers are encouraged to experiment with different solutions and share success stories and failures. Also, remember that inclusive recruitment is a collaboration between HR, marketing, communications, and management. It should not be left to HR alone.