Unconscious bias, an inherent part of our human nature, is a significant barrier to organisational progress. Our innate preference for familiarity impedes the true potential of varied experience, skills, and background, while unfairly limiting candidate opportunities.
The battleground for addressing this challenge lies within the shortlisting process, where unconscious bias is seen most acutely. By tackling this crucial step head-on, organisations can unlock the full spectrum of human talent, fostering both fairness and transformative growth.
At Odgers Berndtson, our research shows training hiring managers in the principles of inclusive recruitment directly influences inclusive recruitment processes. This leads to broader and more diverse shortlists and ultimately impacts the range of talent available to organisations. Training hiring managers in inclusive recruitment can boost the performance of people and profitability. People with different backgrounds and abilities tend to approach challenges in different ways and therefore present a range of solutions. This increases the probability that one or more of the solutions will be a success.
This is supported by The Boston Consulting Group, whose research suggests that increasing diversity in leadership teams leads to higher levels of innovation and increased profitability*. A diverse workforce can also broaden thinking, increase understanding of global markets and customers and increase employee productivity and morale. A survey conducted by Salesforce Research** revealed people take pride in working for organisations that have a diverse workforce and an equal opportunities commitment.
Bias begins at the outset, from the information on a CV. Preconceived notions or implicit biases may arise from seeing an applicant’s personal details upfront, including their name, age, and education.
Mitigating these biases by pseudo-anonymised CVs (removing the identifying information) is a powerful technique to ensure individuals involved in CV selection focus solely on the qualifications and achievements presented in the CV.
It means decision-makers can make more objective judgments based on merit. It shifts the attention towards candidates’ skills, experiences, and achievements, rather than their demographic characteristics. It encourages fairer evaluations, ensuring that candidates are assessed solely on their abilities and suitability for the role. This approach helps to level the playing field, providing equal opportunities for candidates from diverse backgrounds.
Panel selection and CV review
Typically, a shortlisting process will look like someone sitting in a room, reviewing a hundred CVs on their own. Due to time and volume, they are unlikely to consider the nuances of different sectors and experience. They will look for those candidates with the same sector experience, any household names, and similarities in previous roles. Those selected will meet a panel; hiring and talent managers responsible for the organisation’s recruitment. Often, these are always the same people.
Instead, both CV review and panel preparation should involve a diverse range of individuals. This might be a rotating group of ten people, who once a week, go through candidate CVs. Interview panels should likewise be made up of rotating individuals with different roles and backgrounds to mitigate familiarity bias and ensure a fair assessment. Importantly, any individual chosen for the panel should receive education to recognise bias and how it can affect candidate selection.
In the interview itself, panel members should avoid influencing one another – this might mean no one can speak for a minute following the interview. This mitigates throwaway comments, ‘I didn’t like her shoes,’ etc. which particularly from senior individuals can influence other’s decisions. Finally, introducing a bias monitor will also mean selection is based on evidence rather than relying on gut feelings.
When assessing candidates, it is essential to ensure that the assessment is relevant to the role and is assessing the right skills and behaviours.
Developing a competency framework outlining the essential skills, knowledge, and behaviours needed for success in the role is a simple but effective step in mitigating biases associated with gut feeling and familiarity. This framework provides a structured approach for assessing candidates against the identified criteria, preventing personal beliefs and opinions from influencing the assessment decision.
Likewise, a psychometric test can provide a standardised and objective way to assess candidates. The tests are designed to measure specific cognitive abilities, personality traits, or skills in a consistent manner. This reduces the potential influence of personal biases that may arise from subjective evaluations. By focusing on specific job-related factors, these tests provide a more accurate and fair assessment of candidates’ suitability for the role, minimising biases based on irrelevant personal characteristics. However, it is crucial to ensure that someone in-house has the skills to assess psychometric test properly.
Embedding inclusivity into the shortlisting process takes time but the cost of getting it wrong is far greater than the effort required to get it right. 62% of job seekers are more likely to apply for a job where a company is openly committed to improving diversity and inclusion in their workforce. Why is this important? Because diverse talent has choice. Over 15% of candidates turn down roles after being made an offer because they have a better option, and half of job seekers have turned down job offers because of a bad experience during hiring. An inclusive shortlist process is therefore vital to attracting and hiring diverse people in such a competitive environment for great talent.
*‘How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation’ By Rocío Lorenzo, Nicole Voigt, Miki Tsusaka, Matt Krentz, and Katie Abouzahr, Boston Consulting Group, 2018.
**’The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business’ Salesforce Research, 2017
Sue Johnson is the Managing Partner of Inclusion & Diversity Consulting at Odgers Berndtson. Having spent the first 15 years of her career in Operations and Sales, Sue has first-hand knowledge and experience of how and why Inclusion & Diversity, as an integral part of the organisation DNA, will step-change business performance.
Prior to joining the Odgers Berndtson group, Sue was the Global Chief Diversity Officer for the Nestle group, and then led the Inclusion client practice at PwC Switzerland. Sue has worked cross-industry and cross-border, with clients from: Private banking, Sporting organisations, Pharma & Life science, Humanitarian sector, FMCG and Life sciences. Sue is a renowned and enthusiastic advocate for Inclusion and has spoken at the United Nations, Catalyst, women’s forum etc. and specialises on educating Executives, guiding, and challenging them to deliver results as organisations embark on their journey of cultural change.