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The GuardianJobs: The importance of hiring inclusively

Hear our Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, Gaia Caruso's thoughts on the importance of hiring inclusively and creating a diverse workforce...

This article was originally published by The GuardianJobs.

We all know that diversity in the workplace is important, but we may not always appreciate the many reasons why.

Quite apart from our moral imperative to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance at a job, studies show that diverse workforces are more successful. Companies with employees that all have a very similar background face real risks when it comes to their ability to attract and retain talent, to innovate in uncertain times and to create shareholder value.

Learning to hire inclusively

Research from consultants McKinsey shows that companies with gender diverse boards are 25% more likely to be more profitable than average, while those in the top quartile for ethnically diverse boards are 36% more likely to outperform when it comes to profitability.

This finding is repeated in multiple companies and sectors worldwide, suggesting that every business that wants to thrive and survive in today’s ever changing world needs to be conscious of how to address diversity issues at all levels. This practical guide tells employers what they need to know, what actions to take, and what benefits they can expect from equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Workplace diversity and inclusion starts from the moment you place a job advertisement. The way an advert is written and the imagery used can appeal to a certain sector of society and deter others.

Sara Chandran, who runs diversity and inclusion consultancy Fresh and Fearless, says that we need to be mindful of language when writing advertisements and be aware of who might be put off applying. “Looking for someone ‘energetic’ will deter older people from applying, for example. ‘Confident and driven’ will attract men, whereas ‘empathetic and honest’ will draw in women,” she points out.

Unconscious bias

Most of the time we’re not even aware of the barriers that are being created by our adverts and hiring processes, because they come from our “unconscious” minds, or reflect inner preconceptions about what a job involves.

Nonetheless, unconscious bias in recruitment is a serious issue. A recent study from the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, found that 24% of job applicants from white western backgrounds receive a call-back for jobs they’ve applied for, compared with only 15% from a minority ethnic background.

So how can recruiters overcome their unconscious bias in hiring and recruit the best? Experts suggest a number of strategies.

Start with community engagement 

Gaia Caruso, diversity and inclusion lead at technology consultant provider Sparta Global, says engaging with underrepresented communities will improve the diversity of your applicants.

“Running mentoring and educational programmes with under-represented groups, student societies and networks provides individuals from under-served communities with the skills and knowledge they need to successfully secure a role at your company,” she says.

Prioritise personality and talent, not background and experience 

Kimberly Nei is director of talent analytics at Hogan, the global provider of workplace personality consulting. She suggests looking for the personality traits needed for a job, rather than for a specific skill set that might only have been honed by certain life experiences.

“Personality assessment does not produce meaningful sub-group differences (no difference in performance due to gender and race etc) and is unbiased, unlike traditional face-to-face interviews,” she says.

Jane Farrell, co-founder and CEO of diversity and inclusion consultancy EW Group, agrees that focusing on experience can exclude certain groups of the population unfairly.

“When a recruitment advert states that applicants must have a minimum of five years’ experience, this can rule out potential talent with less experience when in reality we all know that there is not necessarily a correlation between experience and a person’s ability to do a good job. When we say ‘must have three years’ experience at senior level’ in a sector or company where black people, women and disabled people are few and far between at senior levels, then nothing will change,” she says.

Use tech to beat your biases

When writing job advertisements or deciding who to interview, technology can help to ensure that your biases don’t come into play. Caruso suggests using tools such as Textio, which promises “bias interruption that goes beyond gender”, or the free Gender Decoder app.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems for hiring also claim to remove human bias. But there are examples where this has not been the case, for instance, when Amazon had to withdraw an algorithm from its selection procedures in 2018 because it had effectively taught itself to prefer male candidates.

Train for unconscious bias in recruitment

Understanding our own biases is key when it comes to hiring new staff as well as creating an inclusive environment. Many organisations therefore offer unconscious bias training.

Chandran says that although it’s not enough on its own, it can really help the process.

“The training doesn’t solve the issues of structural oppression and inequality in the workplace but it does kickstart people’s individual journey of self awareness. Most people operate on autopilot. While this is good for our day-to-day functions, such as making a cup of tea, it’s not good when we’re making big business decisions. When we’re more conscious of how our exposure to certain ‘stories’ throughout our lives has shaped how we see others, we can begin to work on rewiring our minds to think more inclusively.”

Four recruitment biases you may not be aware of – and how to avoid them 

1. Confirmation bias 

This occurs when we have a preconception about a job candidate, which might come from something we’ve noticed about them on an application, such as their name or place of study. Confirmation bias occurs when we look for information that supports that initial belief and filters out other information. Using a structured interview process that asks every candidate the same questions is one way to avoid falling into a confirmation bias trap. 

2. Affect heuristic 

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that help us to make decisions. The “affect heuristic” means that many of us make decisions based on our emotions at the time rather than on measurable outcomes. Asking candidates to complete a task that can be independently measured is one way to help counteract this. 

3. Anchoring bias 

This is where the recruiter fixes on one particular aspect of a candidate’s resume and gives it more weight than it deserves. Simply being aware of this bias can help recruiters avoid it. 

4. Halo or horn effect 

This is where an interviewer becomes focused on one good (halo) or bad (horn) trait, skill or piece of information and allows it to colour their overall judgement. By using a formal scoring process for candidates and getting each panel member to justify their selection decision, you can help avoid this bias. 

Case study: M&C Saatchi 

Advertising giant M&C Saatchi has made a public commitment to combatting systemic racial injustice and has taken steps to make the firm more inclusive. This includes training in the consequences of unconscious bias. The company is now turning its attention to attracting more diverse candidates, says Camilla Kemp, M&C Saatchi London's CEO. 

The company has launched Open House, a free virtual training programme for anyone anywhere in the world who wants to know more about the advertising industry.

The primary goal is to remove barriers for those who want to break into the advertising or communications industry but have not had the support or access to do so. The programme also provides an opportunity to reach individuals who have never considered a career in advertising, acknowledging the industry hasn’t done enough to raise awareness and get “on their radar”, Kemp says. 

“M&C Saatchi wants to encourage participation from these groups and make it clear that advertising is truly a career option for them.” 

More than a third of the 1,500 participants signed up to the programme and who have revealed their ethnicity identified as black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME). Having attracted this more diverse pool of potential candidates, the company aims to further increase diversity by asking applicants to answer this extra question: ‘What I can uniquely bring to M&C Saatchi.’ This is intended to encourage applicants to talk about what they can offer when it comes to life experience, perspective or expertise.